Kaz reviews Hackney resident Michele Kirsch‘s new book, Clean; an insightful read about addiction, recovery and how she intertwined cleaning with getting clean.

I came across Clean by way of a friend’s recommendation, and once I got the book and started reading, I literally could. not. put. it. down. Finished it in one day, in fact.

Clean is an incredibly honest account of what it’s like to be an addict; the subtle – at first – slide into dependency, the endeavour to regain oneself, rebuild relationships, and somehow repair the damage inflicted along the way. In Michele’s case, it began with prescription drugs; all the more insidious because, hey, they’re legal and Doctors prescribe them, almost always with the well-meaning intention to fix an immediate problem.

It’s also timely; many struggle with addiction in one form or another these days and it’s often the case that those close to them are at a loss to understand the darkness that envelops.

The daughter of an American father and an English mother, Michele’s story essentially begins in Queens, New York, where, when she was 6, her father tragically died in a train accident. The impact of that loss prompted a plethora of anxiety-related issues, as one can imagine, for which well-meaning doctors prescribed Valium and other drugs as a means of alleviating her grief and the anxiety and stress it ignited.

The book chronicles her journey of addiction and recovery, her early life in Queens and eventually settling in Hackney. One of the things I really liked was Michele’s unapologetic descriptions of the Hackney of 20 some years ago, because, let’s face it, it was a very different place to what it is now. Her un-varnished observations of living on an estate in what was then known as Murder Mile will ring true for many long-term residents of the area.

Throughout the book, she juxtaposes her slide into addiction with crisp, insightful and often humourous narratives of her job as a cleaner – the only job she felt fit for at the time. Her sharp observations of others’ lives via descriptions of their homes and their contents are often a reflection of her own experience of longing and loss.

At one point, she decides to take a course in teacher training and her depiction of attempting to maintain some sort of ‘normal’ amidst the deception that goes hand in hand with addiction is telling:

“In teacher training, I had to be this entirely other person. Entirely different from the person I was pretending to be in the first place.”

Additionally, her description of the stranglehold of anxiety is powerful:

“Who would want to feel… nothing? People whose default state of being is a sort of stage fright of the soul… where every moment of their lives, apart from being unconscious, or nearly so, is terrifying. There is no such thing as comfortably numb in the world of neurotic.”

This book will ring true for anyone who has experienced, or who has been close to someone who has struggled with addiction. Vulnerable and written from the heart, it’s well worth a read.

Follow Michele on Twitter: @mamaktrue

Spitalfields Crypt Trust
Action on Addiction

Image of the book © and courtesy of Michele Kirsch