All That is Bitter and Sweet by Ashley Judd (with Maryanne Vollers) really could be two different books: one about Ashley Judd’s work with Population Services International (PSI) and another about her personal journey to recovery.
It is the fact that one book intersperses both things, the volunteer work and the recovery, though, that gives it its depths.
In summarizing the takeaways of the book, I feel led to talk about Ashley’s work with PSI rather than focus on the personal history that is infused throughout. Ashley recounts a volatile upbringing, one that would threaten any girl’s sense of stability and disrupt the path to a healthy adulthood. Ultimately, Ashley concludes that people can change and grow; people can overcome difficult upbringings (especially with the pursuit of professional therapy); families are messy. Aside from birth families, embracing families “of choice” can give us the nurturing we need.
As someone who loves dabbling in the acting world (in a very very minor way), I enjoyed hearing about Ashley’s acting experiences and I have tremendous respect for her accomplishments in the performance world. It is the fact that she has utilized that success as a platform for her humanitarian causes as a celebrity ambassador for PSI that most engenders my respect.
Ashley says early on, in reference to her beloved pets, “my animal companions give me the gift of needing my love–and I have love in abundance.” She struggles the first time she goes on an ambassador trip with PSI (to Phnom Penh to address the AIDS epidemic). She struggles in the sense that she becomes profoundly physically ill, having absorbed so much poverty, tragedy, inequity, and pain.
Ashley’s progress from the curled-up, sick-with-the-agony-of-it-all woman on a bathroom floor in Cambodia through a woman in recovery with the ability to find some equilibrium was touched throughout by the power of yoga. I have been a Seane Corn fan for a few years now, so Seane’s role in Ashley’s life intrigued me (and did not at all surprise me).
As moved as I was by the stories I read of Ashley’s work in Thailand, Cambodia, Republic of the Congo, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, and South Africa, I saw in her writing the faces I have seen in Guatemala. (Ashley traveled to Guatemala to represent PSI in a campaign for condom usage and AIDS prevention; it is very hard to crack certain long held beliefs in this country and therefore keep people, especially women and unborn babies, protected from AIDS.) I took a screenshot of the page where she talks about her conversation with Melchor, a Guatemalan man who had contracted HIV. Ashley asked Melchor what she should tell the Guatemalan president in the next day’s meeting. Ashley said Melchor “spoke with vigor about the urgent need for sex education at home and in schools.” She want on to say, “His spiel was as articulate as any printed NGO material I’d ever seen.” That’s the thing. These people are so articulate in their own right. It mystifies me that our world still makes it more powerful for a movie actress to advocate than for a poor man. Don’t get me wrong; I am grateful that Ashley spends her time this way. I just wish marginalized people did not have to fight so very hard to simply subsist, much less to thrive.
Ashley has clawed her way out of some dismally dark emotional places in order to strengthen herself to visit some of the world’s physically darkest places. By doing so she brings light to the devastation wrought by the triad of poverty, illness, and gender inequality. The light emanates from a God who goes by many different names and manifests him/herself in our words and actions.
I put this book down inspired by Ashley’s choices and confident that PSI’s work is making a difference. I am confident you will find the same if you choose to read it.
For more information about PSI:
Visit this site: www.psi.org
Visit them on Facebook by clicking here.
Visit them on Twitter by clicking here.
*I received a complimentary copy of All That is Bitter and Sweet for review purposes. The opinions here are my own.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.