A book that I would not have normally picked up, Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff, has recently broadened my horizons. This book is about a father’s journey throughout his son’s drug addiction and alcoholism, yet so much more. While reading this book, I pondered my own life, my own path. This book is an insight to the emotional trauma inflicted on family members of an addict.
I have no personal experience with drugs or alcohol, only stories and scenes from movies, but I have been taught more in the past week from a book then what I’ve learned in 3 years of health classes. David Sheff’s compelling story is more than well written, it’s inspiring. He tells his story while providing information and what I assume would be comforting and helpful to those going through the same/similar situation.
David lives in California where he started a family with his wife Vickie. They had a son, Nic, and were model parents. They made sure he had books, toys, and stuffed animals. They also paid attention to brands, picking the right stroller, the right car seat, food, clothes, anything their son needed. Which was great for Nic (even if he didn’t know it) but it took a toll on their marriage; after spending so much time concentrating on Nic, they forgot about themselves. David and Vickie divorced when Nic was five. After expensive lawyers and custody battles, an arrangement was made: Nic was to spend the school year with his dad, and summers with his mom.
Nic had more frequent flyer miles by high school than most people have in a lifetime (but that is jumping ahead). David met Karen, she was an artist and was able to connect with Nic and soon enough take on the role of the stepmother. Things were easy, and everyone seemed happy. Karen and David had two children together, Jasper and Daisy. Daisy (the youngest) was born shortly after Nic graduated from middle school and was about to enter a private high school that he had been accepted into.
David first finds that Nic experimented with pot was during a sleepover with one of his friends. He didn’t know what to do, how could his son with all his knowledge, smoke pot? Smoke period! He found cigarettes in his backpack before, which was brushed off with 2 weeks grounded and a promise from Nic that it would never happen again and it was a stupid thing to do in the first place. After finding drugs, David was at a loss. How could he punish Nic when he used when he was young? What David didn’t know; this was just the beginning. David didn’t know Nic was addicted to drugs until Nic’s senior year. His kid was bright, teachers wrote praises and he was just Nic, a normal teenager. Throughout Nic’s adolescent life, he constantly abused drugs; even through his first semester of college at UC Berkley (before he quit school), when he promised that he would be fine and would stop using on his own. He wasn’t fine.
Reading Beautiful Boy you can emotionally connect with David, Nic, and his family. Through memories and sharing his inner thoughts, David shows readers his pain, confusion, and anger toward his son. Addiction is a disease, and it’s hard to beat… yet how could Nic choose to have it? He didn’t. That’s what the therapists said and so did the doctors at rehabilitation centers but it’s still hard for non-users to understand. Other parents accused their kids of choosing to do drugs, and they should have made the conscious decision to just stop. But medically, it’s not that easy. Nic was grateful for the programs he was entered into and genuinely tried, but without being his normal self, Nic couldn’t take it. He exited himself out of programs and lasted only one or two weeks before he relapsed. Nic couldn’t take the talk of god and praying, it wasn’t him. His family wasn’t religious, he didn’t know if there was a god, and he didn’t want to pray to a “higher power”.
Therefore, he started using because without the program, he couldn’t stay sober on his own. A kid like Nic needed support; having a confused, emotional father behind Nic wasn’t enough. Nic ended up in the hospital after overdosing, thankfully, he was fine but discharged himself against doctor recommendation and returned to LA and to his former junkie girlfriend where they traveled to Oakland (Oakland is known for drugs, more like the capital of methamphetamine). During his trip, he had called David and flat out lied to him, telling him he was writing a column and traveled to a commercial shoot with his girlfriend. Nic was a different person when he used drugs; he lied and stole from his family. Nic wrote forged checks because his family refused to give him any more money.
Although his became addicted, Nic was once a regular kid in high school and was doing well. He was a bright kid. I relate to his curiosity to drugs and alcohol. It’s a constant temptation to teenagers and if your looking for trouble, both temptations are easily at your disposal. Every teen wants to be considered popular, cool, fun; but do drugs and alcohol really define those labels we all strive to achieve? It can’t be answered as yes or no, because its high school. If you go to parties, you drink, do a little pot, then yes your cool. But what if you don’t? Are you destined to be in the back of group photos and have an unsigned yearbook? No. Of course not, you can still ‘be yourself’ and have a social life in high school.
I do. Nic got to experience the parties and the drugs and alcohol firsthand, and so have some of my friends, and I can see the effects. I know that drugs and alcohol are stupid, for lack of a better term; they screw up your life. When I read about Nic’s confession to his father about how he and his friend mixed gin, rum, vodka, and all the alcohol in a cabinet because they wanted to see how if felt to be drunk, it was real, because it’s a common thought for me. My friends like to party and get drunk; they drink for that purpose only, to get drunk.
Reading about drugs and alcohol addiction isn’t something many parents agree with, but I think its good. Books like Beautiful Boy are very educational, especially for curious teenagers, I highly recommend that they read this book. David is a concerned parent, and I don’t know any person that would intentionally hurt (emotionally) their family as much as Nic did. Its not something you want, and its not as if addicts don’t try to stop, rehab and relapse are both steps to healing and its hard to understand. David Sheff does a lovely job explain life living with an addict and how getting help is okay.