Reading two different accounts of the story of a drug addict allows much room for comparison between the two. In the case of David and Nic Sheff’s books, I was surprised at how much similarity there was between the two; they agreed on most points and there was no striking discontinuity in their stories. There is, however, a significant difference in the perspectives from which the two are told. Naturally, Nic, as the addict son, takes on a more self-centered view.
In David’s book it is clear that Nic’s addiction is the one central driving force in their family life, especially in David’s daily life. In Nic’s book, however, his relationship with his father and the rest of his family is only one of the several focal points of the book; Nic is also preoccupied with girlfriends, friends, and his sponsor.
David Sheff’s book is a very self-reflecting account. He is constantly analyzing the past, the decisions he’s made with Nic, and putting it all together in a desperate attempt to find answers to his son’s downfall.
He struggles with a constant mental conflict: “What did I do wrong?” His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself, and the obsessive worry and stress took a tremendous toll, to the point where he suffered from a massive hemorrhage. David’s view of the progression of Nic’s addiction reflects the Social Learning Theories and Psychoanalytical explanations of American drug use. At first, David views the onset of Nic’s addiction as a cause of some childhood lifestyle factors he lived through (such as the divorce).
Later on, however, David realizes that there are thousands of teenagers who are reeled into the dark world of drugs and do not necessarily come from traumatic backgrounds; that these two things are not always directly linked. They are simply reinforced by others, usually drug-using friends, regardless of how they were raised. Ronald Akers built on this idea of operant conditioning by pointing out that drug-using behavior is reinforced socially more than physiologically. This is exactly what happened to Nic as he surrounded himself more and more with friends and girlfriends who induced his addiction. As evident as it may have seemed, it took David a while to shift his focus from reflecting on the past to what was quickly making Nic’s situation worse.
Nic, on the other hand, is not very psychoanalytic about his addiction. David has hope for his son, while Nic has very little hope for himself. While telling his story, David is trying to discover and unveil what led to all of this misery in his family. He longs to find answers and causations for all of it. Nic, on the other hand, doesn’t focus on the “why.” Although he has moments where he confesses he never thought he would turn out this way, he doesn’t spend much time dwelling on what led him to his addiction. Instead, Nic just tells his story and focuses on the very near future. This is typical of an addict’s mentality. Each day is so unsure and unstable that they can’t manage to plan more than one or two days ahead. The deeper he sinks into his addiction, the more surprised he is to find that he wakes up alive each day.
Rather than fight it, Nic accepts the fact that he is a hardcore addict and that his life will never be the same. It took his father a much longer time to realize this and fully accept it. I was genuinely shocked at how honest Nic is throughout the whole book while telling his story. He admits that his parents are forcing him to go into a treatment center and that he has “fucked everything up beyond repair.” Most addicts make themselves seem like the victim and leave out a lot of information about their bad habits. Nic openly shares everything, even his darkest moments of intoxication and suicidal depression. He looks for ways to support the high demands of his druggie lifestyle and makes the necessary amends, even if it means stealing from his own family while they are desperately trying to help him.
Nic’s selfishness, however, turns into feelings of deep guilt toward the end on the book when he is on the road to recovery and with his two parents. When his mind clears up, he realizes how badly he has torn everyone apart, especially his mom and dad. These emotional realizations are part of his recovery. David, however, experiences the exact opposite. At the early stages of his son’s addiction, he dedicated all his time and energy to the matter, to the point where he forgot about his own health and happiness. As Nic’s addiction progressed, David shifted focus to himself and stopped obsessing over everything that had to do with his son’s addiction. David’s road to recovery meant almost the exact opposite of Nic’s: dedicating more time and energy to himself rather than taking others into primary consideration.
David Sheff tells his family’s story from the very early happy days and takes his readers all the way through Nic’s descent into his darkest moments, while Tweak begins with Nic already deep into his addiction. Nic Sheff’s Tweak is the dark counterpoint to Beautiful Boy. The elder writer’s grief-filled memoir glows dimly like a distant planet of despair, while the son’s account of the same events burns like an angry Mars.
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