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“Beautiful Boy” is a hard, yet necessary read. Simply stated on the cover of the book, the memoir is “a father’s journey through his son’s addiction” and while that may an overarching statement to the series of events described, I would argue that the book is also a story of connection that offers many subtle, poignant definitions of helplessness. Davis Sheff, the father of Nic Sheff and author of “Beautiful Boy” recounts his experience with Nic’s addiction to alcohol and methamphetamine. Although there are many explorations of helplessness throughout this narrative of addiction and recovery, there are three definitions that stand out most. Helplessness is the relentless and debilitating internal monologue of grief. Helplessness is the inability to save. Helplessness is becoming the hostage of an uncontrollable force.

“’You can’t control it.’ But I cannot let Nic go. Not yet. Soon? Not yet. I cannot let Nic go. I will not let Nic go unless I am forced to. I may be. You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, you can’t cure it. I know” (Sheff 275). It is at this point that David feels there is nothing left to be done, yet he tells himself he must do more. This look into David’s internal monologue shows the incessant grief and hopelessness he feels watching an addiction take his son and having no power to intervene. The short, clipped sentences convey the immobilizing effect of this intense, borderline panic. Even as David weighs his options, either let Nic go or stick it out, he is forced to reason in fragmented and even rehearsed thoughts in order to come to terms with his grief. Not only does this immerse the reader, it creates an emotional connection for those who experienced a similar thought structure. Many people, similar to David, have felt powerless against their own thoughts. David is so skillfully able to communicate his helplessness and relate to that of others by offering this example as a definition.

After another of Nic’s heartbreaking relapses and some of his own medical issues, David’s existential introspection describes another quality of helplessness. He comes to the realization that he cannot save people. “I can try to protect my children, to help and guide them, and I can love them, but I cannot save them” (Sheff 255). Here it is explained that despite any effort made on his part, attempting to save another is futile. The best parts of life are the relationships and connections we make with others; however, these can lead to acute feelings of helplessness such as those experienced by David.

A victim, by definition, is in a pretty helpless position. The emotions surrounding victimization fall under the definitive umbrella of helplessness: confusion, loss, despair, immobility, fear. David recounts a moment when these feelings, and more surround Nic. “‘I’m tired. All the fears come in. Confused. What is happening? Why? Why does this keep happening to me?… I feel as if my life has been stolen”’ (289). Nic is being taken from and he feels powerless to do anything about it. Addiction, in this case, has taken so much from David, Nic, their families. They’ve become victim to the consequences of Nic’s decision.

Other than the poignant definitions of helplessness offered by this book, there is another theme that gives this story some warmth. That is the idea of connection and its power to save. Throughout both David and Nic’s struggle with Nic’s addiction, there are many moments where one can see the powerful effects of connection. A number of times in his memoir “Tweak”, Nic talks about how his connection to others is what got him through the harder moments. David sums up his experience with AA meetings writing “Elsewhere, everyone asks how I’m doing. Here, they know”(175). Although this sentiment is filled with so much pain, it is clear as his story continues the way connecting with others going through similar experiences bolsters him and gives him strength. Furthermore, the connection he has with Nic is a significant factor in Nic’s rehabilitation process. I’ve pondered connection and its role in protecting and saving others but I’ve concluded that connection is not a solution to helplessness because it requires something of both sides. You can’t connect with someone who won’t let you. Connection saves, but it is not something one person can create. How helpless are we, then, to protect one another?

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