Kate Holden’s memoir, In My Skin, explores the arduous journey of heroin addiction as Kate re-tells her story. Some years on, Zoe Hunt reviews the memoir and its impact on the lives of struggling young girls.
Substance abuse, prostitution and adolescent struggles are all explored in Kate Holden’s explicit recount of her journey as a young adult. It is a memoir of self-destruction and self-degradation as a divergence is created between the life that Kate once lived prior to her substance abuse, and the hardships she faces as a heroin addict and prostitute.
With no or little detail being left untold, the books ability to shock lies both in its detail and contrasts.
The memoir begins with Kate detailing her life growing up in Melbourne in the seventies. She was an intelligent but introverted girl, who took pride in her arts degree, her job in the local bookshop and her loving, politically aware family. As her story unfolds, we begin to see her moderate descent take place. She meets a boy, who becomes her boyfriend and suddenly her classic life began to change when he introduces her to a small group of junkies. It is at this moment; Kate’s road to self-destruction becomes apparent. Her descriptions of these first moments portrayed the substance as being magical, “with junk in our veins, we were the most beautiful people in the world” which highlights her innocence at this point in her life; a crucial contrast to her life later in the book.
Kate re-counts, in explicit detail, about her desire for Heroin and the transcendent affects it has on her life. She writes about the sensations of heroin use, the taste for metal and skin, the blood running through her veins after the kick hits. She divulges to us, the splendor of such sensations and we begin to understand the fascination.
The majority of the memoir re-tells Kate’s experiences as a prostitute, a pinnacle notion in the book as it marks her near complete self-destruction, whilst introducing the notion of self-degradation. Keeping in mind that it was the seventies, and many of the traditional ideologies were beginning to re-shape, including the roles of women and feminism. Kate describes her involvements on the streets, and though brothels of varied prices and reputations, and we are given an exclusive look inside the lives of prostitute and the happenings of busy brothels. Perhaps, her explicit recount of various sexual encounters, however, takes away from the underlying notion of Kate’s ongoing descent and eventual lack of self-worth.
The long nights, the sexual encounters she wishes she never had, the loss of her family, the dysfunctional relationships, having no home to go to, and her health at risk more and more every day. All of this, so she can maintain her addiction.
After her multiple struggles with rehab and the loss of her job and near loss of her family, Kate’s self-destruction and self-degradation become even more apparent.
A most important contrast in the book lies in Kate’s admission, that despite her feminist and politically correct upbringing, she found pride in her work as a prostitute gaining self-esteem for her appeal and desirability. She writes that she sees her self as a giver of compassion, freeing the lonely of their sorrows and too, admits that she desires these moments as much as they would. This admission is somewhat uncomfortable for the reader coming from such an educated and well bought up woman, but there is something about her writing and narrative voice that evokes sympathy and humanizes her detail and experiences.
In My Skin is a captivating story of troubled love and substance abuse that instills hope and sympathy into the lives of its readers. The contrast between the struggle of self-destruction and self-degradation and the hope of retaining a clean, heroin free life is epic and unique, as is the portrayal of the relationship between female sexuality and self-worth.
In My Skin is perhaps a lesson to young girls that struggle with substance abuse and self-betrayal, igniting a fire of hope and faith into their veins instead.