Ten days ago, CNN published a letter from Nic Sheff. Nic is the son of David Sheff, author of the gut-punching and powerful memoir, “Beautiful Boy.” BB is one of the best books on addiction I’ve read–and, as the title implies, it’s about his son, Nic. Nic also wrote his own account of meth addiction in the autobiography “Tweak,” aimed at young adults. The two books, published in close succession last year, made for a compelling story: father and son, writing about a subject that millions of American families struggle with, wrestling openly with the persistent feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment associated with loving an addict, and being an addict.
Nic, it appears, has relapsed at least twice since publishing his book. He describes the events leading up to his relapse in the letter to CNN. Breaking up with his girlfriend, his mom leaving his step-dad–and, oh yeah, a manic episode. (My inner amateur physician says that he shouldn’t be on Prozac, which has a nasty habit of triggering mania.) Eventually, after lifting some pills from his mom, he gets some weed from a friend. The weed is nicknamed “Blueberry.” From the letter:
“It smelled like blueberries.
It was really f—in’ good.
So I was taking pills and smoking pot and, that weekend, I was scheduled to go to speak at this boys’ rehab in Washington. I would get paid $4,000 to talk to them about the memoir I’d written and being sober and whatever.”
Okay. My first thought after reading this was entirely judgemental and highly unfair. I’m sure I’m breaking one of the Twelve Steps here, and I admit that my reaction probably has more to do with my own baggage as a recovering drunk/addict/screw-up. Add to that some inexplicable desire to seem publicly holier than thou, exacerbated by the fact that I now have a blog. (I stopped using when I was nineteen. Good for me.) But it was this: perhaps Nic wasn’t ready to be poster boy for recovery after having been sober less than a year. Perhaps it was a responsibility that he couldn’t yet fully appreciate. Maybe it put a lot of extra pressure on him to have to give speeches at rehabs for boys while still in a death-grapple with his own being.
Nic hints at this, saying, now 45 days sober, that he’s “trying to let myself just be. And not worry about what ya’ll think and whether I’m pissing ya’ll off, or what.” The manic stream consciousness style of the letter, a classic staple of drug literature, reflects a sense that he’s still a little too in awe of the experience of highness. (Of course it’s f—ing good, it’s always f—ing good dude, it’s Blueberry!)
But after thinking it over for a few days, and talking about it with other alcoholic-but-on-the-wagon-friends, I realized I was basically being a hypercritical jerk. First off, I don’t know the guy, so I’d be talking out of my ass on any sweeping judgments I’d be making. Secondly, I’m of the mind that if you’re compelled to write something, you should write it. If publishing “Tweak” so soon out did him and his father some good, great. It couldn’t have made the trauma any worse than it already was. Thirdly, as a general rule, I think there are usually more positives than negatives in sharing your story. When it comes to addiction, we should talk it about more, we shouldn’t keep it in the closet.
And perhaps Nic’s ongoing public struggles with addiction actually give a more realistic picture than the standard “I’ve overcome my problem and stayed clean for X years” narrative. The reality is, addicts relapse all the time. It’s a day to to struggle. It’s what makes the disease so frustrating.
So, I hope, as Nic does take plenty of time to stop worrying about what everyone is thinking. Take a breath, get some perspective, try to live clean.
Personally, it took me years of sobriety before I had a clue of what actually happened while I was all messed up, and before I could truly empathize with my family for all the sh-t I put had them through. Only now, coming up on ten years out, have I been able to write and talk about it honestly.
Thoughts from addicts/non-addicts?
Anyway, I’ll be revisiting David Sheff’s book in another post later this week.