While the move featured big-name Hollywood actors, the real father and son, David and Nic Sheff, were in Sioux Falls Tuesday to speak at the “Many Faces of Addiction Conference.”
“My son is out there somewhere and I don’t know what he’s doing. I don’t know how to help him,” actor Steve Carell said as David Sheff in Beautiful Boy.
In the movie, Beautiful Boy, journalist David Sheff is played by Steve Carell. Sheff’s pain, anguish and confusion as a parent dealing with this son’s addiction are something he has now been talking and writing about for more than a decade.
Angela Kennecke: Parents get blamed, they get shamed. Did you experience that?
David Sheff: Yeah, when Nic first became addicted I kept it a secret because of the blame and shame around addiction. Compared to any other disease, if a child has any other disease, there would just be this outpouring of love and affection; ‘what can I do to help you?’
“I don’t feel like I have a disease. This is not cancer. I put myself here,” actor Timothée Chalamet said as Nic Sheff in Beautiful Boy.
Both David and Nic Sheff are on a mission to stop the stigma surrounding addiction so it can be properly treated.
Angela Kennecke: Families tend to make a lot of mistakes when it comes to how to cope with this out of control person.
David Sheff: And people need to know that we make mistakes because we don’t know. We don’t know what we’re doing.
Sheff says some of those mistakes come from old-fashioned thinking, like believing that someone abusing substances has to hit “rock bottom,” or seek help on their own.
The idea that people have to hit bottom is tragic. We know that people who become addicted are sick. We also know the last thing we want is for somebody who is sick to get worse. So we want to stop it as soon as we can,” David Sheff said.
A scene in the movie portrays Sheff taking the advice that he had to just “let go of Nic” and hanging up on his son when he calls for help.
“I wasn’t mad at him. I understood that he was doing what he thought was right and it was coming from a place of love. But the thing we’ve heard so many times is parents who’ve done that same thing–they’ve drawn that line in the sand. And then their child has gone out and used again and died,” Nic Sheff said.
The Sheffs say the movie’s reach has helped shine a spotlight on the epidemic. Overdoses claim 192 lives every day in the U.S.
“There is no way to make what is happening okay; the fact that we are losing so many of our lovely children–our beautiful boys and beautiful girls–but out of the tragedy at least we are having this conversation,” David Sheff said.
“Do you know how much I love you? I love you more than everything,” Carell said in Beautiful Boy.
Nic smoked marijuana for the first time at age 11.
“The moment that drug hit me, it really felt like this was the answer to my problems,” Nic Sheff said.
Nic says there really wasn’t a drug he was afraid to try, eventually using heroin and crystal meth.
“I got him into a 28-day program and I’ll pick him up in 28 days and he’ll be fine and go off to college. But I realized this was a very complicated disease and you don’t cure it in 28 days,” David Sheff said.
After several years of struggling and relapses, Nic has now been in recovery for nine years.
“I really love my life now. And I don’t want to lose it. Deep down I know I have the disease of addiction and if I put a mind altering substance into my body, this invisible switch gets flipped and I can’t stop thinking about it. This obsession takes over. It’s like having an allergy to it, Nic Sheff said.
While being the subjects of a Hollywood movie may seem glamorous, it’s the issue that keeps them grounded.
“Addiction really is an equal opportunity destroyer. It doesn’t matter what socio-economic background; what cultural background you come from, it affects everybody and that’s been the best part about this, to connect with so many people from so many different backgrounds,” Nic Sheff said.
Angela Kennecke: You had these years where you really lost him.
Angela Kennecke: And now you guys are back together doing all this. What is that like for you having come out the other end?
Sheff: Well it feels like a miracle and I meet people every day who aren’t as lucky.”
“It’s hard as hell to get sober. But I love my family and I want them to be proud of me,” Chalametsaid in Beautiful Boy.
Beautiful Boy is now available on Amazon. It’s the compilation of David Sheff’s book of the same title and Nic Sheff’s memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines