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.]

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?