The first time I saw Michael K. Williams’s memoir in the bookstore, I devoured the main chapter on his character Omar from The Wire. I thought that was most of what I’d want to read.
But then I started reading from the beginning. And kept reading. And reading.
Mike tells his powerful story in a compelling, humbling, and vulnerable way. From childhood to adulthood, he wrestles in view of the reader with his family, identity, joys, insecurities, ambition, addiction, and what it means to come back home and give back to one’s community.
There are gems throughout the book. For example:
What most people don’t realize about addiction is that it is in you before the drug even shows up. That’s because the drug itself is not the problem; it is a symptom of the problem. The drug is the culmination, the final step—not the first.
If you push something down, it’ll find its way out. You can’t run from it. Jay-Z says we can’t heal what we never reveal. And it’s true. You can’t heal what you never reveal.
In talking about a powerful encounter with Reverend Ron, who showed him God’s love:
It didn’t happen right away, took years in fact, but Reverend Ron was the beginning. I started to see myself as worthy of his love, of that congregation’s love, of God’s love. It all started there in that New Jersey church.
It’s not like boom I was saved and clean all at once. There’s not an addict on the planet who it’s like that for. Being an addict means forward and back constantly. It means saying no again and again. That’s why someone who is clean for thirty years can still call himself an addict. They’re always one choice away.
Especially poignant is Mike’s description of the ebbs and flows of his addiction throughout the five seasons of The Wire, including his emotional response to the show’s conclusion:
It was like in Forrest Gump when he decides to stop running across the country and everyone following him just kind of stops too and wanders away. I felt like one of those people. Like, What do I do now? It wasn’t even about the next job. It was Where do I get this feeling again? How am I going to reach in and get that feeling? That drug, that Omar drug, that shit was powerful, and I didn’t have any legs to stand on. I didn’t know who I was because I had stopped doing work on myself.
The reader does see how much progress Mike made in his life in loving himself and loving others. His self-love is an amazing counterpoint to this truth he articulates: “Every addict, every alcoholic has a self-loathing; we bathe ourselves in that.”
Having learned to love himself—even in a society that in many ways still does not love young black males well—Mike gave back to overlooked communities.
We have to get back to the idea of the village, figure out how to mend our struggling families in the community. Give them culture, respect, connection, the experience of dreaming and hoping. The permission to dream is so important. The permission to love yourself is so important. You don’t have to get scarred up in your face and go through endless rehabs and almost die and overdose to finally understand that you’re worth something.
Scenes from My Life is a heartbreaking and inspiring read. Rest in peace, Mike.
Thanks to Crown Publicity for the review copy, given with no expectation as to the content of my review.