Nic Sheff has been traveling around the country, speaking about addiction, since his book, “Tweak,” was published four years ago. He speaks at high schools, and colleges, and fundraisers, and treatment centers, giving a 45-minute “life story presentation,” followed by 15 minutes for questions. Nic expresses that many of the questions are similar, but recently he was faced with a question he was unable to answer quickly.
He was speaking at a Native American reservation in Michigan, when an enraged father shouts about witnessing his children and grandchildren’s addiction. Nic expresses that he realized the man was not angry with him, but angry with addiction in general. The man went on to say that he hears people talk about addiction, and the depths they plunged to, and then it just seems they jump on to how now they are sober and happy. He demanded to know, “How did we get from being strung out and miserable to getting sober and happy? How did we get from A to B?”
Nic was stumped, unsure of how to answer that question. Nic says that for some getting sober is a relatively straight forward process, (not to say easy) but they use drugs and destroy their lives, then they go to meetings, get a sponsor, make a commitment, work the steps, and go on to live happy, free, and joyous lives. That is not the way it worked for Nic, and he claims to be envious of people that can do it that way.
He remembers back when he was getting clean, living in a Sober House and working the steps. Many of the people he shared that experience with are still clean today, but Nic continued to go out and get “fucked up,” again and again. He claims to have gone to AA, done everything they suggested, and still relapsed. He tried numerous methods for sobriety, and each time he thought he had it figured out, he would relapse again.
At one point he attended a “new agey” treatment facility. He spent a lot of time talking about childhood memories, and releasing feelings from his body. He got in touch with his feelings and thought he was finally okay. But, he started drinking again. He had pretty much decided he was done with AA at that point, and he decided to try outpatient treatment with “good old-fashioned” therapy and psychiatric medication.
He did something different this time. Before, Nic had always gone to whatever psychiatrist was recommended, but this time he found one he could respect and relate to. He tried several doctors until he found one he was very comfortable with. She adjusted his medication, and he started seeing her once a week.
Nic felt like this outpatient program really worked for him. He said, “When I’d been in inpatient rehabs before, I’d get close to the other clients when we were in there together, but as soon as we were back out in the real world, we’d discover how little we really did have in common. But that didn’t happen with outpatient, probably because we incorporated what we were already doing together in our regular lives, rather than make it our entire lives.”
Although Nic felt like outpatient treatment really worked for him, he still relapsed one more time. His ex-girlfriend had a bottle of Vicodin left over from a broken arm. He thought he would be fine if he just took one. Three bottles later, he was headed out to cop heroin, when he suddenly had a moment of clarity. Nic describes how he saw that he was about to throw away everything he had worked so hard to achieve. He saw how his life would spiral out of control again, losing everything and destroying himself, when he thought, “No, no, I don’t want to do this again. I don’t want to go back to the bottom again.”
And he didn’t. He went home, called his doctor, and got on Suboxone. He locked himself inside for a week, and he has been sober ever since. Over four years, now. Nic asks himself how to answer the man’s question. How did he get from A to B?
“The only thing I can figure is I guess it must have all kind of worked. That is, I don’t think it is any one treatment that got me sober. But each one gave me a little more teaching about myself and my disease and recovery. None of it was a waste. I kept falling but eventually I started to learn how not to fall so far down, and pick myself up a little sooner. It was a lot of trial and error. I had to find out what fit for me and what didn’t.” There is no one answer for everyone, we are all different, and sometimes it requires the tenacity to try several different methods of recovery. Nic tells the old man that getting from A to B is all about trying. Nic claims he had to try, and he had to be open. He also says he had to have faith, not faith on God, but faith that it would eventually work. And it has. He adds, “For now, anyway.”
Nic Sheff is the author of two books, “Tweak” and “We All Fall Down,” which are both memoirs of his addiction. Nic writes about various aspects of addiction, in addition to his speaking engagements. His father wrote “Beautiful Boy,” which also chronicles Nic’s addiction, only through his father’s eyes. All are excellent reads.