If you are looking for a story about a remarkable human being, with perseverance and resilience, who describes her horrifying and haunting life story with candor and courage, than I highly recommend Washed Away: From Darkness To Light, a memoir by Nikki DuBose with James Johanson. It is definitely not a light read – so be forewarned now. Washed Away is emotionally wrenching, compelling and brutally honest, truly providing insight into the mind of someone with mental illness and allowing the reader to understand her deepest and darkest thoughts.
Here is part of the official description of the book, as well as the trailer:
Washed Away: From Darkness to Light is a memoir that recounts the experiences of model Nikki DuBose as she overcomes a more than seventeen-year battle with abuse, child sexual victimization, eating disorders, psychosis, alcoholism, drugs, depression, suicide attempts, body dysmorphic disorder, and various other mental health issues, all while trying to navigate through the dark side of the fashion industry.
Nikki Dubose, in her book, truly takes you down her difficult journey with vivid detail of the disturbing, devastating and scary events of her childhood, teenage years and adulthood in her 20s. Growing up in dysfunction and engaging in self-destructive behaviours was clearly harrowing – but Nikki shows her strength in talking about it so eloquently, with raw emotion, vulnerability, authenticity and integrity. While the trauma in my own life has been much less significant and extensive, I believe that her raw portrayal is accurate, yet also poetic in its nature.
Passage from the book: “One night I had a dream, and in this dream, I stood frozen in the middle of a room full of shattered mirrors. I looked distorted, but I sensed that my real identity was coming together and that something within me was shifting. Suddenly, I broke free, and I reached down and picked up a shard. I caught a glimpse of my face and knew that the transformation I sought wasn’t going to be without pain because the madness in my subconscious fought to destroy me completely.”
While she does not romanticize or glorify her experiences, she does carve a story that is rich with meaning, metaphor and beauty – but also ugliness. Lots of ugliness. Even though I don’t have an eating disorder, the book was definitely triggering and painful to read. Her eating disorder got so bad to the point where she was barely eating – just shiny red apples. She describes exactly what happened each time she went to the bathroom after eating, without sparing any details.
The topics of eating disorders, abuse and mental illness are always timely and relevant because these are still issues facing people of all ages today.
This book is not for the faint of heart. While it ends on a positive and inspiring note, the content is very heavy and depressing. I read most of the book in one sitting (that’s how engrossing it is) and when I finished, I felt sick to my stomach, distressed and anxious. The author was so descriptive in the way she talked about how she ate, binged and purged that it seriously impacted by ability to eat my dinner afterwards. I completely lost my appetite for food. Luckily, that seems to have gone away a day later, but it was still a powerful feeling that I will never forget.
I won’t go into too much detail about her life story, because I don’t want to ruin the book for you. However, I will discuss some of the main themes and ideas that I thought were interesting.
One of the main themes of this book is identity and self-image. Nikki Dubose struggles with how she sees herself, tying her physical image and external accomplishments to her self-esteem. This is evident in the following passages from the book:
After the first time her body was criticized as a child: “Once my body became subject to ridicule, I believed that who I was as a human being was a mistake and feelings of worthlessness replaced my natural joy.”
Upon being accepted into modelling school: “I was accepted. I was somebody, a real somebody and soon everyone would know it. ‘I’ve finally done something worthwhile with my pathetic life!’ I thought.”
When she got her first job: “After the first paycheck, one concept sold me: the more money I raked in, the more valuable I was as a person.”
About writing articles for the school newspaper: “My published articles became my obsession; seeing my name in print somehow made me feel validated as a person. I had a mind and a voice of my own. I was somebody.”
About finding a place to live: “But home was a fickle term, an ever-changing concept. Home meant love and that was something I didn’t have, especially for myself.”
Nikki develops relationships with people and builds her career based on the idea that she wants to be worthwhile and important. But this reliance on other people often leads to hurt and heartbreak.
Her ability to see herself as worthwhile was forever impeded by the never-ending negative self-talk that ran through her head. This is something that I can completely understand and that transcends my own experiences. While I have never been abused nor do I have an eating disorder, I can still identity with the following passages:
About being abused by her step-father and mother: “I believed that I deserved the pain and automatically accepted my depressive thoughts. “Yes, I am a stupid idiot. I am. You stupid, stupid little girl. Why do you have to ruin everything?”
When purging: “I need to get rid of the voices, release the misery…I want to expel all of those memories out. I want to get the demons out. I stare at the vomit as it swirls in the toilet — this is my value, this I am sure of.”
Due to her low self-esteem and lack of self-worth, Nikki changes directions often. She worked in restaurants, real estate, attended esthetician school and more, before settling on her career as a model. I found the following passage beautiful and perfectly summarized the reasons behind her actions.
Upon graduating high school: “I had no clue what my next step was going to be. Having a diploma didn’t grant clarity or security. If anything, I felt more lost than before. I drove around the city in the evenings, not knowing where I would end up. Every song on the radio seemed to be filled with anxiety and dread. Driving to nowhere was pointless, but I couldn’t stop. Life couldn’t get to me as long as I kept moving.”
I do have a few criticisms of this book. I wish that she had spent a little more time on her recovery instead of a mere 13 pages at the end. Throughout the book, she does discuss attending a twelve-step group, accessing other support networks and taking medication. However, until the end of the book, none of those resources proved successful. It would be nice to hear more about her struggles as she finally managed to overcome her eating disorder and develops a healthier relationship with food and eating. Most of the book is very depressing – while enlightening and helpful to showcase what it is truly like to live with mental illness, at times, I myself felt a little bit hopeless.
As well, I know that she has done a lot of advocacy work and I would have loved to hear details about that. She is such an inspiring individual and I think it would have made the book even more impactful if she had included stories about this subject.
Finally, this is less of a criticism but more of a head’s up. Nikki uses her belief and faith in God as a strong tool in her recovery and talks about it at length. I am aware that not everyone believes in God. However, no matter my beliefs or your beliefs, there are still many lessons that can be learned from Nikki’s recovery story. Despite religious undertones, ideas — such as having the right attitude, learning how to persevere, transforming the way we see ourselves, understanding what our identity is rooted in and loving ourselves — can be understood by anyone.
Her book did leave me with hope, especially when she herself wrote with positivity, faith and optimism.
“Despite everything I had managed to screw up, the world still felt beautiful and magical at times. I could sense something good ahead, but I didn’t know what it was…’I am worthy and I have a purpose. One day this will all be over.'”
Interested in buying the book yourself? You can buy the book on Amazon here. In the sake of full transparency, I do want to disclose that I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review. I tried to be as honest as possible and reflect my true opinion.