David Sheff may be the best-known member of a heart-wrenching club. The author is one of countless parents whose children have battled drugs. His riveting book “Beautiful Boy” follows his son Nic Sheff’s descent into addiction hell and back.
“Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” is one of the selections for Everett Reads 2017, and part of an Everett Public Library effort called Beyond the Streets. David Sheff is scheduled to speak at a free event at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Everett Performing Arts Center.
The library’s 2017 Beyond the Streets programs start next week with a talk by social workers embedded with the Everett Police Department’s Community Outreach and Enforcement Team. Social workers Staci McCole and Kaitlyn Dowd will meet the public, along with Everett Police Sgt. Mike Braley, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the downtown library auditorium.
Eileen Simmons, Everett library director, said Beyond the Streets grew from the city’s Community Streets Initiative. Programs will examine addiction, homelessness and mental health. They were planned after discussions with city officials, including Hil Kaman, Everett’s director of public health and safety, Simmons said.
“We were looking for people who had books tied in with why people end up on the street,” Simmons said.
A Northern California-based journalist who has written for The New York Times, Esquire, Wired, Rolling Stone, Outside and many other publications, Sheff’s introduction to the drug world was painfully personal.
Nic Sheff, the oldest of his three children, was a high school student and athlete, full of life and promise, before teen drug use escalated into meth addiction. It led to life on San Francisco streets, emergency room visits, and multiple stays in rehab facilities. Nic’s book, “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines,” parallels “Beautiful Boy,” his father’s account. Both were published in 2009.
By phone from California, David Sheff said Thursday that his 34-year-old son has been clean nearly seven years now.
“It’s a miracle to say that Nic is doing well,” said Sheff, 61. His son is a television writer living in Los Angeles. “He married a best friend he had in sixth grade. It’s the promise that people do get clean, and also that you can have a life. It’s what we want for our kids.”
After “Beautiful Boy,” an excruciating story of how Nic’s addiction affected a whole family, David Sheff turned his journalistic skills to the subject in a larger way. The result is his 2013 book “Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy.”
As research took him more deeply into how drug users are treated, he asked hard questions: “Are we thinking about it wrong — is there a better way?” Sheff said treatment in the United States approaches addiction as “a moral problem.”
“It’s all about judgment. You’re weak, what happened to your morals?” he said. “But we know that this is a brain disease. We know that the brains of people who become addicted become dramatically different. What do we do about diseases? We rely on the best science.”
In Nic Sheff’s case, psychiatric evaluation found he suffered from serious bipolar disorder. Since taking medication, Nic hasn’t relapsed, David Sheff said.
Sheff is encouraged by a recent U.S. surgeon general’s report, “Facing Addiction in America,” that includes information on neurobiology, prevention and treatment, including the need for a “chronic-illness management approach.”
“Now it becomes sort of a battle to get that acknowledged,” Sheff said. “It’s huge,” he said, likening the surgeon general’s report to one decades ago that targeted the dangers of cigarette smoking.
“We learned the hard way,” Sheff said. “We almost lost him.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following free events are scheduled as part of the Everett Public Library’s 2017 Everett Reads and Beyond the Streets programs:
6:30 p.m. Jan. 10: Staci McCole and Kaitlyn Dowd, social workers embedded with the Everett Police Department, will speak, along with Everett Police Sgt. Mike Braley, in the Everett Public Library auditorium, 2702 Hoyt Ave.
7 p.m. Feb. 10: David Sheff, author of “Beautiful Boy,” will speak at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave.
2 p.m. March 4: Edmonds writer Jennifer Bardsley, whose “I Brake for Moms” column is published in The Daily Herald, will talk about her sci-fi novel and Everett Reads selection “Genesis Girl” in the downtown Everett Public Library auditorium.
2 p.m. March 18: “The Long Night,” a documentary film by Tim Matsui depicting how young people in King County became sex-trafficking victims, will be shown in the downtown Everett Public Library auditorium.
2 p.m. March 26: Dr. Audrey Young, an internal medicine physician and author, will speak about her book “The House of Hope and Fear,” about life in a Seattle public hospital. She will speak at the downtown Everett Public Library auditorium.
7 p.m. June 9: Kristin Hannah is scheduled to talk about her best-selling novel “The Nightingale,” an Everett Reads selection set in a French village during World War II, at the Everett Performing Arts Center.
2 p.m. Oct. 7: Eli Sanders, whose account of a Seattle double rape and murder case in The Stranger won a Pulitzer Prize, will talk about his book “While the City Slept” in the downtown Everett Public Library auditorium.