I had heard about Beautiful Boy by David Sheff for several years and finally made the time to read it. I wasn’t sure it would be of great interest to me since his son’s drug of choice was mainly methamphetamine – and his son is still alive, while mine is not.
It has been hard for me to put down, for many reasons. Sheff is a great writer and tells their family’s story in a way that brings the people and events to life. But what I find most significant – and, sadly, most similar to our story – are the dynamics of a family living with addiction. And it is also very similar to other families I know and ones I have read about in other books such as Gorgeous Girl by Mary K. Pershall.
The similarities? First, there is the genetic component – mainly alcoholism – in the family tree. Every addiction story I’ve read and those I’ve heard from friends, when I ask if there are relatives with addiction/alcoholism, the answer is “Yes.” Early exposure, usually to alcohol, is almost always a factor. Then, there are the family dynamics that go hand and glove with those external/physical symptoms: all the denial, secrets, enabling, rescuing, manipulating, bribing, shaming, etc. Many times there has been abuse or mental illness that has been undiagnosed.
As I read Beautiful Boy and Gorgeous Girl I saw the confusion most of us lived with in the early 2000’s due to lack of available information or consensus on the best approach considering the available information. And, as Sheff says about relapse and recovery, “Though there are some wrong courses of action to take, there is no predetermined right course.”
But, what was most disturbing was to see our family dynamics mirrored in these other families, almost like our entire generation of Baby Boomer parents were somehow sent into parenthood with blindfolds on. Or were we caught off-guard by what seemed to suddenly be available to our children – the children we had overprotected in so many ways, yet in ways that seemed to be all the wrong ones?
As I write about in our soon-to-be-released memoir, Opiate Nation, my husband and I were learning how to not be co-dependent with our son, and had come a long way, but not before he died. As both of the authors of these books share, the most significant thing we did for our son and for ourselves was to be part of group/family therapy, such as Al-Anon. And, we should have remained a part between our son’s periods of recovery and relapse, which we didn’t. If I can offer one piece of advice to families of those addicted to anything it would be that they become a committed member of such a group. Your life will change and it may change the outcome for your loved one.