Beautiful Boy, David Sheff’s vivid and detail laden account of his firstborn child Nic’s struggle with drug addiction (most often and strongly methamphetamine) does something unexpected.

It makes you love Nic Sheff.

This vivacious, funny and loving child becomes familiar to you through the words, thoughts and memories of his greatest fan, his dad. Before you know it you are plunged into the sadness of his gaunt face and lifeless stare as this sweet child disappears from home, drops out of college, lies about being clean, drops out of another college, overdoses, barely agrees to rehab, walks out of rehab, relapses, gets clean, relapses, gets clean…all the while holding your breath along with David wishing Nic would please just come back to life.

Nic’s struggle with addiction, as told by David, is internalized in such a powerful way by the reader that one is left imagining, “If only every addict out there had someone who felt this strongly about the addict’s potential, about their continued existence, about their happiness; maybe there would be some hope.”

David’s uniquely articulated (but far from uniquely experienced, as he explains) journey through his son’s addiction has made him an advocate against our broken system, our “war on drugs” that often fails to recognize the victim as exactly that—a victim. It appears that nearly losing his beautiful boy has allowed David to cling tight to the humanity in addicts.

When I lived in Humboldt County, my home was on the alley that connected a treatment home and a “crack” house. The traffic between the two became a running joke. The heartlessness of my laughter and the seeming nonchalance towards human suffering is shameful to me now. It is because I know better. I am grateful to David for sharing his son with us, so that we too may know what it is like to cling to the humanity that resides within an addict.

David’s advocacy for a new approach to addiction, similar to the approach modeled by the largely successful efforts launched against cancer is outlined here:

In what might be the most pertinent match of speaker to city Juneau has yet had, the Glacier Valley Rotary will host David and Nic Sheff at their annual Pillar’s of America Series on April 29th.


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