Imagine the heartbreak of a father learning that his son – his precious child who was always so smart, so cheerful, so full of life – is addicted.
David Sheff knows all about such misery, unfortunately, since he wrote a memoir about his son’s journey from addiction to crystal meth to recovery.
The book, Beautiful Boy, is at times a very tough read. Why? No matter who you are, whether you are a parent or not, you will be able to relate to the sorrow and suffering that this father — a very expressive professional writer, as it turns out — felt all through the growing up years of his son, Nic.
Here’s a sample of the kind of gut-wrenching questions David Sheff asked himself:
- What did I do wrong?
- What happened to my beautiful boy?
- What happened to our family?
Some consider Sheff’s memoir an extraordinary journal of pain, perseverance and hope. Others deem it painfully candid, yet equally powerful and optimistic. Whatever you call it, there’s no doubt that you cannot read the book without becoming moved by the story.
Do you find yourself somewhere in the pages? Have you struggled to try to understand what motivates your child to turn away from you, his loving parent or parents, and into non-stop use and misuse of alcohol or drugs?
One thing you will find interspersed in the pages of this well-written book is an incredible amount of research. It won’t jump up and bite you and announce itself as dry statistics, however, and that’s due to Sheff’s artistry as a writer. In between accounts of this or that incident with Nic, whether it’s in and out of rehab to tracking Nic down living on the streets nearly destitute, gaunt, filled with sores and bruises, there are facts that bring you up short. You realize that this man, this father, has gone to great lengths just trying to get his head around the problem of his son’s addiction.
It wasn’t an easy road. Sheff got a divorce when his son was young, lived as a single parent, and then remarried and had another child. Something gnaws his mind about how, maybe — just maybe — he really is at fault for his son’s addiction. No matter what he hears from the psychologists and counselors that it isn’t his fault, no matter how many times he hears that statement uttered during Nic’s family therapy sessions or later at Al-Anon meetings, Sheff doesn’t really believe it. Deep down inside, he feels the blame lies with him.
This is the part of family journey to recovery that could only be penned by someone who actually went through it and had the guts and stamina to put the story down on paper.
You’d think that one stint in rehab would do the trick, right? After all, when someone is addicted, goes through detoxification, gets clean, and receives counseling, he or she should be able to straighten up and live life right. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. In fact, if someone doesn’t complete rehab, there’s an extraordinarily great risk of relapse.
Even when individuals do go all the way through treatment for addiction, there are no guarantees that he or she will remain abstinent. Without ongoing support through participation in 12 step self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous (to name just two of the best-known fellowships), as well as family support (should the individual be fortunate enough to have a family that supports and encourages recovery efforts), the newly sober individual will find recovery a very difficult process.
Giving up, as a matter of fact, rejecting rehab and recovery and staying sober, is what Nic went through not once, not twice, but several times. His father would take him to rehab, and as soon as he could get away with it, Nic ran away. Sometimes he’d stay away for weeks, then months, before finally calling his father begging to come home.
After many years of struggle, in and out of rehab, Nic finally managed to stay clean for a while. Then, after visiting with his father and the family, Nic confessed that it had been a rough couple of months since his relapse. This was after two years of sobriety. His father was incredibly sad to learn of the relapse. This time, it could have led to catastrophe, but Nic got it together and checked himself into a residential treatment program. Following completion of that program, he began outpatient treatment that included therapy, 12 step meetings, recovery support groups and drug testing.
Recovery experts say that the ability to recognize relapse and choose to get help is a sign of tremendous progress. And recovery is all about progress. You live each day in the present, working the steps, doing what you can for your own recovery. This includes the person with the addiction as well as family members of the loved one with the addiction. That’s because addiction affects everyone in the family.
Will there be success for everyone who’s addicted? Will each person be able to overcome his or her addiction and go on to live a healthy, happy and productive life in sobriety? Sadly, no. And there are no guarantees, even with progress. Recovery is an ongoing process, one that lasts the rest of the person’s life.
Here’s what Sheff told a friend who asked how Nic was doing. “I say he’s doing pretty well after his relapse. I also admit that I relapse, though in a very different way. I’m usually fine, but I can still be overcome by worry and panic and a futile need for control. Then I’m better again. I live with the knowledge that I can listen to Nic, advise him when he’s interested in what I have to say — we’re pretty good these days about talking openly. But it’s up to him.”
David Sheff concludes the book with these words: “To live with addiction — one’s own or a loved one’s — involves living with uncertainty. It also requires enormous suffering. I’m coming to accept these truths after years of fighting them. The surprise is that the more I accept them, the less I suffer.”
So, for anyone who knows a family where a child has an addiction, or if you are struggling with addiction of your own child, this book should be on your must-read list.