Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Meth Addiction, by David Sheff, is precisely the type of book you're thankful Costco carries, so that it can be purchased by the masses. This honest and well written account of his son Nic's meth and alcohol addiction is one that all parents should read.
Thousands of families struggle secretly, not sharing this all consuming tragedy with anyone. Whether it's anorexia, bipolar disease, substance abuse, or extreme behavior problems, parents who cope share many of the same feelings: despair, the long term effects of living with irrationality, anger and grief. If for any other reason to read this book, it's to know that you are not alone.
A writer by profession, Sheff is introspective without being the typical woe-is-me hankie-wipe parent or gee-aren't-I-a-martyr father. You read how it's affected him and Nic's much younger brother and sister as well. Sheff writes about his emotions
with artful restraint. It's in the finely written details that drive home what he misses, what he's enraged by, and the reality of potential loss.
- We do not talk about Nic. It's not that we're not thinking about him. His addiction and its twin, the specter of his death, permeate the air we breathe.
- … if he were to die, or for that matter, if he stays high, I would live on –with that crack. I would grieve I would grieve forever. But I have been grieving for him since the drugs took over – grieving for the part of him that is missing.
Nic has 18-month periods of sobriety, then relapses numerous times. Nic moves to L.A. to be closer to his mother, only coming back home for short visits. When he's sober, it's always tenuous and hopeful. When he's not, he comes back to steal. Though life goes on, Nic is always on Sheff's mind at Pt. Reyes Station, filled with memories of his son. Here he is on an outing with his younger son, Jasper:
- … there's an astonishing swath of shocking pink flowers, exotics left over from a long-abandoned garden: pink ladies, pink like cotton candy. We sit there quietly, listening to a birdsong and wind in the leaves. Suddenly I am flooded with déja vu. I have been here before. Sitting on this same log. But with Nic.
The beauty where they live haunts Sheff. Memories of how things were are a sharp contrast to how his son lives now: crack houses in Oakland, garbled phone messages, break-ins, and even stealing from his little brother. This is what all parents grieve over -how good things used to be, and how things could be. For a parent never loses sight of that kernel of goodness they know is deep inside their child. Sheff debunks the cliché that people have to hit bottom before they get better. With the addict, there isn't a prolonged fall. What Sheff finds out is that the trip down is quick. It's the dragging along the bottom that seems to be sadly permanent.
David Sheff's son, Nic Sheff, has also written his account in the book Tweaked.
Photograph of Author David Sheff by Bart Nagel