“I would give everything I have to receive just one ounce of support from my Dad”
I recently watched ‘A Beautiful Boy’, the story of a father navigating his son’s difficult journey with methamphetamines and other drugs. I had heard many positive things about this film, which not only highlights the rising challenges of addiction, but also the impact of addiction on those around the addict.
We follow the journey of the struggling boy, Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) and the relationship with his family, particularly his father, David Sheff (Steve Carrell).
From 1999 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that over 700,000 people died from a drug overdose; the vast majority associated with heroin and fentanyl. Now, we are seeing a rise in the use of stimulants. From 2011 to 2016, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving methamphetamine more than tripled, according to a 2018 CDC Report. In addition, 50% of overdose deaths involving methamphetamine also included one or more other drugs, just like Nic Sheff.
Through many flashbacks scattered throughout the movie, David is by his son’s side at every step. From birth to school, to surfing, to college, to adulthood, their love for each other is black & white, until grey appears with Nic’s alcoholism & addiction. At what point is a father’s love enabling his son’s disease, rather than helping his recovery? How on earth can you make the decision, as a parent, to finally give ‘tough love’, cutting a child off?
As I sat down, hoping to learn from the experience of another addict, little did I know that I was about to be faced with some big questions about the relationship I had with my late father.
My Relationship With My Dad
I grew up with my Dad in a single parent household. He was the only person that I could confide & trust with everything. He gave me unrestricted love & supported me no matter what. When my parents split at the age of 11, I chose to live with my Dad, knowing I would be better off in the world as a result of his strict upbringing. So surely if he were still alive today, he would do everything in his power to help save me?
David is desperate to fix Nic. He researches addiction and interviews doctors. He even takes crystal meth to try to better understand. But this is a subject he will never quite understand and the film, ultimately, is about his journey to accept that there is nothing he can do to save Nic.
I think of the many times in my life that my Dad has helped and been there for me. Here are just a few examples...
Aged 10, falling off a playground swing boat & getting repeatedly struck in the head until I was knocked out cold.
Aged 13, sliding down a slanted cliff on a milk tray, landing in a large pile of glass.
Aged 15, wanting the latest gaming console to play on during the summer holidays.
Aged 19, keeping me in university when I hated it so much that I wanted to dropout every single day.
Aged 20, when my girlfriend’s abusive stepdad came home drunk ready to beat his wife, yet chose me to be the punching bag instead.
Ages 22, helping me to buy my first house, navigating the full process.
My Dad was my hero, my rock, my everything. He was everything I could have wanted in a father. I know he would have done everything in his power to help me, similar to Nic’s Dad. Or is this the lie I have come to believe? What is the truth?
My Dad was physically and verbally abusive to me throughout childhood. I struggle to write those words as it means taking him off the very high pedestal I have placed him on.
Although a happy child, if I was bad or did something to displease my Dad, I would be shunned, ignored, beat & sent to my bed with no food. I still have dreams now of living in fear of my Dad.
I strived to please my Dad & make him proud of me, throughout adulthood. I know deep down that he did love me.
There was no history of drugs or alcohol in my upbringing, my Dad barely even drank. So I can only imagine the disappointment he would have felt when I got hooked at 26, the same year he passed. Would he have gotten angry at me & shunned me? Perhaps we would have researched cocaine, maybe even tried it out, like the moment in the movie, which horrified me, when David tried crystal meth- I couldn’t possibly imagine.
I never talked about drugs with my Dad, so I really don’t know his views, but I want to believe he wouldn’t have shunned me. I think there were only 2-3 times I used cocaine while my Dad was alive- I remember the last time I used before he passed away, when I texted him telling him I loved him.
Progression / Relapse
As addiction progresses, the individual tries to (without success) realize their original high, taking more and more drugs (and/ or alcohol), until it simply doesn’t work. As my own addiction progressed, I did many things which I am very ashamed of, it changed my entire personality.
Addiction caused Nic to behave in ways he never would have otherwise (breaking into his parents’ home with his girlfriend, stealing from his family, etc.) “I remember feeling like I was almost possessed,” says Nic, “and that feeling of being out of control was just so devastating.”
My Dad didn’t see the progression of my disease, from using with friends, while socializing, to using in isolation, barricaded in my apartment for days. Maybe my disease wouldn’t have progressed like it did if I hadn’t lost my Dad, as this loss was the paramount trauma of which my using centered around.
Acceptance / Surrender
Nic shared “Once I finally really conceded to myself that addiction is a disease — it’s a brain disease — and until I start treating it like a disease, then I could finally be open to say, ‘I need help.’”
Addiction is “cunning, baffling, and powerful,” a phrase repeated many times during 12-step meetings. Nic’s parents come to visit him in the rehab after a relapse. He begins to cry because he doesn’t understand how he has ended up there again.
I have found myself in this place many times, truly intending to never use again, yet ending up back where I started. This is the baffling nature of this disease and why many people, particularly families of an addict, struggle to grasp addiction. They tend to think it is a choice, rather than a disease. This is made worse by treatment centers that mislead families about outcomes. One rehab employee told David Sheff that success rates are over 80%, yet true treatment outcomes are less than 10%.
Most families aren’t so supportive. Many addicts become disconnected from their families, who often perceive addiction as a moral failing rather than a disease. Even those who know addiction impairs the brain, they just can’t take any more of the stealing, lying, manipulation, and all the other challenging behaviors that can be associated with addiction.
I’ve found that only when I faced consequences in my addiction, when my life started to become rapidly smaller, did I finally begin to open up to surrendering, as opposed to just being compliant.
Receiving ‘tough love’ from my sober fellowship has actually been very valuable to my recovery. So perhaps having my Dad’s ‘tough love’ could have really helped me. David, a good father in every way, might have simply waited too long to show his beloved son some ‘tough love’.
I was raised in the Christian church, with my Dad as a minister, so you’d think that this would have been easy for me. One of the most important components of the 12-step programs center around the belief of a Higher Power and turning my will & my life over to them. The concept that addiction is fueled by self-will and pride, hence turning it over and accepting life on life’s terms. However, at the age of 11, I started to reject many aspects of religion and started to run my own life. I struggled with the view that if there is free will, how would ‘God’ be able to intervene in my life, taking away my difficulties? So perhaps having my Dad, a minister for support, would really have helped.
There’s a big part of me that’s somewhat grateful my Dad isn’t around to have seen my downfall. To have seen his happy little boy reduced to such severe depression & addiction, to the point of suicide. Reduced from a successful man, professionally & personally, to a ‘low-life’ junkie.
Ultimately, the movie reminded me how we willfully turn away from the plight of addicts without privilege and resources. There are millions of stories like this, which will never become books or films. I have tried to get sober on my own, without love and support, but ultimately recovery is a ‘we’ program, not an ‘I’ program.
Even though I don’t have my Dad, I can ‘choose’ my family, those who can be around me to help support me. Without that love and support, I wouldn’t be alive today. I would give everything I have to receive just one ounce of support from my Dad, through the toughest challenge I will ever face, and to have one more loving embrace, just like Nic & David.