I picked up Beautiful Boy (2008) by David Sheff when I was browsing through the books-on-cd library shelves. Beautiful Boy is the true story of David Sheff and his son, Nic, a varsity athlete, honor student, and creative writer who falls into a downward spiral of addiction to meth as a teenager.
Nic is home from his year at Hampshire College, but it is quickly apparent to his father that he is using again. Nic lies and makes denials, but when he is confronted with taking a drug test he admits that he'd been using the whole time. The earlier aborted semester at Berkeley, fall into stealing and despair, and subsequent rehab had not been successful. Nic disappears again.
Sheff begins at the beginning of his son's life, looking for clues or actions that contributed to what has occurred; he is ravaged by guilt, wondering if an action or inaction on his part caused his son's addictions. Could the bitter divorce and draconian custody arrangements have led to this addiction? Should he have told Nic about his own past drug use? But for the most part, Nic led a stable, happy childhood in the San Francisco area. He played sports, loved his father and step-mother and excelled socially and academically. But it's a useless and traumatic game to guess what might have caused an addiction when others--including David Sheff himself--can try some drugs recreationally without ruining their lives.
The life of Nic and his father revolve around his addiction. Nic is in and out of rehab, managing to get himself clean and start his life over again, just to fall back into the drugs. Seeing the constant heartbreak of David Sheff as he helplessly tries to save his son really hit home to me how addictions can ruin lives. I've never personally known or had a close relationship with a drug addict, so this book was eye-opening and unbearably sad. I wanted nothing more than Nic to beat his demons and have a normal life, but even if he manages to never relapse again, he's going to be fighting the urge for the rest of his life; his father will always answer the phone with a sense of dread.
Sheff discusses how addiction is like a disease, almost like cancer, except that the only people who can stop it are the addicts themselves. Thus, family feel the fear of losing their loved ones but often feel also anger at what the seemingly voluntary drug use is doing. The drugs and addiction changed Nic's personality so drastically that David Sheff did not know where his son ended and the drugs began. As someone with a brother suffering from either manic depression or schizophrenia I could truly relate to this part of the book. I swing between feeling angry and annoyed at my brother's selfishness and utter sadness at seeing his despondency and pain. I don't know if it's possible to parse the disease from his personality, but in the end it doesn't matter because it doesn't change anything; mental diseases are harder to deal with in many ways because the person you knew is changed forever. David Sheff's book was an honest, informative and compelling narrative of his son's struggle with meth. With the numerous rehabs and relapses, it sometimes started feeling a little repetitive and long, but it also clearly showed the rollercoaster ride that Sheff was forced to ride.