Facilis descensus Averno … sed revocare … hoc opus, hic labor est.
To descend into hell is easy. But to return — what work, what labor it is! — Virgil
Holden spirals the reader into the bleak darkness of her heroin-addicted world. Introduced to the drug by her older boyfriend, James, who takes her beyond marijuana trips to needle-penetrating heroin, Holden discovers quickly the heroin-infused realm that she desperately wishes to visit more and more frequently. “Heroin was a lure, a security, a delight. It calmed me, glossed me; the infusion of heat, the tickle of satisfaction” (21).
The benefits of using seem endless; not only does she find a warm satisfaction in the heroin usage, the sex is tremendous! “I love you,” we said to each other every time we slid the needle into the other’s arm” (25). As Holden and her various lovers use more, their bodies demand more of the drug. She is forced to hide her use from friends and family, only to turn around and steal money to support her habit. Desperate attemps to stay clean fail.
Destitute, with the physical and mental desire for more of the drug increasing, Holden begins prostituting herself in an attempt to support her and her boyfriend’s heroin habit, which is now expensive. She moves from the dangerous streets into brothel service — the brothel, that in many ways, is far safer than the streets.
Much like Virgil’s quote from the start of Holden’s In My Skin, it is easy to descend into heroin but difficult to depart the drug’s grasp. A user can’t leave heroin behind instantly, the drug’s hold is so strong that instant departure could kill the user. The user must be slowly weaned from the drug’s curse by using similar drugs like methadone.
This is a deeply disturbing, painful memoir that reminds the reader it is easy to start, but very hard to stop. Addiction, particularly to heroin, wraps itself around one’s soul and will not let go.
I highly recommend In My Skin (BSC call number: HV 5805 .H64 A3 2006). To understand more about addiction, I also recommend this new BSC Library book, Addiction: Why Can’t They Just Stop? (RC 565 .A32 2007).
Johanna McClay, Reference Librarian