David Sheff said, “Why does it help to read others’ stories? It is not only that misery loves company, because (I learned) misery is too self-absorbed to want much company. Others’ experiences did help with my emotional struggle.”
Addiction is one of the most powerful and misunderstood diseases that plagues our nation. It affects people across all lines of socioeconomic status, location, gender, and often causes the deconstruction of families. “Beautiful Boy,” a memoir written by David Sheff, recounts his family’s struggle to cope with their son Nic’s meth addiction. It is now being made into a major motion picture directed by Felix Van Groeningen, starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell. The movie set to release in October of this year.
Sheff paints a beautiful and tragic picture of his struggle to help his son battle with the monster that is methamphetamine. His story not only recounts the chaotic years of Nic’s life, but also the moments of hope, joy, and nostalgia on Nic’s youth growing up in the bay area of California.
From start to finish, Sheff’s story breaks our heart and mends it back together multiple times, giving us a small taste of what it feels like to be the parent of someone who is fighting one of the worst health crisis of the century.
I read “Beautiful Boy” as a teenager with very little understanding of opiates or any otherdrugs. I had no reason for choosing this book, only that I really enjoyed reading memoirs and hearing people’s personal stories. Although I did not have any personal connection experiencing addiction in my family at the time, I was very moved by David Sheff’s story. I later read “Tweak”, Nic Sheff’s memoir during his years struggling with methamphetamine, and was fascinated to see the contrast between their narratives and how the disease of addiction can create a love triangle among father, son, and addiction.
Reading memoirs about families struggling with addiction is not your typical teenage light reading, but these were the stories I wanted to hear. Real stories. Of real people. Struggling and triumphing and struggling again and again. They helped me understand that addiction is a disease. It helped me empathize with people I saw living on the streets. And, as a I got older, it helped me recognize and be able to cope with addictive behaviors from close friends, family members, and relationships.
“Beautiful Boy” went to the back of my mind for a few years, although during that time I experienced a long relationship with someone who suffered from addiction and experienced a very destructive and heartbreaking period. I remember reading Nick Sheff’s story and thinking how much he reminded me of that person that I loved. I thought that with enough time and patience and understanding, I could help him get to a place where drugs and alcohol were not the center of his life. But, as “Beautiful Boy” depicts, it’s not a simple process. And it’s most certainly not “one and done”.
Sheff explained, “Mistakes are inevitable. Pain is inevitable. But so are growth and wisdom and serenity if families approach addiction with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and the acceptance that recovery, like addiction itself, is a long and complex process. Families should never give up hope for recovery- for recovery can and does happen every day. Nor should they stop living their own lives while they wait for that miracle of recovery to occur.”
I eventually came to understand that the addiction was stronger than our relationship. It’s a painful realization, but it’s also relieving because in some ways, as David Sheff talks about in his book, a person helping an addict can become obsessed, or addicted, to the well-being of the person that they care about. If he was struggling, I was struggling. If he was nowhere to be found, I was distraught. And if his destructive behaviors projected on to me, I blamed myself. I was far too young to be invested this deeply into an addicted person, and I eventually got out of the relationship knowing that the person that I knew and loved was far gone.
Years later, I’m here working at Lines for Life. Knowingly or unknowingly, I ended up at an organization that focuses on substance abuse, suicide prevention, and mental wellness.
What do I do here? I listen to people’s stories and share them with the world. Every day, there is new hope to be found. We live in a very broken nation. Addiction, or “the disease of despair” as I’ve heard it called, is rampant particularly in the state of Oregon, but there is hope.
Hearing stories from other people lets us know that we are not alone. I needed the insight from “Beautiful Boy” about addiction before I even knew that I needed it. And now I have the opportunity to hear stories of hope from incredible people every day.
I am thankful to David and Nic Sheff. Their stories are so many people’s stories. Their pain is our pain. But their hope is our hope too. They were able to inspire and support a young woman to help others struggling with addiction and mental health issues, and I’m certain that I’m not the only one who was moved by their story.
“Beautiful Boy” is set to release on October 12, 2018. I have no doubt that a new wave of hope and conversation surrounding addiction and its effect on families is coming. I am ecstatic to see how this screen adaptation changes lives and helps people understand what the power of sharing your story can do.
C. Fritz is an AmeriCorps volunteer for the 2017-2018 year working in the communications department at Lines for Life. She is originally from Illinois and is a graduate of Illinois State University with a BS in public relations. AmeriCorps VISTA program provides non-profit organizations capacity building in the form of additional volunteers with a focus on fighting poverty across the US.