Tools from the trenches: David Sheff’s book on parenting an addict

Author David Sheff documented his son’s addiction and his family’s torturous quest for recovery in his first book on the topic, Beautiful  Boy.  That book had struck a painful nerve in me, especially the twisted co-dependency that complicated an already complicated picture.  Imagine:  you’ve just had a stroke, and the one thought coursing through your mind is “How is my child?  How is my child?  How is my child?”  That warped sense of priorities seems all too familiar to parents of addicts who often assume second position behind the incessant demands of their child’s substance chemical dependency.

David Sheff hits another home rum with, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy.  This honest, accurate and empathetic book validated my experience.  Here’s a sample of what he writes:   ‘The view that drug use is a moral choice is pervasive, pernicious, and wrong. So are the corresponding beliefs about the addicted — that they’re weak, selfish, and dissolute; if they weren’t, when their excessive drug taking and drinking began to harm them, they’d stop. The reality is far different.”  You can read a longer excerpt of the book here.

They say that, in recovery, all that needs to change is EVERYTHING.  That goes for knowledge and attitudes, too:  yours, mine, our children’s, the public’s.  Clean offers a powerful tool to change the attitudes that impact course of our loved ones’ addiction and recovery.

For parents of addicts or alcoholics, four life-changing books

As I grappled with my son’s chemical dependency, I discovered early on that I knew absolutely nothing about addiction. I didn’t know what questions to ask, or who to ask, much less what answer might be “right”  for our family.  I was flying blind. Thankfully, I found great wisdom and comfort in the many books we’ve listed on our resource list.  Here are four that changed my life, along with a brief description in italics from Amazon.

What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted every moment of David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery.”  In Beautiful Boy, I found kinship in the chaos and craziness that stretched another family to the breaking point, and I found hope as they reclaimed their bearings.

Is someone else’s problem your problem? If, like so many others, you’ve lost sight of your own life in the drama of tending to someone else’s, you may be codependent–and you may find yourself in this book. The healing touchstone of millions, this modern classic by one of America’s best-loved and most inspirational authors holds the key to understanding codependency and unlocking its stultifying hold on your life” . Co-Dependent No More helped me disentangle from my bellowed addict in a way that was healthy for both of us.

We’re in a bad mood epidemic, but Julia Ross’s plan provides a natural cure. Drawing on thirty years of experience, she presents breakthrough solutions to overcoming depression, anxiety, irritability, stress, and other negative emotional states that are diminishing the quality of our lives. Her comprehensive program is based on the use of four mood-building amino acids and other surprisingly potent nutrient supplements, plus a diet rich in good-mood foods…”  The Mood Cure helped me understand the nutrition and neurology of addiction.

Every segment of society has been touched by addiction and its aftermath. Moments of Clarity collects stories from men and women, young and old, and across all barriers of celebrity, color, and class. Represented in these pages are the singer and the actress, the writer and the anchorman, the man from the movie screen and the woman who lives down the street. A myriad of different moments but all with the common understanding of where these men and women have been and where they must go. As they bravely share their stories, they shed light not only on their own experiences but also on the journey we all take as human beings, looking to make sense of our world.”  Moments of Clarity gave addiction and alcoholism a universal context that helped me understand it as a brain disease, not a disease of character.

If you have questions, these books may have answers for you, too.


Recommended Reading

I compare my journey through the Land of Addiction to walking through a pitch-black forest in the dead of night. Tree branches snagged my clothing, I stumbled over gnarly roots and animals bared their teeth. I couldn’t see these dangers, but I could sense them. They haunted me night and day.

At the same time, I also experienced the kindness of others who reached out to me and, like a fireman’s bucket brigade, passed me ahead to the next set of helping hands.  These hands were the hands of wisdom, compassion and sisterhood.  Sometimes they belonged to real live people who had navigated through the black woods before me; sometimes it was the wise hands of authors who supported and guided me.

I’d like to introduce some of those wonderful authors to you.  Here they are, in no particular order

  • The Lost Years by Christina Wandzilak describes a daughter’s addiction and recovery from the perspective of both mother and child.
  • Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, a dad’s memoirs and self-discoveries as his son struggles with a meth addiction and he struggles with his own deadly co-dependency.
  • The Mood Cure by Julia Ross provides critical information about the nutritional foundation of recovery.
  • Courage to Change by the Al-anon Family Group, which offers daily snippets of wisdom, strength and hope.  Many days, I found that one page of this thought-provoking wisdom was all I could absorb.
  • Moments of Clarity:  Voices from the Front Lines of Addiction and Recovery, by Christopher Kennedy Lawford. This is a collection of turning point memoirs by “famous” addicts and alcoholics whose moments of clarity propelled them into recovery.  It offers an inspiring and humbling reminder that we are all vulnerable to this disease, even the rich and famous.  Not that we need that reminder these days….

Check out our recommended reading list to find other wonderful books that can help you through the darkest night.