One of my favorite voices in the Mormon Bloggernacle is Tracy McKay, who writes for By Common Consent and also at her own site, Dandelion Mama.
Through the years, Tracy has blogged about her powerful story of spousal drug addiction, and a difficult divorce. For years she struggled with poverty as she tried to get a college education and raise her three kids alone. Throughout, she has been on the receiving end of some marvelous acts of love, both from her LDS community and the wider Internet world.
Now she’s gathered that story in The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival and Hope, out this month from BCC Press. (See here for more info about this new publishing house.) I highly recommend this beautiful book. – JKR
RNS: Why did you decide to write this memoir?
McKay: A good friend had asked me last winter, “What are you afraid of?” I jokingly said sharks, because that’s also true. But it got me thinking. I’m afraid for my children, like all mothers are afraid for their children, but also there’s something deeper.
I’m afraid of our beautiful sparks of glory being lost—the idea that if we don’t write these things down, they’re gone. David [my ex-husband] is dead now, and my children don’t know the man he was. They only remember the broken parts. If someone was going to preserve the madness and glory and beauty of his soul, it had to be me. And so I started writing.
You know, often the question people ask me first is: “Why did you stay with David so long?”
RNS: That’s interesting. I didn’t really have that question when I was reading, because the flashbacks in the book make very clear what a good person he was.
McKay: I really experienced time as non-linear as I was writing. I would write about something that had happened, and it would pique all these other memories. I started to see continuity between my past and present, which is why I started writing the interludes and the flashbacks. It helped me also see what a profound influence David had been on my life in ways that I didn’t always see as I experienced it.
RNS: During your marriage to David you converted to Mormonism. How much of that story do you tell in the book?
McKay: There’s a chapter devoted to it, but it’s not necessarily a Mormon book. I don’t explain in particular about being Mormon, though I describe my search for God. If you read the end, and you read the section where I went to the temple of the first time and David was asking me about it. But I didn’t want that to be a barrier to any non-Mormons reading the story, although the book is dedicated to my Relief Society.
RNS: Why the Relief Society?
McKay: It is dedicated to the Relief Society of the Belle Terre and Evergreen Wards because they are who carried me, day in and day out. The people who made sure that my kids had winter coats and boots when I literally had nothing. Who lined the streets to carry boxes when we moved.
It’s also for Feminist Mormon Housewives, because of the support they gave me through a scholarship during a very hard time. My bishop had come to me at the beginning of the divorce when everything was so bad. I was losing my home and had nowhere to live, and he came to me and said, “The church can either help pay for child care while you work a crummy job or we can help pay your rent if you agree to go to school full-time. I strongly encourage you to go to school.” For him it was the same amount of money either way. So I applied to college and got in, and worked my tail off. It was a brilliant way for him to help me help myself.
In 2012, I was starting my senior year of college and keeping the agreement, carrying an overload of classes. But the bishop had to tell me that he wasn’t able to help me anymore. I was not receiving any spousal or child support at that time, and was literally contemplating living in the car. I was thinking: How do I keep a roof over our heads?
And so it was pretty much my lowest, darkest point. I had never felt so abandoned, basically, because I felt like I had done everything I could.
I wrote about it, which is what I always do to sort out my feelings. Within hours, through word of mouth and sharing, people were flooding in and offering support. By the next morning, I had gotten emails from fMh saying, “Hey Trace, we’ve got this.” And the next day they started the scholarship. That scholarship actually paid for my senior year of college and all my grad school applications.
It was to me a great example of how an online, theoretical community became very real, very tangible. It had felt like God had abandoned me when the bishop withdrew his support, but actually the bishop had to get out of the way so that something greater could take his place. There were contributions from all over the world, literally.
[Note: The Tracy McKay fMh Scholarship for Single Mormon Mothers has become an annual tradition and applications just closed for 2017. ]
RNS: I remember when that happened, but there were a lot of details in the book I hadn’t heard, like about how people rallied around your family in the first Christmas after the divorce. That scene had me in tears.
McKay: I cried a lot when I was writing. I had to shut myself in my office. To write it accurately, I had to go back and feel all those things again; I had to go back and be there.
RNS: Who is this book for? Who are you hoping to reach with it?
McKay: It was for me and for my children initially, but I’m realizing that it addresses some pertinent questions on the national scene right now. We are in the middle of an opioid epidemic and also a conversation about welfare and social safety nets, and our obligations to each other. If as Christians we’re going to encourage women to stay home and raise children, what are our obligations to them if their marriage ends? These are really pertinent subjects right now.
Also, too often in our discourse we make addicts into one-dimensional characters. David was an addict, but he was so many wonderful and beautiful things too. He was not “just” an addict, and neither is anyone else who has an addiction.
RNS: Anything else you’d like to add?
McKay: My Mormon community, both in my ward and also online, was the reason I survived this. My readers online became real. When people started contributing to the scholarship, it felt holy. It brought the theoretical into the tangible. I couldn’t see any of these people, but they were there and they were real, and it was an embodiment of my faith.
- New Mormon press aims to ‘reach people who don’t feel they have a place”
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- Mormonism at its best: The sacrament of helping other people move