Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction

03Oct08

I am nursing a pretty gross cold, and so I stayed home from work today.  As much as it sucks to be ACTUALLY sick on a sick day, I did get a chance to finish my book, Beautiful Boy:  A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff.  We decided to read this for book club, for the month of October.  Initially, I was hesitant to read this book, mostly due to my slight aversion to memoirs.  I don’t *hate* them, but I do definitely find them to be self-indulgent on occasion.  The last memoir I read, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was actually one of the few books in my lifetime that I wanted to chuck across the room, for that very reason.

Anyway, reluctant as I was, I picked up the book and I was instantly sucked in.  David Sheff’s account of his son, Nic’s life, from childhood through adulthood, including his battle with his own addictions to methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, prescription medication, etc.  Clearly, this story isn’t new and groundbreaking–there are memoirs available that have discussed the crisis of addiction, and what the disease does for the family, but there was something about this account that sucked me right in.

The book’s honesty and revelations were intense and heartbreaking — I felt disappointed reading about Nic’s decisions and relapses, and joyous with his triumphs and successes.  Having never experimented with drugs myself, I learned so much about the pull and draw of addiction.  I have a better sense of what it means as a disease, which is something I am not sure I knew or really grasped before reading about Nic’s struggles and relapses and difficulties as a meth addict.  David Sheff makes the reader understand that dealing with addiction goes beyond wanting the person you love to “just stop” or giving enough love and money to make the person get better.  It’s a complex disease, and dealing with it as an outsider involves more than just love.

As someone who has a shaky (at best) relationship with my own father, it made me realize the power of fatherly love, most specifically in the face of crisis.  Nic Sheff wrote his own book about his meth addiction (Tweak), and David and Nic did a book tour together, as a sort of open dialogue about this experience, and the road ahead, in Nic’s continued rehabilitation and recovery.

While reading this book, I continued to do research about David and Nic Sheff and their family.  It is true that Nic was raised in the spirit of privilege, in a nouveau-boho family with creative parents and step-parents, and Nic’s father does admit to having used drugs (including a one-time experience with crystal meth) but as we all know, there’s nothing about any one particular lifestyle that predisposes a child to become a drug addict.  I think it is extraordinarily brave of David to discuss his own history and his own confusion about what he might have exposed his son to.  It’s important (I think, especially in memoirs…) to look at the complete story, and reading about David Sheff’s process of grieving and growing and dealing with his son’s disease really helped me understand what he went through and continues to struggle with. 

I highly highly recommend this book.  I absolutely loved it — it made me cheer, cry, soar, and fall.  I am so very glad that we are reading this book for book club and I am eager to discuss it.

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