David Sheff is like so many parents dealing with children who have drug addictions. His son Nic was drunk for the first time at age 11 and later developed addictions to methamphetamines and heroin.
However, unlike other mothers and fathers, the nationally renowned journalist, who has written for the New York Times, Wired, Fortune and Rolling Stone, told his story to the masses with his 2008 award-winning memoir “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction.”
It was that book along with Nic’s own memoir “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines” that was combined for the feature film adaptation “Beautiful Boy,” which was released last year and starred Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet.
Today, Sheff tours the country speaking about drug prevention and addiction treatment. It’s a second chapter in life he never envisioned.
“The process about writing a book about our family was incredibly difficult and really, really emotional,” said Sheff, calling from Orlando, Florida. “It was excruciating and scary sort of exposing this.
“The part of it I didn’t expect was sort of what happened next, which was this outpouring from people all over the country saying I told their story. That’s what they said over and over again. Then I realized not only the ubiquity of the suffering, but the fact so many people experiencing addiction in their families were ashamed. They weren’t talking about it.”
That type of response continued for a decade until the award-winning and high-profile film reached a wider audience.
“A lot more people apparently see movies than read books, that’s why the number has skyrocketed,” said Sheff, who often at speaking engagements is joined by his son Nic, who not only has written other addiction-related books, but worked as a writer on Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” and AMC crime drama “The Killing.” Nic also tours the country talking about substance abuse, mental health, bipolar disorder and recovery.
What: Beautiful Boy: A Conversation with David and Nic Sheff
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Finney Chapel, 90 N. Professor St., Oberlin
Info: (800) 371-0178 or oberlin.edu/artsguide
Both speakers are coming to Lorain County for “Beautiful Boy: A Conversation with David and Nic Sheff” taking place Thursday at Finney Chapel in Oberlin.
“I think Oberlin is an amazing place,” Sheff said. “Beyond the school, it’s the community. If you reach out, Ohio is one of the states hardest hit in terms of overdose deaths. A lot of families and communities are really struggling. It’s talking about all of the issues around drug use and drug addiction.
“We’re not from the old school standing up lecturing people and saying, ‘Don’t do drugs.’ It’s more about talking about the social problems and talking about the political side of it, but mostly talking about the issue as a health crisis.”
As far as how the movie turned out, Sheff said he’s overall very happy with the project. He loves how families are watching it together with the idea of inspiring honest and difficult conversations that perhaps wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Sheff noted the scene in which he hangs up on his son saying he can’t help him anymore remains brutal to watch to this very day.
“I worry about that as a message because a lot of people I talk to are told to do what I did,” Sheff said. “Rehab counselors say you can’t help them. They have to hit bottom and you need to hang up the phone.
“And then the next call they get is from the police saying their child went out and overdosed. So I want people to know that’s not something I advocate even though that’s something I did. We were just lucky.”
Considering the alternative outcomes related to drug addiction and overdoses, not to mention Nic’s perilous journey, Sheff feels very fortunate to be able to have the relationship he does with his son today let alone be able to tour the country together telling their stories.
“Not a day goes by where I don’t realize that I’m so lucky,” Sheff said. “I get to hang out with my son. He’s an amazing person. The other thing is, because of the book and then the movie, I hear from so many people whose kids didn’t make it.
“We’re just lucky. There’s no other reason Nic is still alive and these other kids aren’t. It also just breaks our heart and makes me feel that we ought to do something about this problem.”