The “Beautiful Boy” Movie About Addiction and the Family Can Be A Lifesaving Conversation Starter
Addiction Recovery is Possible for Addicts and Their Loved Ones
By Brian McAlister
The movie “Beautiful Boy” depicts a Dad’s anguish as he takes a painful journey alongside his son as he spends several years suffering from active addiction. The movie tackles the pain of addiction of the addict and every member of the family. I’m glad Hollywood is addressing the issue and hope it will start addiction-recovery action-spurring conversations among parents, spouses, friends, and addicts alike that lead to those in need getting help.
But as someone who has walked the walk – both as an addict and as the loved one who lost a family member to the disease of addiction – I’d like to share a real-life, concrete perspective I feel is missing from the movie
“Beautiful Boy” is based on a true story, and stars Steve Carell as David Scheff and Timothee Chalamet as his son, Nic. The story of a heroin and crystal meth addict is told from the father’s perspective, and moves between the highs and lows of progress and relapse that are so common in the life of an addict. “Beautiful Boy,” in theaters nationwide this fall, is a story of unquenchable hope, named for a John Lennon song.
In “Beautiful Boy,” father David Scheff, in a plaintive, desperate voice, expresses the universal pain of addiction felt by family members and friends. “I don’t know how to help him.”
I know how he feels. Intimately. I lost my sister to addiction many years after I became sober. I also know the most powerful thing a loved-one can do is understand that the addict is the only one who can choose to act and recover. The best thing a loved one of a substance misuser can do for themselves and the addict is take action to focus on their own recovery from the obsession of trying to rescue the addict.
If feels so counter-intuitive. But it is essential.
If someone you love is an addict, here are four things you can do, beginning today:
- Start the conversation
- Love and respect yourself first
- Admit you are powerless over the addict
- Embrace addiction recovery as a one day at-a time journey, everyday
Start the conversation about the elephant in the room
Drug addiction, for many families, is the elephant in the room. People think – people worry – people pray. They hope the problem will go away on its own.
“Beautiful Boy” indeed offers an opportunity for the loved ones to begin a conversation about addiction and finally talk about the elephant in the room. When Hollywood tackles the story of addiction, with Oscar-weight talent, it can lead to real game-changing conversations. And we must have them. Here’s why:
Real-life addiction is ugly, desperate, darker, and even more ravaging than the story depicted in the movie. The film is set in Northern California, which offers a stunning cinematic backdrop. In one scene, Nic steals $8 from his sister’s piggy bank to help feed his meth habit. That scene, in particular, completely misses the mark.
Nobody steals $8. You bleed money. Money just disappears.When an addict is desperate, they know no limits. Addicts will do whatever it takes for money. People have killed their own mother when the insanity of addiction is upon them.
In real life, addiction leads to death. Plain and simple. Addiction is not pretty, with a glamorous cinematic backdrop. As for Hollywood movies, addiction is portrayed more accurately in “Breaking Bad,” or “Barfly.” Addiction is a progressive, chronic disease. Addiction is mean and ugly. It never gets better on its own.
The disease of addiction wants the addict dead but first it wants to make life exceedingly miserable. Drug addicts are miserable before they die. And their families are miserable, too.
Love and Respect Yourself First – My Wife Did This
Charity begins at home. Many of us were taught this philosophy as children, that we learn compassion first by extending love and respect to those closest to us, our immediate family and friends.
But if there is an addict in your circle, someone you no longer recognize, and you are on a daily roller coaster of emotions and face a very real drain on your health, sanity, finances, and more, you, like David Scheff, likely don’t even where to begin. You don’t know how to help.
While it may not feel right at first – the first thing to do – is to help yourself. Take the proverb one step further. Charity begins with me.
The reality is that friends and family members of addicts often inadvertently are making the problem worse.
Addicts are takers. Co-dependents are givers. Co-dependents surrender their own joy and devote much of their time focused exclusively on the addict. This can have a negative impact and can prevent the addict from taking lifesaving responsibility for themselves.
In fact, I am sober today because my wife learned to put her own needs first, and sought help for herself as a person married to an addict. Suddenly she reacted differently to situations at home. Suddenly she was making different decisions. She was choosing a better life for herself. She was choosing sanity. When my wife started changing, I began to take a hard look at myself.
Admit You Are Powerless Over the Addict
Education is critical. Many of us, including addicts, have the wrong ideas about addiction, which is a complex and chronic disease. In fact, when you first begin to educate yourself on the dynamics of drug and alcohol addiction, you learn to look at the disease in a myriad of different ways.
As a loved one, you learn that addicts simply cannot be controlled.
Yet co-dependents often are control freaks, trying to contain both the addict and the disease. Neither can be done.
When friends and family members begin to seek help for themselves, they are taught to relinquish any notion of control. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon offers a network of support for friends and family members of addicts and can be a first step.
The reality is that you can’t force someone to get sober.
Yet you also have to learn how to detach yourself with love. You can’t co-sign somebody else’s BS.
Embrace Addiction Recovery as a One Day at a Time Journey
Substance abuse addiction is a habit that causes pain and suffering to both the individual and their loved ones.
The Miriam Webster dictionary defines addiction as: a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal. Additionally it states that the user knows that persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.
This habit is a progressive potentially terminal disease. Addiction can be arrested, put in remission, and one can live in active recovery. But this is a one-day-at-a-time journey and loved ones must stop rescuing the addict.
In other words, stop bailing out the addict, literally and figuratively. If you’re paying legal fees, covering up work absences, etc., you’re prolonging the problem. The quicker a substance abuser feels the weight, pain and consequences of the poor decisions they make the quicker they can hit bottom. The quicker we hit bottom and change the less pain we will ultimately have to endure.
Start Taking Care of Yourself Today
The more you try to ‘help’ an addict, the longer this will go on. This is not tough love. It’s the truth.
- Addiction never gets better on its own
- Pain is the best friend to change
- Habits can be redirected
- Help is available
Take the first step today, and then do it again tomorrow.
Brian McAlister’s sober date is August 2, 1990. He is now the President and CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center and Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System™. He is also the best-selling author of Full Recovery, The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power. Brian recently created Freedom 365 to put a full year of 24/7, secure, and private addiction recovery support in the palm of your hand, anywhere, and on any device. His mission is to help others have access to the life-changing and life-saving tools of recovery that he uses every day – even after 28 years in sobriety. Why? Because currently only 4% of people in America who need addiction recovery support get it. Find out more here.
Image via Amazon Studios (https://www.beautifulboy.movie).