In the movies, the hero kills the monster after an exciting and lengthy battle. Then just as the winning team congratulates themselves on their great victory and now bright future, the monster raises its head again. It was not really dead! After a brief but tense battle, in which the hero almost dies, the final sword is plunged in the monster’s heart. The movie is over. The credits roll. Hooray. Peace on Earth. A predictable formula.
There is a new movie out about addiction. Beautiful Boy stars Steve Carrell, the comedian of The Office fame, who has made quite a number of excellent serious movies. The movie is based on the book Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff about dealing with his son Nic’s addiction.
Nic is wonderful child, who suddenly turns into a crystal meth addict. It seems suddenly to the father, but it is a little more gradual. Unbeknownst to Dad, the boy starts smoking pot at 13. It makes him feel fantastic. He has some underlying and undiagnosed mental health—he’s bi-polar– issues that the drugs help him deal with ( at least initially, before exacerbating the problem). He battles the addiction monster until at last it is slain and he is back in the family’s graces. Then predictably there is a scary relapse. But he again beats the drug monster. So far so good. But the book doesn’t end there, not even with the wonderful letter he writes to his family and little brother and sister about his love for them and the sorrow for all the troubles he put them through. The monster raises its head yet again. Not really dead. And again, and again, and again. It happens so often I lose count of all of the relapses. Really? Not again. Ultimately, the boy, now a young man, ends up drug free for eight years and he is still apparently drug free as of the publication of the latest edition of the book.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I am curious to see how they will handle the real-life story that doesn’t fit the typical Hollywood plot.*
The book is worth the read, and it clearly shows how relapse is part of the addiction, and that finally, after years of struggle, it is possible to get clean. The son, Nic, has written two books himself covering the same material from his point of view. These books were written prior to the publication of Beautiful Boy. The first book, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, ends with Nick clean. Predictably, the second book recounts further relapses. I have just finished reading Tweak, and am not certain I have the stomach to read the second. He writes very well – at times his book reminds me of Jack Kerouac for its adrenaline-fueled narrative of Nic’s adventures while high, but like his father’s book, after a while, it becomes tedious. Nick is not particularly likable, and while he accurately portrays the user’s self-centered need to stay high, it is a bit hard to take. You just want to shake him and say, get a grip. But again, that is the nature of addiction – people doing things that they know are against their best interest because their brains are diseased and they no longer think properly.
I am going to pass on Nic’s second book, We All Fall Down, but will definitely try to watch the movie. I am also currently reading the father’s second book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Traged, which is about how the country can best treat (and prevent) addiction. It is well-done and quite scary for the father of a ten year old to read about all the dangers that may lay ahead of her in the world outside the cocoon of our happy home.
*I am hoping the multiple relapses will be in the notes at the end. It is hard enough to live through in a book, I can’t imagine the toll it takes on a parent to live through in real life.