With a new afterword
Now a Major Motion Picture
Starring Steve Carell * Timothée Chalamet * Maura Tierney * and Amy Ryan
“A brilliant, harrowing, heartbreaking, fascinating story, full of beautiful moments and hard-won wisdom. This book will save a lot of lives and heal a lot of hearts.” — Anne Lamott
“‘When one of us tells the truth, he makes it easier for all of us to open our hearts to our own pain and that of others.’ That’s ultimately what Beautiful Boy is about: truth and healing.” — Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia
What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets. David Sheff traces the first warning signs: the denial, the three a.m. phone calls—is it Nic? the police? the hospital? His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every treatment that might save his son. And he refused to give up on Nic.
“Filled with compelling anecdotes and important insights . . . An eye-opening memoir.” — Washington Post
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It hurts so bad that I cannot save him, protect him, keep him out of harm's way, shield him from pain. What good are fathers if not for these things?
— Thomas Lynch, "The Way We Are"
"Howdy Pop, God, I miss you guys so much. I can't wait to see you all. Only one more day!!! Woo-hoo." Nic is emailing from college on the evening before he arrives home for summer vacation. Jasper and Daisy, our eight- and five-year- olds, are sitting at the kitchen table cutting, pasting, and coloring notes and welcome- home banners for his homecoming. They have not seen their big brother in six months.
In the morning, when it's time to leave for the airport, I go outside to round them up. Daisy, wet and muddy, is perched on a branch high up in a maple tree. Jasper stands below her. "You give me that back or else!" he warns.
"No," she responds. "It's mine." There is bold defiance in her eyes, but then, when he starts to climb up the tree, she throws down the Gandalf doll he's after.
"It's time to go get Nic," I say, and they dash past me into the house, chanting, "Nicky Nicky Nicky." We drive the hour and a half to the airport. When we reach the terminal, Jasper yells, "There's Nic." He points. "There!" Nic, an army green duffel bag slung over his shoulder, leans against a NO PARKING sign on the curb outside United baggage claim. Lanky thin in a faded red T-shirt and his girlfriend's cardigan, sagging jeans that ride below his bony hips, and red Converse All-Stars, when he sees us, his face brightens and he waves.
The kids both want to sit next to him and so, after throwing his bags into the way back, he climbs over Jasper and buckles in between them. In turn he clasps each of their heads between the palms of his hands and kisses their cheeks. "It's so good to see you," he says. "I missed you little boinkers. Like crazy." To us up front, he adds, "You, too, Pops and Mama." As I drive away from the airport, Nic describes his flight. "It was the worst," he says. "I was stuck next to a lady who wouldn't stop talking. She had platinum hair with peaks like on lemon meringue pie. Cruella De Vil horn-rimmed eyeglasses and prune lips and thick pink face powder." "Cruella De Vil?" Jasper asks. He is wide-eyed. Nic nods. "Just like her. Her eyelashes were long and false — purple, and she wore this perfume: Eau de Stinky." He holds his nose. "Yech." The kids are rapt.
We drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. A river of thick fog pours below us and wraps around the Marin Headlands. Jasper asks, "Nic, are you coming to Step-Up?" referring to his and Daisy's upcoming graduation celebration. The kids are stepping up from second grade to third and kindergarten to first grade.
"Wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China," Nic responds. Daisy asks, "Nic, do you remember that girl Daniela? She fell off the climbing structure and broke her toe."
"She has a cast," Jasper adds. "A cast on her toe?"
Nic asks. "It must be teeny."
Jasper gravely reports, "They will cut it off with a hacksaw." "Her toe?"
They all giggle.
After a while, Nic tells them, "I have something for you kiddos.
In my suitcase." "Presents!" When we get home," he responds.
They beg him to tell them what, but he shakes his head. "No way, José. It's a surprise." I can see the three of them in the rearview mirror. Jasper and Daisy have smooth olive complexions. Nic's was, too, but now it's gaunt and rice-papery. Their eyes are brown and clear, whereas his are dark globes. Their hair is dark brown, but Nic's, long and blond when he was a child, is faded like a field in late summer with smashed-down sienna patches and sticking-up yellowed clumps — a result of his unfortunate attempt to bleach it with Clorox.
"Nic, will you tell us a P. J. story?" Jasper begs. For years Nic has entertained the kids with The Adventures of P. J. Fumblebumble, a British detective of his invention. "Later, mister, I promise."
We head north on the freeway, exiting and turning west, meandering through a series of small towns, a wooded state park, and then hilly pastureland. We stop in Point Reyes Station to retrieve the mail. It's impossible to be in town without running into a dozen friends, all of whom are pleased to see Nic, bombarding him with questions about school and his summer plans. Finally we drive off and follow the road along Papermill Creek to our left turn, where I head up the hill and pull into our driveway.
"We have a surprise, too, Nicky," says Daisy. Jasper looks sternly at her. "Don't you tell him!" "It's signs. We made them." "Dai-sy. . ."
Lugging his bags, Nic follows the kids into the house. The dogscharge him, barking and howling. At the top of the stairs, Nic is greeted by the kids' banners and drawings, including a hedgehog, captioned, "I miss Nic, boo hoo," drawn by Jasper. Nic praises their artistry and then trudges into his bedroom to unpack. Since he left for college, his room, a Pompeian
ed chamber at the far end of the house, has become an adjunct playroom with a display of Jasper's Lego creations, including a maharaja's castle and
motorized R2-D2. Preparing for his return, Karen cleared off Daisy's menagerie of stuffed animals and made up the bed with a comforter and fresh pillows.
When Nic emerges, his arms are loaded with gifts. For Daisy, there are Josefina and Kirsten, American Girl dolls, hand-me-downs from his girlfriend. They are prettily dressed in, respectively, an embroidered peasant blouse and serape and a green velvet jumper. Jasper gets a pair of cannon- sized Super Soakers.
"After dinner," Nic warns Jasper, "you will be so wet that you will have to swim back into the house."
"You'll be so wet you'll need a boat." "You'll be wetter than a wet noodle."
"You'll be so wet that you won't need a shower for a year." Nic laughs. "That's fine with me," he says. "It'll save me a lot of time."
We eat and then the boys fill up the squirt guns and hasten outside into the windy evening, running in opposite directions. Karen and I watch from the living room. Stalking each other, the boys lurk among the Italian cypress and oaks, duck under garden furniture, and creep behind hedges. When there's a clean shot, they squirt each other with thin streams of water. Hidden behind some potted hydrangeas, Daisy watches from near the house. When the boys race past her, she twirls a spigot she's grasping with one hand and takes aim with a garden hose she's holding in the other. She drenches them.
I stop the boys just as they're about to catch her. "You don't deserve to be rescued," I tell her, "but it's bedtime."
Jasper and Daisy take baths and put on their pajamas and then ask Nic to read to them. He sits on a miniature couch between their twin beds, his long legs stretched out on the floor. He reads from The Witches, by Roald Dahl. We hear his voice — voices — from the next room: the boy narrator, all
wonder and earnestness; wry and creaky Grandma; and the shrieking, haggy Grand High Witch.
"Children are foul and filthy!. .. Children are dirty and stinky! .. . Children are smelling of dogs' drrrroppings!. .. They are vurse than dogs' drrroppings! Dogs' drrroppings is smelling like violets and prrrimroses compared with children!" Nic's performance is irresistible, and the children, as always, are riveted by him. At midnight, the storm that has been building finally hits. There's a hard rain, and intermittent volleys of hailstones pelt down like machine-gun fire on the copper roof tiles. We rarely have electrical storms, but tonight the sky lights up like popping flashbulbs.
Between thunderclaps, I hear the creaking of tree branches. I also hear Nic padding along the hallway, making tea in the kitchen, quietly strumming his guitar and playing Björk, Bollywood soundtracks, and Tom Waits, who sings his sensible advice: "Never drive a car when you're dead." I worry about Nic's insomnia but push away my suspicions, reminding myself how far he has come since the previous school year, when he dropped out of Berkeley. This time, he went east to college and completed his freshman year. Given what we have been through, this feels miraculous. By my count, he is coming up on his one hundred and fiftieth day without methamphetamine.
In the morning the storm has passed, and the sun shimmers on the wet maple leaves. I dress and join Karen and the little kids in the kitchen. Nic, wearing flannel pajama bottoms, a fraying wool sweater, and x-ray specs, shuffles in. He hovers over the kitchen counter, fussing with the espresso maker, filling it with water and coffee and setting it on a flame, and then sits down to a bowl of cereal with Jasper and Daisy.
"Daisy," he says. "Your hose attack was brilliant, but I'm going to have to repay you for it. Watch your back." She cranes her neck. "I can't see it." Nic says, "I love you, you wacko."
Soon after Daisy and Jasper leave for school, a half-dozen women arrive to help Karen make a going-away gift for a beloved teacher. They bejewel a concrete birdbath with seashells, polished stones, and handmade (by students) tiles. As they work, they chat and sip tea. I hide in my office.
The women are taking a lunch break in the open kitchen. One of the mothers has brought Chinese chicken salad. Nic, who had gone back to sleep, emerges from his bedroom, shaking off his grogginess and greeting the women. He politely answers their questions — once again, about college and his summer plans — and then excuses himself, saying that he's off to a job interview.
After he leaves, I hear the mothers talking about him.
"What a lovely boy."
One comments on his good manners. "You're very lucky," she tells Karen. "Our teenage son sort of grunts. Otherwise he never gives us the time of day."
In a couple hours, Nic returns to a quiet house — the mosaicing mothers have gone home. He got the job. Tomorrow he goes in for training as a waiter at an Italian restaurant. Though he is aghast at the required uniform, including stiff black shoes and a burgundy vest, he was told that he will make piles of money in tips.
The following afternoon, after the training session, Nic practices on us, drawing his character from the waiter in one of his memorized videos, Lady and the Tramp. We are sitting down for dinner. With one hand aloft, balancing an imaginary tray, he enters, singing in a lilting Italian accent, "Oh, this is the night, it's a beautiful night, and we call it bella notte." After dinner, Nic asks if he can borrow the car to go to an AA meeting. After missed curfews and assorted other infractions, including banging up both of our cars (efficiently doing it in one accident, driving one into the other), by last summer he had lost driving privileges, but this request seems reasonable — AA meetings are an essential component of his continued recovery — and so we agree. He heads out in the station wagon, still dented from the earlier mishap. Then he dutifully returns home after the meeting, telling us that he asked someone he met to be his sponsor while he's in town.
The next day he requests the car again, this time so that he can meet the sponsor for lunch. Of course I let him. I am impressed by his assiduousness and his adherence to the rules we have set down. He lets us know where he's going and when he will be home. He arrives when he promises he will. Once again, he is gone for a brief couple hours The following late afternoon a fire burns in the living room. Sitting on the twin couches, Karen, Nic, and I read while nearby, on the faded rug, Jasper and Daisy play with Lego people. Looking up from a gnome, Daisy tells Nic about a "meany potatohead" boy who pushed her friend Alana. Nic says that he will come to school and make him a "mashed meany potatohead."
I am surprised to hear Nic quietly snoring a while later, but at a quarter to seven, he awakens with a start. Checking his watch, he jumps up and says, "I almost missed the meeting," and once again asks if he can borrow the car.
I am pleased that though he is exhausted and would have been content to sleep for the night, he is committed to the work of recovery, committed enough to rouse himself, splash his face with water in the bathroom sink, brush his hair out of his eyes with his fingers, throw on a clean T-shirt, and race out of the house so that he will be on time.
It's after eleven and Nic isn't home. I had been so tired, but now I'm wide awake in bed, feeling more and more uneasy. There are a million harmless explanations. Oftentimes, groups of people at AA meetings go out afterward for coffee. Or he could be talking with his new sponsor. I contend with two simultaneous, opposing monologues, one reassuring me that I'm foolish and paranoid, the other certain that something is dreadfully wrong. By now I know that worry is useless, but it shoots in and takes over my body at the touch of a hair trigger. I don't want to assume the worst, but some of the times Nic ignored his curfew, it presaged disaster.
I stare into the dark, my anxiety mounting. It is a pathetically familiar state. I have been waiting for Nic for years. At night, past his curfew, I would wait for the car's grinding engine, when it pulled into the driveway and then went silent. At last — Nic. The shutting car door, footsteps, the front door opening with a click. Despite Nic's attempt at stealth, Brutus, the chocolate Lab, usually yelped a half-hearted bark. Or I would wait for the telephone to ring, never certain if it would be him ("Hey, Pop, how're ya doin'?") or the police ("Mr. Sheff, we have your son"). Whenever he was late or failed to call, I assumed catastrophe. He was dead. Always dead. But then Nic would arrive home, creeping up the hallway stairs, his hand sliding along the banister. Or the telephone would ring. "Sorry, Pop, I'm at Richard's house. I fell asleep. I think I'll just crash here rather than drive at this hour. I'll see you in the morning. I love you." I would be furious and relieved, both, because I had already buried him.
Late this night, with no sign of him, I finally fall into a miserable half-sleep. Just after one, Karen wakes me. She hears him sneaking in. A garden light, equipped with a motion detector, flashes on, casting its bright beam across the backyard. Clad in my pajamas, I slip on a pair of shoes and go out the back door to catch him.
The night air is chilly. I hear crunching brush. I turn the corner and come head-to-head with an enormous startled buck, who quickly lopes away up into the garden, effortlessly leaping over the deer fence. Back in bed, Karen and I are wide awake. It's one-thirty. Now two. I double check his room. It is two-thirty. Finally, the sound of the car. I confront Nic in the kitchen and he mumbles an excuse. I tell him that he can no longer use the car.
"Are you high? Tell me."
"Nic, we had an agreement. Where were you?"
"What the fuck?" He looks down. "A bunch of people at the meeting went back to a girl's house to talk and then we watched a video."
"There was no phone?"
"I know," he says, his anger flaring. "I said I'm sorry."
I snap back, "We'll talk about this in the morning," as he escapes into his room, shutting his door and locking it.
At breakfast, I stare hard at Nic. The giveaway is his body, vibrating like an idling car. His jaw gyrates and his eyes are darting opals. He makes plans with Jasper and Daisy for after school and gives them gentle hugs, but his voice has a prickly edge.
When Karen and the kids are gone, I say, "Nic, we have to talk." He eyes me warily. "About?" "I know you're using again. I can tell." He glares at me. "What are you talking about? I'm not." His eyes lock onto the floor.
"Then you won't mind being drug-tested."
"OK. I want to do it now."
"I know I should have called. I'm not using." He almost growls it.
He hurries to his bedroom. Closes the door. He comes out wearing a Sonic Youth T-shirt and black jeans. One hand is thrust in his pocket, his head is down, his backpack is slung on one shoulder. In his other hand he holds his electric guitar by the neck. "You're right," he says. He pushes past me. "I've been using since I came home. I was using the whole semester." He leaves the house, slamming the door behind him. I run outside and call after him, but he is gone. After a few stunned moments, I go inside again and enter his bedroom, sitting on his unmade bed. I retrieve a crumpled-up piece of paper under the desk. Nic wrote:
I'm so thin and frail /
Don't care, want another rail.
Late that afternoon, Jasper and Daisy burst in, dashing from room to room, before finally stopping and, looking up at me, asking, "Where's Nic?"
I tried everything I could to prevent my son's fall into meth addiction. It would have been no easier to have seen him strung out on heroin or cocaine, but as every parent of a meth addict comes to learn, this drug has a unique, horrific quality. In an interview, Stephan Jenkins, the singer in Third Eye Blind, said that meth makes you feel "bright and shiny." It also makes you paranoid, delusional, destructive, and self-destructive. Then you will do unconscionable things in order to feel bright and shiny again. Nic had been a sensitive, sagacious, exceptionally bright and joyful child, but on meth he became unrecognizable.
Nic always was on the cutting edge of popular trends — in their time, Care Bears, Pound Puppies, My Little Pony, Micro Machines, Transformers, He-Man and She-ra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo, Guns N' Roses, grunge, Beck, and many others. He was a trailblazer with meth, too, addicted years before politicians denounced the drug as the worst yet to hit the nation. In the United States, at least twelve million people have tried meth, and it is estimated that more than one and a half million are addicted to it. Worldwide, there are more than thirty-five million users; it is the most abused hard drug, more than heroin and cocaine combined. Nic claimed that he was searching for meth his entire life. "When I tried it for the first time," he said, "that was that."
Our family's story is unique of course, but it is universal, too, in the way that every tale of addiction resonates with every other one. I learned how similar we all are when I first went to Al-Anon meetings. I resisted going for a long time, but these gatherings, though they often made me weep, strengthened me and assuaged my sense of isolation. I felt slightly less overwhelmed. In addition, others' stories prepared me for challenges that would have otherwise blindsided me. They were no panacea, but I was grateful for even the most modest relief and any guidance whatsoever.
I was frantic to try to help Nic, to stop his descent, to save my son. This, mixed with my guilt and worry, consumed me. Since I am a writer, it's probably no surprise that I wrote to try to make some sense of what was happening to me and to Nic, and also to discover a solution, a cure that had eluded me. I obsessively researched this drug, addiction, and treatments. I am not the first writer for whom this work became a bludgeon with which to battle a terrible enemy, as well as an expurgation, a grasping for something (anything) fathomable amid calamity, and an agonizing process by which the brain organizes and regulates experience and emotion that overwhelms it. In the end, my efforts could not rescue Nic. Nor could writing heal me, though it helped.
Other writers' work helped, too. Whenever I pulled it off the shelf, Thomas Lynch's book Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality opened by itself to page 95, the essay "The Way We Are." I read it dozens of times, each time crying a little. With his child passed out on the couch, after arrests and drunk tanks and hospitalizations, Lynch, the undertaker and poet and essayist, looked at his dear addicted son with sad but lucid resignation, and he wrote: "I want to remember him the way he was, that bright and beaming boy with the blue eyes and the freckles in the photos, holding the walleye on his grandfather's dock, or dressed in his first suit for his sister's grade-school graduation, or sucking his thumb while drawing at the kitchen counter, or playing his first guitar, or posing with the brothers from down the block on his first day of school."
Why does it help to read others' stories? It's not only that misery loves company, because (I learned) misery is too self-absorbed to want much company. Others' experiences did help with my emotional struggle; reading, I felt a little less crazy. And, like the stories I heard at Al-Anon meetings, others' writing served as guides in uncharted waters. Thomas Lynch showed me that it is possible to love a child who is lost, possibly forever. My writing culminated in an article about our family's experience that I submitted to the New York Times Magazine. I was terrified to invite people into our nightmare, but was compelled to do so. I felt that telling our story would be worthwhile if I could help anyone in the way that Lynch and other writers helped me. I discussed it with Nic and the rest of our family. Though encouraged by them, I was nonetheless nervous about exposing our family to public scrutiny and judgment. But the reaction to the article heartened me and, according to Nic, emboldened him. A book editor contacted him and asked if he was interested in writing a memoir about his experience, one that might inspire other young people struggling with addiction. Nic was eager to tell his story. More significantly, he said that he walked into AA meetings and when friends — or even strangers — made the connection between him and the boy in the article, they offered warm embraces and told him how proud they were of him. He said that it was a powerful affirmation of his hard work in recovery.
I also heard from addicts and their families — their brothers and sisters, children, and other relatives, and, most of all, parents — hundreds of them. A few respondents were critical. One accused me of exploiting Nic for my own purposes. Another, outraged at my description of a period when Nic briefly wore his clothes backward, attacked, "You let him wear backward clothes? No wonder he became an addict." But the great majority of letters were outpourings of compassion, consolation, counsel, and, most of all, shared grief. Many people seemed to feel that finally someone understood what they were going through. This is the way that misery does love company: People are relieved to learn that they are not alone in their suffering, that we are part of something larger, in this case, a societal plague — an epidemic of children, an epidemic of families. For whatever reason, a stranger's story seemed to give them permission to tell theirs. They felt that I would understand, and I did. "I am sitting here crying with shaking hands," a man wrote. "Your article was handed to me yesterday at my weekly breakfast of fathers who have lost their children. The man who handed it to me lost his sixteen-year- old son to drugs three years ago."
"Our story is your story," wrote another father. "Different drugs, different cities, different rehabs, but the same story." And another: "At first, I was simply startled that someone had written my story about my child without my permission. Halfway through the emotional text of very familiar events and manifest conclusions, I realized that the dates of significant incidents were wrong, and thereby had to conclude that other parents may be experiencing the same inconceivable tragedies and loss that I have. . .
"Insight acquired over a quarter of a century forces me to rewrite the last paragraph: Escaping from his latest drug rehab, my son overdosed and nearly died. Sent to a very special program in another city, he stayed sober for almost two years, then began disappearing again, sometimes for months, sometimes years. Having been one of the most brilliant students in the country's highest ranking high school, it took him twenty years to graduate from a mediocre college. And it has taken me just as long to discard my veil of impossible hope and admit that my son either cannot or will not ever stop using drugs. He is now forty years old, on welfare, and resides in a home for adult addicts."
There were so many more, many with unfathomably tragic conclusions. "But the ending of my story is different. My son died last year of an overdose. He was seventeen." Another: "My beautiful daughter is dead. She was fifteen when she overdosed." Another: "My daughter died." Another: "My son is dead." Letters and emails still interrupt my days with haunting reminders of the toll of addiction. My heart tears anew with each of them.
I kept writing and, through the painstaking process, had some success viewing our experience in a way that made sense to me — as much sense as is possible to make of addiction. It led to this book. When I transformed my random and raw words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into chapters, a semblance of order and sanity appeared where there had been only chaos and insanity. As with the Times article, it scares me to publish our story. But with the continued encouragement of the principals, I go forward. There's no shortage of compelling memoirs by addicts, and the best of them offer revelations for anybody who loves one. I hope Nic's book will become a compelling addition. And yet — with rare exceptions, such as Lynch's essay — we have not heard from those who love them. Anyone who has lived through it, or those who are now living through it, knows that caring about an addict is as complex and fraught and debilitating as addiction itself. At my worst, I even resented Nic because an addict, at least when high, has a momentary respite from his suffering. There is no similar relief for parents or children or husbands or wives or others who love them.
Nic used drugs on and off for more than a decade, and in that time I think that I have felt and thought and done almost everything an addict's parent can feel and think and do. Even now, I know that there's no single right answer, nor even a clear road map, for families of the addicted. However, in our story, I hope that there may be some solace, some guidance, and, if nothing else, some company. I also hope that people can catch a glimpse of something that seems impossible during many stages of a loved one's addiction. Nietzsche is often quoted for having said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." This is absolutely true for family members of an addict. Not only am I still standing, but I know more and feel more than I once thought was possible. In telling our story, I resisted the temptation to foreshadow, because it would be disingenuous — and a disservice to anyone going through this — to suggest that one can anticipate how things will unfold. I never knew what the next day would bring.
I've strived to honestly include the major events that shaped Nic and our family — the good and the appalling. Much of it makes me cringe. I am horrified by so much of what I did and, equally, what I did not do. Even as all the experts kindly tell the parents of addicts, "You didn't cause it," I have not let myself off the hook. I often feel as if I completely failed my son. In admitting this, I am not looking for sympathy or absolution, but instead stating a truth that will be recognized by most parents who have been through this.
Someone who heard my story expressed bafflement that Nic would become addicted, saying, "But your family doesn't seem dysfunctional." We are dysfunctional — as dysfunctional as every other family I know. Sometimes more so, sometimes less so. I'm not sure if I know any "functional" families, if functional means a family without difficult times and members who don't have a full range of problems. Like addicts themselves, the families of addicts are everything you would expect and everything you wouldn't. Addicts come from broken and intact homes. They are longtime losers and great successes. We often heard in lectures or Al- Anon meetings or AA meetings of the bright and charming men and women who bewilder those around them when they wind up in the gutter. "You're too good a man to do this to yourself," a doctor tells an alcoholic in a Fitzgerald story. Many, many people who have known Nic well have expressed similar sentiments. One said, "He is the last person I could imagine this happening to. Not Nic. He is too solid and too smart."
I also know that parents have discretionary recall, blocking out everything that contradicts our carefully edited recollections — an understandable attempt to dodge blame. Conversely, children often fixate on the indelibly painful memories, because they have made stronger impressions. I hope that I am not indulging in parental revisionism when I say
that in spite of my divorce from Nic's mother; in spite of our draconian long- distance custody arrangement; and in spite of all of my shortcomings and mistakes, much of Nic's early years was charmed. Nic confirms this, but maybe he is just being kind.
This rehashing in order to make sense of something that cannot be made sense of is common in the families of addicts, but it's not all we do. We deny the severity of our loved one's problem not because we are naive, but because we can't know. Even for those who, unlike me, never used drugs, it's an incontrovertible fact that many — more than half of all children — will try them. For some of those, they will have no major negative impact on their lives. For others, however, the outcome will be catastrophic.
We parents wrack our brains and do everything we can and consult every expert and sometimes it's not enough. Only after the fact do we know that we didn't do enough or what we did do was wrong. Addicts are in denial and their families are in it with them because often the truth is too inconceivable, too painful, and too terrifying. But denial, however common, is dangerous. I wish someone had shaken me and said, "Intervene while you can before it's too late." It may not have made a difference, but I don't know. No one shook me and said it. Even if they had, I may not have been able to hear them. Maybe I had to learn the hard way.
Like many in my straits, I became addicted to my child's addiction. When it preoccupied me, even at the expense of my responsibilities to my wife and other children, I justified it. I thought, How can a parent not be consumed by his child's life-or-death struggle? But I learned that my preoccupation with Nic didn't help him and may have harmed him. Or maybe it was irrelevant to him.
However, it surely harmed the rest of my family — and me. Along with this, I learned another lesson, a terrifying one: our children live or die with or without us. No matter what we do, no matter how we agonize or obsess, we cannot choose for our children whether they live or die. It is a devastating realization, but also liberating. I finally chose life for myself. I chose the perilous but essential path that allows me to accept that Nic will decide for himself how — and whether — he will live his life.
As I said, I don't absolve myself, and meanwhile, I still struggle with how much I can absolve Nic. He is brilliant and wonderful and charismatic and loving when he's not using, but like every addict I have ever heard of, he becomes a stranger when he is, distant and foolish and self- destructive and broken and dangerous. I have struggled to reconcile these two people. Whatever the cause — a genetic predisposition, the divorce, my drug history, my overprotectiveness, my failure to protect him, my leniency, my harshness, my immaturity, all of these — Nic's addiction seemed to have had a life of its own. I have tried to reveal how insidiously addiction creeps into a family and takes over. So many times in the last decade I made mistakes out of ignorance, hope, or fear. I've tried to recount them all as and when they happened, in the hope that readers will recognize a wrong path before they take it. When they don't, however, I hope that they may realize that it is a path they can't blame themselves for having taken. When my child was born, it was impossible to imagine that he would suffer in the ways that Nic has suffered. Parents want only good things for their children. I was a typical parent who felt that this could not happen to us — not to my son. But though Nic is unique, he is every child. He could be yours. Finally, the reader should know that I have changed a few names and details in the book to obscure the identities of some of the people herein. I begin when Nic was born. The birth of a child is, for many if not every family, a transformative event of joy and optimism. It was for us.
Copyright © 2007 by David Sheff. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Table of ContentsIntroduction 1
PART I Stay Up Late 17 PART II His Drug of Choice 105 PART III Whatever 123 PART IV If Only 171 PART V Never Any Knowing 235
What People are Saying About This
"An honest, hopeful book, coming at a propitious moment in the meth epidemic." Publishers Weekly
"An excellent book that all parents can relate to whatever their children's situation." Library Journal Starred
“Those of us who love an addict — or are addicts ourselves — will find BEAUTIFUL BOY a revelation." — Martin Sheen, actor
"A welcome balm to millions…who thought they were making this journey alone."— Armistead Maupin, author of The Night Listener
"This book is going to save a lot of lives, and help heal…hearts." — Anne Lamott, author of Grace (Eventually)
“…moving, timely, and sobering. It’s also startlingly beautiful." - Sir Richard Branson, chairman, Virgin Group
“An extraordinary story of pain, perseverance and hope.” — William C. Moyers, author of Broken
“…honest, reflective and deeply moving. BEAUTIFUL BOY is about: truth and healing.” — Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia
"For…any one who has ever wrestled with holding on and letting go.” — Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking
“A masterpiece of description and feeling…immediate, informative and heartbreaking.” — Susan Cheever, author of Note Found in a Bottle
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Beautiful Boy is an amazing (and sad) journey that David Sheff describes about his son Nic and his addiction with Methamphetamines. This book provides a personal parent's point of view of the rollercoaster life that his family and his son endured during his son's drug addiction. This book was so easy to read and understand coming from a family who has endured drug additions. I didn't want the story to end when I finished the book. I wondered what happened to him and his son. Have they been able to get through these past years? Is Nic still struggling with addition and recovery? I look forward to reading Nic's book, "Tweak" to see the other side of the story.
Highly recommended read for all parents. While this book specifically covers a father's perspective of his son's addiction I believe this book is one that contains valuable information for all parents.
I would highly recommend this book to any family going through the anguish & heartbreak of a chemically addicted member. The author is fortunate that he had the means to afford all the intervention programs his son attended. The son is fortunate that he has a family that still cares after they have been let down and betrayed time & time again. Although I gained a lot of insight on a very destructive problem, I would not wish this nightmare on any family.
Beautiful Boy puts something inexplicable into words. Something so dark and so mysterious in our society into words that are not written, but crafted in a way that it almost makes sense of it. Addiction. David Shepp illustrates his journey through his son’s addiction through his book. It shows the ups, the downs and the rock bottoms of dealing with addictions in your life. It shows almost an acceptance to addiction, but not quite. Just enough to help his son, Nic. It’s always going to be something and it’s not going to go away any time soon. Anyone can become an addict, and you just have to work through it, as he had to learn. People with addictions are just regular people, which is completely the case in David’s life. Nic became addicted to meth, and he had to learn to not blame himself for the addiction. He gives an interesting and new outlook on addicts, with some sort of acceptance. Accepting the unacceptable is a part of the process. It gives you a raw and real description of a story that is so common, but at the same time so unique. Every addiction is different, and there’s no right or wrong way to deal with it, and that’s what makes David’s position so difficult. His emotions are evident throughout the book, but it doesn’t distract from the story he’s telling. This book is a little heart-wrenching. It makes you wonder about things you’ve never wondered or experienced before in your life. Or maybe it tells the same story you have that you don’t tell anyone around you. It’s dark, but it’s very very real in that sense. Addictions tend to stay in the dark in this society, but anyone who loves an addict will have pretty much this exact same story to tell, and it brings light to a horrible situation that is the ongoing reality for so many people all over the world, whether others realize it or not.
Great read and very touching however..not as realistic as struggles in 2014-2109...there are no rehabs available..for the un insured..and 99% of addicts are uninsured.. how did this addict afford a cell phone..and apartments..etc..
No sugar coating
Any parent who has been upended by an offspring's drug addiction will see themselves in the pages of Beautiful Boy. The helplessness, the hope, the disappointment, and ultimately the decision to never give up
This was a hard book to listen to. Who can explain why human nature is the way it is? Why we destroy ourselves and make ourselves miserable and can't stop? And how can one adequately describe the pain and sorrow and helplessness that one feels standing beside a loved one, unable to change or alter or even influence. Mr. Shef leaves the book with a sense of peace - of having reached a place of moving outside the crisis, of setting in place boundaries that work, of focusing on life. This memoir also sheds light on the true horror that is drug addiction with all the destruction that it creates.
This is an amazing book about a father and his son who becomes addicted to meth. Fascinating book--I devoured it.
Beautifully written account of his son's battle with addiction.
I have an older cousin who was addicted to methamphetamine for about a decade but made it through the recovery process a few years ago. That's not why I read this book (a decision which was based on impulse and a vague memory of reading good reviews), but it definitely made this book somewhat revelatory for me. David Sheff details the life of his son, Nic, who in his teenage years went from a precocious and charismatic kid to a full-blown meth addict by age 18. Methamphetamine is apparently the worst drug to become addicted to and the hardest to recover from and Nic goes through several bouts of rehab and relapse over the course of several years. Beautiful Boy isn't Nic's story though (which is told in his own book, Tweak, which I haven't read); it's the story of what his family, particularly his father, step-mother, and younger siblings, go through as they witness his self-destructive behavior and experience the feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness that family and friends of addicts must deal with. I nearly cried at least a half dozen times while reading this--several times in public places, actually--and it's been quite a while since a book elicited that kind of response from me. It has also made me better appreciate the kind of willpower it took for my cousin to get clean again, especially since she had almost no support from her family (her mother is, or at least was, also a meth addict), and has inspired me to write to her to express my admiration. We've never been close, since she's about ten years older than me, but, after reading what Nic Sheff and his family went through, I think that she, and anyone else who manages to beat a potentially life-destroying addiction, deserves some applause.
Written by David Sheff this book is the perspective of a father as he deals with his son¿s plunge into the world of drug addiction dealing with Meth and what it entails for the entire family.Nic was an intelligent boy. Beyond intelligent, he was gifted. He did all of the things that you would want and hope that your son would do. It was unfortunate as David and his wife couldn¿t make their marriage work and at a young age for Nic they divorced. To make matters worse the divorce was volatile and while they lived in the Bay Area of San Francisco David¿s ex wife upon finalizing the divorce ended up moving to LA. Nic stays with David during the school year but spends a lot of the holidays and summer down in LA with his mom. I having recently gone through a divorce that was anything but cordial and having three children closely associated with a lot of what this family went through.Nic held his own in the beginning but like all children was approached with the temptation of doing drugs and drinking (further instigated during a trip to France) and like a lot of kids failed in his choices. He started out with pot moved on to experiment in other areas ending up with Meth as his drug of choice. Nic went to a private school, was on the swim team, had excellent grades and was what we would all hope our children might be during those early years. As he struggled with his adolescence and dealing with the pressures of middle and high school he like so many of us felt uncomfortable without the aid of some help.As Nic began his struggle with drugs and sank deeper and deeper into his own personal hell David along with his new wife and two new children soon discovered that drug addiction is not a personal struggle but one that a family must face together. I am sure that I would feel the same way as David did struggling with self doubt and constantly self guessing one¿s decision while looking for somebody to blame for this abysmal fall. Who really understands why anyone becomes addicted. So many kids make the choice to try drugs and are able to deal with them in an isolated case while so many can¿t ever get beyond that downward spiral lacking the ability to say no once the bridge has been crossed.This is a story of a family¿s struggle to help one of its own deal with all of the baggage that comes with addiction as well as all the family struggles that come with normal life. You feel the pain of Nic and of David and of their entire family as Nic makes it through one rehab only to fall back again then into another rehab re-living the cycle over and over and over again. You feel the hell that David faces as he becomes obsessed with Nic and what he can or cannot do to help his son.I read several books and enjoy a wide variety of different genres and can only say for those of you with kids, or with kids who have a drug problem or are parents or just about anyone this is a fantastic book. Nic has now written a book from his perspective of life on drugs entitled ¿Tweak¿ and I will be reading that one very soon as well. I couldn¿t give a book a higher recommendation. Pick it up when you have a few hours as it will be difficult to put down but be prepared as it is a gut wrenching story of a family and their battle against a force that is not easily fought.
Just when you think you've covered all the parental bases and you're feeling cocksure about your skills as a parent...along comes the very painful reminder that parenting has never been about the strength of your own will and intentions. Sad portrait of the power of meth/speed/whatever-the-kids-call-it-now. Unfortunately, the book's editor didn't read through to the book's conclusion...it ends innumerous times with the author self-congratulating himself on his parenting skills through countless irrelevant stories about his two other children. The author still wants to cling to his initial belief that politically correct parenting is superior. Why does it seem that every journalist-turned-author struggles with story endings? And, crikey, how they torment the reader with their myopic navel gazing.3 star rating on CONTENT, only. Writing style gets a solid 2.
Sad and frustrating story of love for a son but it sort of dragged on in the end.
Interesting look at a real family's life with addition. Author includes factual information about drugs, but the author admitted in the book smoking pot with his drug addited son and also smoking drugs recreationally at parties. This is setting an example? Good to read, but not impressed with the father's real life choices which he admits may not have been the right choices, either.
"Beautiful Boy" is a poignant reflection of a father's enduring love for his drug-addicted son. Sort of a companion novel to the very compelling "Tweak," by Nic Sheff (the son). I definitely recommend reading both, in either order. Because I read "Tweak" first, I knew how this book would end, but it didn't matter because I didn't know how this protagonist/author would find closure amidst the ongoing saga of loving an addict. I hope to read more from David Sheff, and from the Beautiful Boy who grew up hard.
Most books on addiction are from the point of view of the addict. In Beautiful Boy the perspective is shifted and we see the impact of addiction from a parent's point of view.Extremely well written, heartfelt and engaging Beautiful Boy is one of the better books about the impact of drug abuse and addiction out there. It's also one of the better books to give to a teen to open a discussion about drug use and experimentation.
This was clearly a difficult book to write and to share with the world, as well as with his actual family members. The author is an excellent writer who deals as honestly as he can with his own emotions and his own journey from disbelief and rationalization to release. Frequently, the book reminded me of The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Indeed, the author of this book actually quotes from Didion's work a couple of times. But the perspective of the similarities and differences between losing your child (permanently) to fatal illness and losing your child (sometimes, with permanence possible at any time) to additiction was a powerful and useful lens. The author admits that he hasn't lived a model life, nor has he been a model father. On the one hand, I wanted him to take more responsibility for the difficulties his choices created for his son during his son's younger years. On the other hand, I think the author is correct that no one can really take the blame for his son's addictions and troubles. As the Al-Anon motto goes: he didn't cause it, he can't control it, and he can't cure it. For me, it was also interesting to read a perspective on AA and other recovery programs that was both an insider and a skeptic. For those for whom these programs have worked, the programs become almost religious and sacred. From the outside, it's hard to evaluate. I was impressed with the author's ability to become a participant without becoming a true believer and to find benefit even without becoming a whole-hearted supporter of all recovery programs.
I usually don't impulse buy anything but trashy novels, but after hearing David Sheff and son, Nic, speak at a mental health provider conference about their experiences with Nic's crystal meth addiction I was so moved that I bought both the father and son's version of the story (Beautiful Boy and Tweak, respectively) on the spot and then immediately read them back-to-back. I could quibble with the presentation of a few sections of Beautiful Boy but, all in all, it was a great read.
Intense. I like how much research is included in this book. I can't wait to read the son's memoir.
A personal story used to inform and help those who suffer from the disease that is addiction. Overwhelming and enthralling.