Sample text for Beautiful boy : a father's journey through his son's meth addiction / David Sheff.


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Introduction

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."
"Ouch."
"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,
Jose;. 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 dogs
charge 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
red 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."
"He's delightful."
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.
"Whatever."
"Are you high? Tell me."
"Jesus. No."
"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."
"Whatever. Fine."
"OK. I want to do it now."
"All right!"
"Get dressed."
"I know I should have called. I'm not using." He almost growls it.
"Let's go."
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.


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Drug abuse -- Treatment -- California.
Methamphetamine abuse -- Treatment -- California.
Children of divorced parents -- California.