A Valuable Insight on Addiction
Perhaps I had never truly contemplated the struggle of drug addiction until I read Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. You may have heard of this book—the author garnered praise, but also a fair amount of criticism for publishing what some called an exploitive account of his son’s struggle with addiction to methamphetamines and other drugs. It’s a heart-wrenching read, following a roller coaster of emotions as Sheff discovers his son’s drug abuse, makes grave missteps in his attempts to help his son, excavates his own divorce which left his son the innocent victim of an untenable long-distance custody arrangement and, finally, makes peace with the enduring struggle of addiction and its accompanying relapses.
One of the most shocking things about reading this difficult book was not the account of wasted youth, or even Sheff’s own stories of rampant drug use, but rather how it changed my thinking about addiction and how that will, in turn, change how I interact with the students in our Humanity in Perspective (HIP) class. Occasionally a few HIP students have addiction in their past and I had not realized that, though one may be many years removed from active addiction, the struggle is ongoing, and, in most cases, constant. I’d like to think that I’ve always been compassionate and understanding to recovering addicts in class, but reading Beautiful Boy made me realize that by looking at addiction for what it truly is (a disease) I will be better able to help those students.
I now understand that someone diagnosed with cancer has the same amount of control over his disease as someone diagnosed with addiction. An addict cannot “just stop“—it’s not that easy, and, according to Sheff, that’s frankly the wrong way to look at it. If we are to help, we must view addiction as a disease without absolving the individual’s personal responsibility for his actions—no easy task, certainly, but one that will surely allow me to interact with HIP students in a more productive way.
So, I suppose this blog post is one great big thank you to David Sheff. Thank you for bearing the brunt of the criticism for publishing this story. Thank you for humanizing this struggle. Thank you for being brutally honest, but also compassionate. Thank you for changing the way that I think about addiction.
About Sarah Van Winkle
Sarah Van Winkle coordinates Humanity in Perspective and other education programs for Oregon Humanities.