Transgression had the opportunity to interview Tracey Helton Mitchell; author, activist, mother, wife, treatment professional and former heroin addict. Her book, The Big Fix, is both a personal and political exploration of addiction in America. Tracey shares her journey from homeless heroin addict to the 17 years sober woman she is today. But this is not your typical recovery memoir and this is what makes it exceptional.
Regina Walker: You have written an incredible memoir that differs from most addiction recovery memoirs. You focus primarily on what came after you got clean. What made you decide to go in that direction with the book?
Tracey Helton: How many times have we seen a memoir that left the issue of how a person got clean completely unresolved? Or even those that made me crave drugs. I think the elongated war story gets those juices flowing but not always in a way that is positive. I thought, what if I revealed what is behind the curtain. Recovery to those who are struggling is an elusive concept. I wanted to show the ups and downs in a way that had not been told before, like a conversation with a friend.
RW: As a woman and an IV heroin addict, how do you think you experience was different than men with the same addiction?
TH: Women are valued for sex in a way that I am not sure men experience. There also are issues with pregnancy, trauma, and violence. From the day I got into heroin use, there was incredible pressure to engage in sex work. From the dealers propositioning me, to boyfriends wanting to benefit from my sexuality, to men I used with expecting me to have sex with them because they assumed I had no boundaries. Men and Trans individuals certainly deal with their own unique issues. This was just some that I experienced.
RW: You identify some of the stigma placed on women even while you were in rehab (women were the minority in treatment and described as “hoes” by the men in treatment). Do you think it is more difficult for women to recover than men?
TH: I am not sure if it is more difficult but the treatment system is certainly stacked against women. Most are based around a male oriented medical model. SAMSHA created recommendations around gender specific needs. I don’t see much of it being implemented. Really, all genders are being screwed by the one size fits all approach. We need individualized treatment planning.
RW: If you had your way, what would change politically regarding the way the US addresses addiction?
TH: Addiction needs to be treated like a medical issue not a criminal one. Type 2 diabetes is also a medical issue that can be caused by poor health choices. Addiction is similar.
RW: Do you perceive addiction as a “disease”?
TH: I think we spend too much time arguing the semantics of addiction. We also spent a great deal of time labeling people as “addicts” when really they are more in a dysfunctional developmental phase. That certainly can evolve into addiction but telling people right off the bat they are incurable when they are seeking assistance can be counterproductive to recovery.
RW: What are your thoughts about resolving the trauma that many women (and men) experience prior to becoming addicted and during their experiences addicted?
TH: Healing from Trauma played a huge role in my recovery. I think seeking some form of healing around trauma is critical. Trauma is like a kidney stone in the brain that creates a blockage to happiness. Finding a form of healing can open up a whole new world.
Regina Walker is a writer, photographer and psychotherapist in NYC. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaAWalker.