Last night, I finished reading “Beautiful Boy“, David Sheff’s harrowing account of his son, Nic’s addiction to methamphetamine. While this is a father’s account, I believe it to be the story of any parent whose child is destroying him or herself.
As a parent and therapist, these are the things that most struck me about this extraordinary father and his son:
1. David never gave up trying to save his son. And yet, he was able, through trial and error, to set clear boundaries in which he was not enabling Nic by giving him money or paying his rent, debts etc. This is no small feat. It is natural to want to rescue our children, but sometimes doing so hurts them more.
2. He researched Nic’s drug of choice and was absolutely clear about the dangers. He did not minimize the issue or hide from it. In researching, he reached out to others with experience and was able to realistically determine best choices for treatment and statistics for recovery.
3. He eventually began to focus more on himself and less on managing Nic. Sheff write at the end of his book:
“I attended Al-Anon meetings. I also had twice-weekly sessions and, for the first time, ever I lay down on the doctor’s couch. The difference has been profound – like disassembling a multilevel Lego building with hidden rooms and attics, dismantling it brick by brick, examining each one – a meticulous, often frightening process. I learned that at some point, focusing on Nic’s perpetual crises became safer territory than focusing on myself. It was even safer to a near-fatal brain hemorrhage (p.309).”
As parents we cannot neglect to do our inner work. We cannot focus on our children to the exclusion of ourselves (unless there is a crisis that must be taken care of) for extended interminable periods of time. This is not healthy for them and does not help them in the end. It is near impossible to strive for that healthy balance of involvement and the ability to let go, but what choice do we have but to keep trying?
We must strive to better take care of our physical and emotional health and well-being. Learning good self-care is a work in progress, but ever step counts.
He continues: “As everyone in intensive therapy knows, though it’s not easy, there can be a deep transformative benefit to the work. I have been uncovering layers of guilt and shame that help explain why I was so willing to take the responsibility for Nic’s addiction – for his life, in fact. As a result those other cliches of Al-Anon and recovery no longer feel like cliches (p.310).”
Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Counseling, Life Coaching, exercize, healthy diet, relaxation, attending to our own addictions and dysfuntions. Loving ourselves is necessary to loving our children.
Finally he advises to parents of addicted children: “And be patient with yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Be easy on yourself and extra loving to your spouse or partner. Do not keep secrets. As they repeat often in AA, you’re as sick as your secrets. Though it is not a solution, openness is a relief (p.315).”
Hard earned words.
I look forward to reading Nic’s book about his experience.