Monday, March 9, 2009

Beautiful Boy

After reading Nic Sheff's Tweak, a book on his meth addiction, I decided to pick up his father's, David Sheff's, book Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey through His Son's Meth Addiction. I have to say, I really enjoyed both and thought that both perspectives were very interesting to see.

Addiction is hard, especially on the parents. I think that it was a very in-depth and interesting way to look at addiction: from both sides. First I read the account of the addict, the first-hand experience. I read his thoughts, motivations, and feelings. Then, the father gave us some more history on his upbringing and how he perceived the same experience. It was very rich.

The parental perspective is not as popular as the addict's perspective. Many former addicts have written personal accounts of their experiences, perhaps to try to educate others or prevent other terrible things to happen again. However, the perspective of those affected (family and friends) is rarely documented. It seems that the only person who has the issue is the addict, but if the addict has a bunch of people that care for him/her, then they are affected too.

Sheff begins writing about Nic from an early age. He describes how bright and talented he was; he never suspected that he would eventually become an addict. Nic experimented with drugs in middle school (but so many often do), so how do you know when a kid is just fooling around versus seriously becoming hooked on something? You can only control so much as a parent without turning the kid off, losing the kid, or festering resentment. Nic found drugs anyway, despite Sheff's intentions to stop it as soon as possible, and the road to addiction started off at a pretty quick speed after that.

Sheff depicts very well how the experience is for a parent. They blame themselves, something that it took Sheff a very long time to get over. He put Nic through a divorced childhood. He admitted to Nic that he used to take drugs (somehow making it okay for Nic to take that path as well. Sheff could just turn it off when he wanted to, unlike his son). He didn't stop it soon enough once it stopped. He smoked pot with him once in an attempt to build their failing relationship and regretted that ever since. Blame, blame, blame. He caused it, he thought. It was all because of him.

And maybe that's easy to think. I bet we all blame ourselves for things that were way out of our control. Especially when it comes to something that is biological... This addiction Nic had. It was like a switch inside that was turned on once he started taking drugs and alcohol. Is there anyone really to blame for that?

The toll Sheff took as a parent was frightening and sobering. He made a good point, and I don't have it verbatim but close enough: The parents suffer everyday, just like the addict, but at least the addict has many times where they can escape the pain with drugs--the family does not have that. Every phone call, Sheff would think it was his son calling or someone else calling to confirm his fears that he was hurt or dead. He said he relived Nic's death too many times over in his head. Every time Nic tried to get sober, he would have doubts. When Nic started stealing from him and breaking into his house, he hit an all-time low. He wasn't Nic when he was on drugs. So what do you even do in that situation?

Parents just want for their kids to be happy, safe, and healthy. Sheff expected that his son would go to college, get a good job, have a family, and be happy. He never expected that he would flounder at college because of relapsing and then float in and out of rehabs before becoming secure. No one expects that of their child, and who can? It's hard to have a vision and have it crushed by something this debilitating. It's depressing, and it happens ALL the time.

At least Sheff had the financial ability to keep assisting Nic every chance that he could. He bought him plane tickets and month stays at rehab centers. He had to buy therapy for him and his family (especially for his two younger children) to recover from the pain. So many people don't have these opportunities. How can we make more of these for those with so much less who hit rock bottom...?

Another point I would like to bring up is Sheff's two young children, Jasper and Daisy. They were so young when Nic's addiction started (Daisy was in kindergarten and Jasper is only two years older). A hard part for Sheff was explaining everything to the children in terms they could understand. Why was Nic home sometimes and not others? Why would he act differently? Why would he steal? Why was he in the hospital? Why is daddy crying? It's hard on the parents, but I can't understand how it is on the children who really have no concept for what is going on. It must be terrifying, but at least it's not their parent who is undergoing this trauma.

What once started for Sheff as an article titled "My Addicted Son" that was published in The New York Times Magazine in 2005 became Beautiful Boy. Sheff got such a response that he decided to fully flesh it out into a memoir. It helped him get over the hard times as therapy, but he also had to relive the horrible memories. Sheff has received many responses from parents who really looked to him for help and support, and they wanted to share their own stories as Sheff did himself. He opened up a door that so many never knew to open, and he's really doing a lot of good service for those who feel alienated and have no one to turn to. It's a very positive thing for such a negative situation.

He really points out a lot of good statistics and research behind addiction, to understand more about it. He gets into the psychology of it and how the brain functions when it needs drugs and after it's used drugs. It's very interesting. I also like that he points out that addiction affects anyone no matter what race, gender, or socioeconomic status. It will take anyone; it doesn't discriminate.

I would highly recommend reading Beautiful Boy AND Tweak. They are both very inspiring, motivating, and engaging. They can really drain you, but you'll take a lot out of their life lessons that they clearly put right on the table for you. It's time well spent in the end.

So, what did you think of Beautiful Boy?


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