One word comes to mind while reading this book: powerlessness. David Sheff takes his readers on the emotional roller coaster of his life by sharing his profound feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, fear, hopelessness, never ending worry, and unwavering guilt throughout his son’s meth addiction in Beautiful Boy. While it is bound to touch the hearts of anyone who has some sort of relationship with addiction (either their own or that of a loved one), it can also be appreciated for the richness in which it depicts how painfully complicated life can get as we try to wrestle with the bleak reality of our own powerlessness. Sheff’s story, though personal, is not so different from that which brings most people to therapy in the first place: struggling to accept the things you can’t change, searching for the clarity and strength to change the things you can, and desiring the wisdom to simply be in the nothingness that is the difference.
What I personally found most intriguing about the book is the many layers and textures that Sheff goes through not only in his own experience, but that of his son’s, wife’s, ex-wife’s, and younger children. In doing so he shows the subtle complexities of parenthood, innocence of childhood, and sobering reality of learning how to forgive oneself by accepting what is. This book does not end with a happy nor tragic ending, but leaves the reader with what Sheff himself had to learn since first learning of his son’s addiction: how to simply be in the not knowing.
“So here’s the point: I struggle. I know, and have repeatedly said, that it’s an ongoing process, yet I can forget that ongoing means – well, it means ongoing. I’ve come a long way toward accepting that to live with addiction – one’s own or a loved one’s – involves living with uncertainty. It also requires enormous suffering. I’m coming to accept these truths after years of fighting them. The surprise is that the more I accept them, the less I suffer. But that’s not all I feel.”