A Review of “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines” by Nic Sheff

“Raw, powerful, and honest.” – The Bookseller

“A raw and sad account, vivid in its depiction of the pleasures and tunnel vision of addiction and the challenges of sobriety.” – Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Books

Nic Sheff writes a memoir that is searingly honest, detailing a downward spiral that seems to have no bottom. He was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the following years, he would smoke pot regularly, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. Yet he always felt he could quit and put his life together whenever he needed to. It took a violent relapse one summer in California to convince him otherwise. Nic’s story takes you through the wild twists and turns in the life of a recovering addict. He is a kind soul. Creative, impulsive, curious. He is ever aware of the the pain and destruction he is causing those around him, but his addiction is too strong to just quit, as his family would have liked him to.

When he’s clean and sober, Nic is a sensitive, caring, loving person who is deeply insecure, and just wants to do things right. It is easy to root for him in spite of his insane return to crystal meth, heroin and cocaine over and over. Although I have never shot drugs into my arm, I completely understand being so obsessed with getting high that you will do nearly anything to score. When Nic began shooting dope, he changed from a youthful contender for the prizes of life, such as a promising career as a writer, a hint of leadership, and a quiet kindness that everyone noticed when he was a child, to a street scavenger with no future at all. He robbed his family and prostituted himself to men for drugs.

The exhausting cycle of rob, score, get high, rob, score, get high is finally broken when Nic gets caught breaking into his mother’s property. His father gives him a choice: Treatment or jail. He chooses treatment. This time it works. Nic does not suggest that he has now chosen a better way of life. He simply says, “Using just has no place in my life now, and I can’t see that ever changing.” I’ve been that far down, so I can appreciate this statement; however, it is always advisable in recovery to quit just for today. When and addict says they will never use again, he or she places themselves under such tremendous pressure that it can become overwhelming.

One thing I found particularly positive about this book is that Nic refuses to glamorize drug use. He lets us in to each of his battles, revealing every pain that comes with a life of addiction, with simple straightforward words. He vividly describes infected wounds in his arms from IV drug abuse, severe emaciation, and hallucinations caused by extended, unbroken meth use. Educators, counselors and parents would be well-advised to recommend this book to today’s young adult.

I have no idea what love is to most people. I have no idea what love is supposed to be. I have no idea what a healthy relationship should look like. I have no idea what society considers “normal” in terms of falling in love, being in love, and acting on that. Through group therapy, one-on-one therapy, supportive friends, writing, living, reflection, I’ve begun to find out who I am underneath all the protective coverings and drawn curtains and stained, twisted sheets. I’ve started to see myself, my true self, hiding somewhere behind my lungs maybe. Some unreachable center in me. I have an intensity inside of me that can be destructive as hell, but can also cut me wide open so that I feel sadness and joy and freedom and empathy and love like stars burning out and the sun captured inside every living thing. [Excerpt from a blog post at http://nicsheff.blogspot.com.]

Stephen King on Writing

Stephen King has published 57 novels, all of them bestsellers. He has sold more than 350 million copies world wide. According to Forbes, he earns approximately $40 million per year, making him one of the richest writers in the world. He is number 6 on the Forbes list of top 50 writers, and has a net worth of $400 million.

In 2002, King temporarily abandoned writing horror novels. Instead, he wrote On Writing, a book that chronicles his rise to fame and discusses exactly what he believes it takes to become a good writer. Since then, it’s become the most popular book about writing ever written, pulling in over 1000 reviews on Amazon, selling God only knows how many copies. Check the book out here.

I’ve read On Writing from cover to cover at least three times, and each time, I saw a noticeable improvement in my writing. I am particularly fond of King’s “tool box” metaphor. The book teaches the fundamentals of the craft, which is something no writer should ignore. It also sort of rubs off on you. The first half of the book is dedicated to King’s experiences as a writer. Basically a short biography. He candidly discusses his troubles with alcohol and cocaine, as well as the incident when he was run over by a van while walking his dog. The second part is very succinct, covering every aspect of the craft of writing.

King has recently published a list of some of the habits that will help you become a great writer. He advises to write because it fulfills you. Do it for the pure joy of writing. Writing isn’t about making money. Rather, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work. Remember, you can’t please all of the writers all of the time. Do you want to crack the code for writing popular blog posts? It helps to keep a notebook and pen with you at all times. Jot down ideas you could write about. Make a special note of the ones that you believe 80% of your readers would find irresistible. Now, write about those topics and nothing else.

It’s okay to approach the act of writing with nervousness. It is also okay to experience despair. King says, “You must not come lightly to the blank page.” If you want the world to take you seriously, first you have to take yourself seriously. You have to look at your blog as not just a blog, but an opportunity to change the world. Then write as if the whole world is reading. If you are just starting off as a writer, consider cutting the plug off the end of your TV. King decided to do a test. He cut his TV time to one show per day, and invested the time reading. His creativity exploded. He went from writing 1,000 words per day to pumping out over 2,000 words per day in the same amount of time. He said, “Television may be popular, but it’s poisonous to creativity, and all truly dedicated writers need to limit their exposure to it.” If you want to be a writer, there are two things you must do: read, read, read; and, you guessed it, write, write, write.

King believes writing is a distilled art form. It is also refined thinking. A lot of books on writing tell you to write like you talk. While that’s fine for a beginner, it’s death if you ever want to be a respected writer. Yes, your writing should be conversational, but it should be the conversation you would have if you had time to think everything through and say exactly the right things. The truth is, any great piece of writing is preceded by hours and hours of thinking.

It is important for a writer to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten. Such experiences will help the writer recognize when these things creep in to his or her writing, and steer clear of them. When confronted with pathetic  writing, most people click the back button and go for something else, which is understandable. I’ve been there many times. That’s fine if you’re just a reader. If you’re a writer, on the other hand, you’re far better served by sticking around and analyzing exactly what makes the blog so pathetic. They become captivated by your words. You won’t have to beg your readers for their attention. They will follow you to the ends of the earth.

Happy writing!

Ann Landers on Alcohol

The Most Clever Thief in the World!

I invited her into our home for special occasions. We’d become good friends, I thought. And then I began to look forward to our meeting at the end of each day. After a while, we became so friendly I had to see her every evening. People began to think of us as a couple. Even the police knew our names. Our identities were too closely linked, I thought, so I began to see her on the sly. At first, she stole small change from my pocket. I wasn’t concerned. Before long, she crept into my billfold. I wasn’t happy about that, but I enjoyed her company too much to complain.

Friends said I was seeing too much of her and that she had made changes in me they didn’t like. I resented their interference and said so. They dropped me. My wife and children complained about the time I took from them to spend with her. I said, “If you insist that I make a choice, I will choice her.” And I did. She began to demand so much of my money I could no longer afford new clothes. I heard people at work whisper about my shabby appearance. They blamed her. I was annoyed and distanced myself from my colleagues.

She started to visit me at the office. My boss became upset. He said my friend was interfering with my work. After several warnings, I lost my job. We had some heavy arguments after that. I told her to stay away for a while, so I could think. She said, “So long, buddy. You’ll come back to me before long.” She knew me better than I knew myself. Within three days, I was seeing her again. Our affair became more intense than ever. We spent every day and night together. I lost my wife, my family and my job. The next thing to go was my health.

When I became so sick I couldn’t eat or sleep, I realized she had taken everything in my life that had meaning. Although I was not religious, I decided to turn to God. He wrapped His loving arms around me and gave me strength I cannot describe to this day. He made me feel whole. My sense of self-worth and sanity began to return. I knew I would never again let my friend back into my life.

Today I am on my way back. With God at my side, I know I will make it. My old friend will always be around the corner, waiting for me to weaken and stumble and come back to her, but I am determined to keep her out of my life forever. I have found a magnificent replacement.

I’m Sorry

I want to apologize to those of you who have been following my blog. I changed the “theme” several times as a way to freshen things up. The last theme I used really showcased my writing. It included a really large starting letter in the first sentence of the post, which sort of looked like a book or article. Rather than make my site look fresh and hip (Cringe! I think that word gives away my age!), it was difficult for readers to see the archives and the links to my various pages. So I am back to the Hemingway style. I’m very pleased with it. Sorry for all the design changes.

Day 92

I am reading Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, by Nic Sheff. Nic was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the years that followed, he would smoke pot regularly, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. He always felt like he could quit and put his life together whenever he needed to. (Man, that sounds rather familiar!) It took a violent relapse one summer to convince him otherwise. Nic spares no detail. The book is hard to stomach, yet difficult to put down. This kid can write.

Nic was 20 when he wrote Tweak. He unfortunately relapsed 5 times since the book was published. He was compelled to write a second memoir called We All Fall Down: Living With Addiction. It was released in 2011. He admits, in this book, that he was getting high while on tour promoting Tweak. Great news! He has not relapsed since writing his second book. Nic writes a regular column at https://www.thefix.com. I encourage you to check it out.

The following is an excerpt from Tweak.

Day 92

Recovery is strange, you know? I mean, it is so easy in a way and yet, well, so difficult. The woman who ran my Sober Living in L.A., the place I checked into after moving here from New York, describes addiction as a disease of amnesia. I think that pretty much sums it up. It’s not hard to stay sober at first. Sure, it’s hard as hell to get sober, to pull yourself out of the cycle of getting high every day and going through the horrors of detox. But, honestly, once the drugs are out of my system, it isn’t too difficult to genuinely feel like I never want to go through that shit again. Staying sober right after coming back from a relapse is no struggle. Every time I’ve come out of detox, the last thing I ever want to do is get high. This time is no different.

But the thing is, as the months go by, I always seem to forget why I needed to get sober in the first place. The bad shit starts to not seem really that bad. I start blaming other people, thinking they’re all just overreacting and whatever. I tell myself that I wasn’t really that out of control. At least that’s my rationale. I swear, every time I’ve relapsed has been the same story. And, each time, I get a little closer to being dead. Things fall apart more quickly. I hurt more and more people.

I cannot let that happen again. I cannot. Somehow, I have to make this different. But how do I accomplish this?

Sometimes We Just Can’t Seem to Write!

Seems like I just went through this. Publishing something before it is truly ripe. I was looking over some old blog posts, and re-read this one. Quite a bit of technical errors. Not a first draft, but not a final draft either. So, here it is again.

The Accidental Poet

There are days when I can’t wait to write. I wake up just minutes before the alarm, clicking off the switch before the piercing sound busts my ear drums and puts me in a 1984 sort of mood where everything is thought for me. Everyone tells me when to get up in the morning.

So I grab a coffee, black, and head to my writing area. You know, that place where you feel most comfortable and were you meet your muse. (Especially on a good day like I’m having right now.) I am working on a project that I hope will become a young adult novel. The main protagonist, a sixteen-year-old girl, has been hanging around with a boy who has really gone of the deep end with addiction. He is part of a group that seems to love drugs and street crime. This young man is Brad. He loves…

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Grove of Trees

You said, God, that all of this was yours;
Through Your spoken word, the water came;
At your request, land arose. With barely a whisper,
You called up trees. All this, where I sit and ponder,
Is proof that Your words create life and wonder.
As I look about, everywhere, I see Your hand.

Man might be Your grandest work, but there’s
So much more in the seas, in the air, in the dirt.
Who am I to question whether the caterpillar
Crawling on my shoe, or the mosquito,
Or the cockroach, are part of your plan?
Bugs bite, I itch, and I question
The need for such bother.

My father told me all is of the food chain;
This is true of every creature, every organism.
I sit under this canopy of countless leaves
And I realize that You, God, designed this world
From the very smallest of cells
To this grove of trees.

Steven Barto ©2016