Ben isn’t back and A Beautiful Boy isn’t so beautiful

I seem to have become a movie critic.  A month ago I posted on Ben is Back and yesterday I watched A Beautiful Boy on a flight home from San Francisco. And what I get at the end of each movie is a big fat nothing. There is no conclusion, no understanding, no ground from which to move forward.

julia angstyWith Ben is Back, there was Julia Roberts’ compelling angst, and now, with A Beautiful Boy (which I also read), we feel that intense heartbreak of a parent who can do nothing more to help. dad and nic hopingOnly to keep loving…and losing…as if his son had cancer or leprosy. I guess I’m mad and that’s why my words are coming out this way. There is something fundamentally wrong in these portrayals. Yes, they get the drama, the heartbreak, the power of drug highs. They get the agonizing schism between the teen or young adult lost in drugs and the (generally divorced) parents who still love their kid intensely. All that is worthwhile and important. But what they don’t get is the experience. They don’t even try to approximate, to estimate, to guess at what these young drug addicts are experiencing (other than deep sighs and stretches and rapturous smiles). Why is this so opaque?

metal jacketI mean, if we can create film after film about the Vietnam War and experience the shame, guilt, and horror of soldiers watching their friends die and their deepest values twisted inside out, why can’t we even come close to portraying — not what the parent is feeling — yes, that’s important too — but what the young addict is experiencing? What could be more dramatic than that? (And isn’t that supposed to be the crisis of our time?)

Nic aloneWith Ben and Nic, there are plenty of scenes that broadcast, almost prostitute, the sense of shame that these young men feel about their addictions and the deep hurt they cause their parents and siblings. Okay…shame. We get that addiction confers shame, which makes it harder to stop and harder to connect. But there’s so much more that’s missing. What is it that gets these kids to go back to their dealers and using buddies and half-empty girlfriends to do it again? To throw it all away, even after a year or more of “sobriety?”

In an online interview, Nic Sheff, the “boy” on whose story the book and movie are based, describes meth as providing “the feeling I’d been looking for my whole life.” We hear that a lot in stories of hard drug use (heroin and meth), and these movies actually provide skittery sci-fi sounds suggesting that the drugs are broadcasting an irresistible homing signal. But that’s way too easy. Rather than imagine that this was our singular goal since first grade, we need to look at the cluster of feelings that we have been trying to get away from.

nic coming homeThis word “sobriety” might be a way in. What feels so miserable about sobriety (the kind that’s required rather than chosen)? I can tell you, in case you’ve never been there. It’s the boredom, the emptiness, the contrivance, the feeling of being who you’re supposed to be…which requires leaving  behind the compelling drive to explore your own identity, choices, and consciousness. Who in Hollywood tries to portray that? The intensely creative moment of throwing out the norms and choosing, at the risk of one’s own existence, to reach for moments of awareness defined completely on one’s own terms.

There’s nothing moral or immoral about it. Taking powerful drugs can be a creative act, often with dire consequences. It’s not about the skittering sci-fi sounds of what is supposedly happening to your brain. Or the kiss of thanatos that inspired Freud and the Velvet Underground both. It’s the reach…for something so very different…from the monotony of living in our TV-tailored culture and obeying the commandments of family and love without ever having created Nic and kideither one. Yes, we want that. But at 18 or 20, we can’t create it. We can only rent that property from parents who settled there and established a home there. We can only copy, and please, and behave ourselves, trading our youthful energy for the security we could never find elsewhere. And guess what: that’s not enough.

So we find our own kind of creativity and culture: the powerful technology of present-day drugs and the immensely attractive inclusion of like-minded venturers…and that moment of going  back to being entirely unbound…that’s what we seek, and often find. And sometimes that’s what destroys us…and perhaps our families too. It just disappoints me hugely that all the power and skill of Hollywood has not even ventured there, not even peered under that rock…at least not lately…in the black-and-white disease-minded culture of “you’re either one of us or you’re some unfortunate mutant.” What the fuck? We can do better than that.


(I’m aware, in re-reading this, that it’s only one slant. My target here is the middle-class confusion and emptiness that often promotes drug experimentation in teens. That’s the setting in both films. Intense socioeconomic hardships can also propel drug use, as can trauma, loss, depression, and other challenges. And yes, drugs can be addictive — which is a causal force in itself. These other drivers of addiction are discussed in many other posts by me and my guest contributors.)



34 thoughts on “Ben isn’t back and A Beautiful Boy isn’t so beautiful

  1. David Clark February 20, 2019 at 4:24 am #

    Sad to hear this Marc, but I’m not surprised. Hollywood doesn’t get a lot of things.

    If I had my magic wand, would love to see you meet up with a good independent director, producer and writer…. and tap the wand again so you guys had the money.

  2. Jill February 20, 2019 at 6:12 am #

    Annette, Thanks for commenting and yes I like, (kinda), “wise up to when it’s no longer fun and beginning to affect our lives too much”…ordinary and boring CAN be a blessed relief as well 🙂

  3. matt February 20, 2019 at 6:47 am #

    Not surprised. What Hollywood and humans do is try to cram an “effability” of experience into the ineffable. Addiction, recovery and especially sobriety are all delimiting constructs. No child grows up yearning to be a drug addict…but definitely not yearning to be sober. Ewww.

    How we sit with, share, and understand our quirky adaptations collectively– with our children and with each other– is how we will evolve as a species without destroying each other. Humans (mammals) like to change the way we feel, particularly under stress.

    I agree with the wand wielding respondent above. When are you gonna write that screenplay? 😉

  4. Jill February 20, 2019 at 7:24 am #

    Yes!! Thanks, Marc for putting so eloquently into words what is missing in so much of the discussion in the media and in entertainment centered around addiction, recovery, and sobriety current day. We love to polarize and identify the addict as “the other” when in my opinion and experience, it is all of us, with the one’s often identified as outlier, addict, etc the true pioneers in expressing the most desperate yearnings within all of us and willing to make what appears to be the most desperate of choices in order to express and experience what we all are yearning for in some sense, and that to me is connection. A needle in the vein will get you there. Even if only briefly. Separate the shame, guilt, and judgment from the method, without the constant need to label it as “bad” or “wrong” or “unhealthy”. We can absolutely find common ground and relatable feelings and if we cannot, then we probably are utilizing other methods more highly condoned by our society to numb us to the awareness of the integral connection we must learn to make with each other, and with all living things on this planet.


  5. Colin Brewer February 20, 2019 at 7:37 am #

    I once heard Bruce Alexander – of ‘Rat Park’ fame – say at a conference: “The painstaking struggle to achieve a mundane existence can find it difficult to compete with the occasional ecstasies of intoxication.” and I immediately wrote it down because it seemed such a good point. (Though when I met him many years later, he said that he couldn’t remember saying it, so it must have been an off-the-cuff remark.) Here are a couple of examples of what he meant. One American writer used a particular
    drug to let him ‘‘conceive visions that the unaltered [unintoxicated] brain has no
    access to”. Another wrote: “This enormously seductive drug involves taking psychic flight, ingesting a simple substance and leaving yourself behind. . . . Many of us [use it to achieve] new personalities, . . . [to] slide into someone else’s skin . . . a [drug-induced] makeover from the inside out’’. The intoxicant, in both cases, was alcohol.
    If you have these experiences in adolescence when the hormones are running wild and your personality and career are not yet fixed, it’s not difficult to see how they might take over your life. Once you have a career, some important and lasting hobbies (not involving drugs) and some responsibilities, they are presumably less likely to do so. That’s why – although I’m not optimistic about attempts at prevention – I think it may be better to focus prevention efforts in adolescence, before people get full adult human rights and when we still have the right to order people to do things that they may not want to do (like going to school) or not to things they would like to do (like driving a car). One reason there is very little legal and illegal adolescent drug abuse in Cuba is that they take truancy very seriously and it is almost impossible for people under 17 to skip school and spend the day stoned without someone noticing and taking firm action. is there any good evidence that introducing random drug testing in schools with significant sanctions for positive results leads to significantly less drug use? It can’t be an essential adolescent experience because when I was an adolescent in 1950s Britain, nobody used illicit drugs (because we’d never heard of them) and if we drank, it was beer rather than wine or spirits. As junior doctors, we had much more access to mood-altering drugs than most people (and at no cost) and some of us tried them out of curiosity but by that time, we had both jobs and responsibilities and proportionally speaking, remarkably few doctors got hooked.

    • Marc February 20, 2019 at 7:54 am #

      What an interesting review of the place of drugs in people’s development, and how that might or might not be controlled by cultural rules and the policies and practices used to enforce them. I think there’s just no way to estimate whether drugs help or hinder in the developmental journey, I mean in general, at large. The spectrum is wide, and it goes from one extreme to the other.

  6. Joanna "Nicci Tina" Free February 20, 2019 at 9:11 am #

    Drug use was integral to my development as a human being; I see that now. I wouldn’t recommend it for that but it was part of me becoming me. Although, yes, there was darkness there, there was more in what I turned away from at the time. If I could have found a more creative way out, I expect I would have. At the age I was, the choices were few.

    I’m (very) fortunate in that leaving drug use was never someone else’s should or directive; it was my choice, my decision. It was time for me to live on another level and drug use couldn’t accompany, couldn’t join me there. I’m not as much a survivor of of that time in my life, as some see themselves. That time, and all that preceded it, was more a springboard to the life I endeavor to live today.

    Marc, when I see your words, “the boredom, the emptiness, the contrivance, the feeling of being who you’re supposed to be…which requires leaving behind the compelling drive to explore your own identity, choices, and consciousness.” I think, Yes – that’s what it feels like when a path out of drug use is chosen for us, especially when that path leaves behind the luster, the glow, even the times of excruciating yearning and the circle of friends – however destructive – we’d found on the path we’d chosen ourselves.

    We want to direct our own lives, or at least have the sense that we are. Connecting with the why – our why, not someone else’s – of a new direction needs to come pretty early in the process if we are to stay the course, claim it as our own, and find the gifts to be found there.

    These are my 5am ramblings. Thank you for prompting them.

    • Marc February 28, 2019 at 9:15 am #

      Joanna, We seem to agree on everything and we seem to have experienced drugs in very similar ways. Like you, I wouldn’t recommend (especially hard) drug use to facilitate growing up, but I want very much to understand it and even respect it when young people go that route.

      A point you bring up that’s particularly valuable: the emotional rebound, and perhaps the driver of increasing drug use, that come from feeling squeezed into conformity as adolescents….is very similar to what people feel when their “recovery” is mandated, supervised, and orchestrated by anyone other than themselves. Which is why it so often fails. Excellent point.

      • Joanna "Nicci Tina" Free March 13, 2019 at 6:37 pm #

        Marc – yes.

        Most of us (in my observation) treasure our agency, our autonomy, and especially when it’s at a time in our lives when it’s an imperative, essential for our individuation.

        I was a counselor in an elite independent high school for several years. I saw how frustrated and even frightened some parents were when their teenagers started down the path of individuation. Helping them see it as not only a normal developmental stage but a truly healthy one, even when it seemed dismissive or hurtful, helped a lot of parents take it all less personally, thereby allowing their kids some room to do what they needed to do to become more fully themselves, without having to lash out (as much) to do so.

        Also, I saw the impact for students who were seeking a counter-culture, to find a group of peers that were different in the way(s) they were and valued, but not getting wasted as a way to express that. The fact that they could be weird or rebellious and not self-destructive was thrilling. We didn’t know that was an option when I was a teenager, getting high, in part, to say, This bullshit you’re pushing is not for me.

        I wonder how often (our) drug use is a way of saying, “Something is needed here,” whether it’s space to grow, or nurturance, or a particular kind of community, or greater balance… whatever.

        What do you think of that?

        • Marc March 14, 2019 at 3:33 am #

          I think it’s a very important insight, and you put it so well. I have little to add. My present (second) generation of kids are twins, about to turn 13. They are starting to change in “unprescribed” ways. Unexpected anger reactions, strange new affectations, this and that. Makes me a bit anxious sometimes. But they are delightful. And happy! Which brings great satisfaction.

  7. Annette February 20, 2019 at 9:44 am #

    Marc, a great post as ever. I didn’t seek transcendance, I sought obliteration from 60s apartheid South Africa; my younger brother was similar and today, my adult son often binge drinks out of boredom. But we talk about it, and don’t scapegoat each other, talk about the highs and the warm feelings and I tell him why I quit. My younger brother explored so much, he found heroin and the void, then multiple overdoses. The last ten years of his life, he admitted to me that it was a living hell. So sad.

    We do need to explore, as the confines of society are regimented and judgmental. But explore safely. These days, meditation, yoga and travel give me the high and connectedness I once sought. I realise I am always connected and don’t really have to make too much effort to prove that to myself, because I’m happy, sober and sociable.

    • Marc February 28, 2019 at 9:24 am #

      Hi Annette. The ways you’ve found connection and meaning are of course safer, more effective, and in every way preferable to extended drug use. The alternative is indeed often a living hell. What’s difficult to understand is why adolescents can’t seem to find these safer and surer routes to self-actualization. Maybe it’s built into the culture –ie.., they’re very hard to locate and they are certainly not highlighted in adolescent-targeted media. But also, adolescents may just be moving too fast…a social-biological fact of life. Remember that frenetic energy, that urge to tackle or embrace challenges and contradictions?

      I’m sure it’s both: nature and nurture, as usual. Just let’s be glad it’s possible to “age out.”

  8. John Runnion February 20, 2019 at 10:13 am #

    Movies, if you hadn’t noticed, tend to get produced when they reflect the current cultural mythology and milieu … and those that don’t reflect that tend not to get funded or distributed. Some producers and production companies don’t fall into this, but most do.
    The shortest route to a film being made that fits what you have in mind is often a well written or popular book (not always the same) that strikes a cord with its target audience.
    If you know of such works, then sending suggestions out to producers or companies whose work you admire is one avenue to getting a film made. Believe it or not, production companies are often looking for just such properties.

    • Alison February 22, 2019 at 10:37 pm #

      Id love to know how to do this, to get my play out there.
      How do you reach producers and companies?
      I wrote a play The Transparent Pearl
      (i have it for sale on amazon all proceeds to my foundation) It’s a futuristic play about the collapse of the current American welfare system, and victimization of poverty, and redefining the American dream to be about giving not getting, about the injustice of people w mh and addiction.
      Plus, if it makes money it will ALL go to my foundation to help those struggling.

      I can’t take the treatment system for the poor, it just blames the poor for their addiction and mental health. I was told as a young counselor 25 years ago, just listen that’s all you can do, you can’t help “these” people it’s the way things are. Sure listening is a beautiful thing. But listening ain’t helping someone out of poverty, that’s a lie we tell ourselves. I can’t live that lie anymore.
      You tell me that a child that was forced to steal food from the store and hide it in their pockets had a chance in life? I hear these stories day in and day out.

  9. Elizabeth S Goldsmith February 20, 2019 at 11:04 am #

    As someone who both works in the film business and is two years away from her own substance use disorder related to opioid (morphine and heroin) abuse, I feel I have some unique perspectives on this “cinematic moment” (I qualify my work in the film business by saying that I’m a “bottom feeder”, as someone who “helps/enables” those with the creative spark, and NOT as the person who “generates” the spark). Also, I’m not a kid, by any stretch of the imagination.

    First, there are very few feature films of any kind that do a good job of representing the subjective experience of intoxication of any kind. Whether the film is overtly “about” alcohol or drugs, or not, “acting” the part of someone who is cognitively impaired or someone who has achieved a kind of transcendence apart from the mundane strictures of conventional life, is a thespian feat that has yet to be achieved. It’s a fascinating conundrum, really. And I also wonder whether it’s really true that films like Platoon or Apocalypse Now accurately captured the subjective experiences of American GIs in Viet Nam. IMHO, any movie based on a Philip K. Dick or Hubert Selby novel comes probably closest to that, insofar as the cinematographers can “capture” the frenetic, drug-fueled stylistic elements. And even then, a film like “Requiem for a Dream” chronicles in highly stylized fashion, the particulars of a handful of drug users, and in no way captures a “universal” experience. And while some of the films from the late 1960s and early 1970s weren’t overtly endorsing drug use (“Harold and Maude”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Easy Rider”, et al.), those of us who were children and adolescents watching those films understood implicitly that resistance to conformity, to “The Establishment” to “The Man”, might possibly include the use of the kind of mind- and mood-altering substances not present at our parents’ cocktail parties.

    I haven’t seen “Ben is Back” or “Beautiful Boy” and probably won’t. My sense is that these movies are made for white, middle- and upper middle-class parents, seeking to be comforted, validated and brought into the light of day, whereas until recently, they were isolated in their own shame. Grappling with the “benefits of using” (yes, I’m riffing on the SMART/CBT tool of the Cost Benefit Analysis here) is a very dangerous/subversive path for parents who don’t want to see their children return to hard drug use. Other than discussing it amongst ourselves or with mental health professionals, my own experience of discussing the “pluses” of “using” with family and friends has been met with an abrupt changing of the subject. You think discussing politics in the US is fraught with danger and is divisive? Watch how quickly the subject gets changed when you attempt to bring up your “choice” to use and abuse heroin! It’s a scary subject. And this leads me to believe that, like the movie “Get Out” which, while not the first horror film to touch upon race, was certainly the most arch and explicit in doing so, the horror genre may be best equipped to address substance use and societal reaction to it. Sometimes the most “direct” narrative forms of storytelling are the least potent because they cannot extend beyond the “show business” dictums (“business” being the operative word here). Sometimes more oblique genres are better suited for dicier subject matter (thinking of “magic realism” in Latin American fiction as a way to deal with politically repressive regimes is another example of this).

    • Marc February 20, 2019 at 6:47 pm #

      Elizabeth, your comment is so rich with perspective and insight. I’m really a nitwit when it comes to movies, but I think the films you mention touched a level of authenticity far deeper than the two I’ve commented on. As for Vietnam films, I couldn’t stop crying after watching Platoon. Yet these movies about addiction (a subject close to my heart) left me numb, and that’s what I found so disappointing. GIs in Vietnam were portrayed as humans struggling with a no-win situation. Yet these movies about middle-class addiction are simplistic fairy tales: drugs turn teens into demons. Little more than zombie movies.

      I would certainly not recommend hard drugs to anyone, but the journey out of one’s comfortable life into altered states, whether ultimately constructive or destructive, makes for a powerful story. I hated to see it not only cheapened but sold off to a simple-minded, conservative social meme.

  10. Joyce February 20, 2019 at 12:11 pm #

    Thanks for this insightful perspective on why that pull exists for the escape into creativity and the release of the boredom. Had never looked at it that way. It explains much in my loved one’s foray into that world.

  11. Janet February 20, 2019 at 12:40 pm #

    My Old Addiction… David Wilcox. There is so much we don’t understand.

  12. Janet February 20, 2019 at 2:55 pm #

    Interestingly, I watched a really good movie on addiction last night called Don’t Worry: He Won’t Get Far On Foot.
    A true story of preserving what’s YOU and surviving addiction….

    The vanilla made stories of addiction are, as you have remarked here, not helping anyone or teaching us anything. Just more of the same well-worn paths.

    I’m always learning… my 36 year old son who is homeless on the streets of Denver and deeply affected by heroin and meth addiction, has not played by any of the rules ever. And it almost killed me. But my insane desire to have him to at least play by some has even softened to the point where the other day when he surfaced by text and wrote, “Happy Thanksgiving Mom”, I did not feel anything but love. I wrote back, “Happy Thanksgiving, darling.” It was Valentine’s Day.
    A few hours later he wrote, “You know what I meant.”

    Most of the books and movies don’t get it.

    • Marc February 26, 2019 at 11:30 am #

      Hi Janet,
      I know the aching story of your son, as much as you’ve chosen to share it. And I think it connects with the perspective I’ve tried to share. My main problem with the film and what it exemplifies (about pop cultural depictions of drug addiction) is the message that addiction is caused by drugs. As if the kids who do end up falling into addiction have no distinct characters or features or problems or needs. Again, it strikes me as a zombie theme or a vampire myth. There is no causality coming from the mind of the user — rather it’s an infection they’ve been unlucky enough to catch.

      There’s a great deal more to understand, and a lot of it isn’t pretty. But it’s time we tried harder to investigate the psychology of addiction and how it builds on the psychology of personality development, family dynamics, sociocultural factors and all the rest of it. We need to examine causes, not ignore them.

  13. Terry McGrath February 20, 2019 at 4:57 pm #

    all humans are addicts in one way or another – this is what ‘others’ don’t get, instead looking down on ‘addicts”, that very small percentage of drug users, as though they are some other being when in fact habitual behaviour is the norm for humans, as is seeking security and pleasure from pain. Quite natural and normal in my view

  14. Alison Lewis February 23, 2019 at 12:00 am #

    Marc you raise a SO very important question: why aren’t we learning in movies or in media, or society, or how about in treatment fields, what it’s like for a young “addict”? Instead we get fairy tales, “the crazy out of control kids” “the disrespectful bad kid” and more judgement, and the same story of the “misery of the poor parent”.. like you said it’s fairy tales. THE YOUNG ADULTS I WORK W IN THEIR 20’S THINK THEY ARE OUTCASTS AND DEMONS. (these are really brilliant insightful young people)
    How do you start your young adult life like that? You drink, get high, do whatever to numb yourself, and you keep procrastinating.

    The American treatment providers I encounter in NY from outpatient to rehab aren’t taking the time to find this out. People are spoon fed the same cookie cutter group crap. They aren’t taking time to ask any “addict” young or old: what’s it like for you?

    I’ve had people in their 50’s in treatment (often mandated for years to outpatient groups), say to me: “No one ever asked me about how I felt.”…….WHAT????

    If anything, counselors these days are afraid of real connection and counseling, cause it’s messy. It gets into someone’s emotional realm. I’ve counseled for years, you have to maintain a balance to walk in another person’s emotional realm. And boy, you get pulled in. But you can’t help someone if you aren’t willing to hear the painful stuff, the mistakes they made, and allow someone to be vulnerable and ACCEPTED.

    I’m not the only one saying this, many I know working in the field for years, see this trend away from authentic counseling, and more of the same “judgement”, “shaking the finger” at people. And the field itself w all the “liabilities” creates a stark “professional” non human” atmosphere full of labels and medications.

    As people enter their first few days of rehab, in two well-known rehab “factories”, they are told to look around cause “only 2 percent of you will make it to recover, the rest will fail”. Well fuck, that’s hope right from the start. See where the fairy tales start…..

    And a note on the parenting thing. My youngest is impulsive, and rageful, but a down right caring, passionate, young person. As a parent, I learned through hard times, it’s not about me when my kids are struggling. It’s about them. Sure that’s hard to do cause we tend to treat kids like mood elevators, they’re happy I’m happy. Or as part of our image in society, “look at my successful well behaved kid” …dam I’m a good parent. But that’s where we’re wrong, they are not our mood elevators.They are not part of our image. Love hurts, that’s how life is. But love is a gift too.

    • Marc February 27, 2019 at 6:04 am #

      Hi Alison. You’ve covered all the bases here, but it’s sad to think that, especially in a progressive region like NY, addiction workers are still moving in the wrong direction. That “2%” message is particularly disheartening. It also sounds patently false.

      But there seems to be a lot of positive movement coming from other sources. Harm reduction itself is growing as a field…there are now a few books out there on harm-reduction based counselling. Also, I’ll be speaking at a conference put on by The Center for Optimal Living, right in NYC, this June. The theme is a paradigm shift in the conceptualization of addiction, away from pathologizing and toward humanizing. Here’s the link: And here’s a quote about their program that makes things sound a bit more optimistic:

      “How do we incorporate Motivational Interviewing, CRAFT, Harm Reduction Psychotherapy, and the works of Hart, Maté, Lewis, and Alexander? And, how might we join this wave with other waves, as we see the entire world of “behavioral health” rip back to its humanist roots, then crash forward with far greater power?

      We’ve chosen the term Compassionate Pragmatism to express this new paradigm, a term that implies a containing of compassion for others, often through learned methods, that leads to helping them change. Compassionate Pragmatism represents a praxis: It converts a point of view into action.”

      So, perhaps it’s not all as bleak as it sometimes appears.

      • Alison March 3, 2019 at 12:23 am #

        Thanks Marc glad to hear you are advocating for this direction! I will check out the site.
        I will have to see if I can attend the conference as well.
        Since I work with the mostly disadvantaged poor I see, as well as my team of clinicians more bleakness with treatment offered to them….so I should have been more specific and clarified this. I don’t see a lot of treatment that is empowering people in this population. It’s frustrating some days.

        I can’t say I know other private treatment directions in NY. But some places I have found that seem promising often don’t take Medicaid and you
        pay out of pocket.

      • Carlton March 7, 2019 at 10:24 pm #

        Hi Marc, Great to hear of another option for people. Thanks for the link!

        This line popped out:

        “We specialize in helping people figure out whether moderate, less harmful substance use, or abstinence is best suited for them.”

        Does that mean they believe only two results are possible; “you either control it..or never engage.”?

        A change of feelings for the addition is a third result.

        It would be interesting to ask them what thier take on that is.

    • Marc February 27, 2019 at 6:08 am #

      Yikes! I just realized that Andrew Tatarsky, the founder of the institute, is the author of one of those books: Harm Reduction Psychotherapy: A New Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Problems. Might be worth a read!

  15. MEREDITH February 26, 2019 at 8:59 am #

    I don’t care what Hollywood does or does not portray. What I care about in this article is that you told me about the boredom a young person is trying to get away from with meth. Oh yes, meth is not boring. Stay up 3 days, 4-hour hard-ons. I’ve heard it all from my man, now 28 and out of prison for the second time. Maybe our life now is the key, because it’s all new. A new city, a new straight, square woman (me)…………we were not together in his meth days, we were only friends n didn’t know we wanted more from each other until he wrote me from prison. OK, thanks really a lot Marc, this is going to be his non-boring risk and challenge. He’s here with me in a new house, new city to both of us far from his hometown and the city where we met, new “no meth” life (beer helps), new kinda life with a steady job. He tried a job before but when he got fired for some small thing he couldnt find another job and went back to his small town and back into meth even heavier. Thus another 3 years behind the fence. Anyway, thank you. What’s the norm to me is a huge risk and challenge to him. I didnt think of this. But now I will keep it in mind every day!

    • Marc February 27, 2019 at 6:15 am #

      If I understand you, Meredith, then I guess you could sum it up this way: Norms are welcome, lifebuoys in a storm, the walls and windows of the houses we live in. But at the same time, and maybe because they are so compelling and so demanding (you just have to do it this way…this is the way it’s done), norms can also be threatening. Maybe the threat is there because we don’t just use norms to guide us. Rather, we try to pour them into the vessel of our personality. So you either trade in your individuality for norms, or else you’re an outlaw about to crash and burn. That Netflix series, The Good Place, seems to deal with these very themes.

      • Daniel March 8, 2019 at 9:11 pm #

        Hi Marc, my first time checking your website and reading the blog.
        My post is not in relation to the 2 movies really but just to ask for your thoughts on another matter.Background – ‘The Biology of Desire’ has been a huge help to me for the past few years – it resides on my bedside table and pages ‘184 Now appeal . . . to 192 . . . from where we can see the horizon’ get read over and over as i try to acheive ‘being a better person a week from Tuesday’ (my favourite line). You make sense where all else has failed for the past 50 years.

        Now just this week I have read Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’.
        I get what he is saying and I can help myself when i go into the Now, the Being, the Moment, the ‘is’ and shut down the rubbish in my mind.

        What i cannot get about Tolle is that he basically says ‘Ignore the past’ and ‘ignore the future’. You Marc advise me to build a narriative from the past to the present to the future – which i get and try to do.

        Would you care to comment.

        • Marc March 10, 2019 at 5:32 pm #

          Hi Daniel. This is such a good question, and you’re not the first person to ask it. So I think I’ll put up a new post to speak to precisely this issue.

          Thanks for bringing it to the front of my mind again, and thanks for sharing your feelings about my book.

          Stay tuned: I’ll have that post up in a day or two.

          Take care,

        • Marc March 14, 2019 at 3:38 am #

          Hi Daniel. I thought I replied to you, but perhaps I did by email. This is a very important distinction and it can be confusing. A number of people have asked me about it. I plan to deal with it in an upcoming post, probably next week.

          Thanks for bringing this up.

  16. Art Sampson March 3, 2019 at 3:40 pm #


    In the years of attending various types of self help meetings in order to free myself of the yoke of addiction, it became apparent to me that almost all discussion and suggestion was on prevention of addiction as opposed to curing. When I took
    it upon myself to research a cure for addiction ( alcoholism) I was told that alcoholism could not be cured.

    Further research brought me to THE MERRIAM WEBSTER MEDICAL DICTIONARY. This book was described as the book used by most medical doctors to describe and identify diseases and disorders.

    In the book , ALCOHOLISM is identified as ” THE REPEATED AND EXCESSIVE DRINKING OF ALCOHOL ” . Reasoning that if one could stop drinking completely and stay stopped, then alcoholism in that person would disappear due to the fact that complete abstinence had rid me of the qualifying condition of: drinking too much too often or alcoholism.

    Certainly most of we mature recovered alcoholics agree that ” An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” For those of us who did not stop in time and became addicted, is it not practical, honest and true to hold out hope that if we can embrace the teachings of those who have achieved
    full recovery, healing and cure , that we too may be cured?
    In medicine : Healed, Recovered and Cured all mean the same thing.

    This information is offered as a laymans’ study of addiction.
    Hopefully it will give some us food for discussion and HOPE for others.

    Best Wishes, Art Sampson 902 886 2719

  17. S March 20, 2019 at 9:19 pm #

    At a time of inner turbulence, this is the most amazing I wish I wrote, or, could convey in words… I wrote this today hoping someone would listen but, extremely scared of judgment. Im sorry I’ve hurt you, it was never my intention

    or has it ever been,

    to destroy a the relationship that builds me from within.

    I felt like we were building the blocks, the Lego key only, US, WE, can unlock

    Only we had the lego key, it’s us, the best building blocks.

    It’s hurting me soo much, not belonging to…the people,

    Who mean so much,

    my heart is burning,

    I’ll do anything, to make it up, I’m sorry if it was me who fucked it up

    I feel confused about what I’ve done? Help me to understand? I’ll even attempt a handstand

    I’m sorry that my mind consumes me, impacting those…….I can’t be more sorry

    with my better arms, I’m trying

    I hope you can forgive me,

    They say actions speak louder than words,

    I’ve tried hard but perhaps I’m

    The one

    That’s dumb

    I’m sorry

    I meant no harm

    I can feel inflicted ,conflicted and then, perhaps, blind.

    Im sorry, I meant no harm,

    The depth of my soul keeps crying and trying to wipe the tears, I’m fighting…

  18. Pam April 5, 2019 at 8:02 am #

    How to help my son who is an addict not only to some substances but also help our whole family? I definitely understand the yearnings I believe inside all of us to want to truly be ourselves…no labels attached but from the parents’ side we don’t get to continue to breathe and be allowed to hardly survive in the turmoil from his addictions. We have been loving, supportive parents, married over 40 years, definitely not perfect but drained. Our granddaughter which we raise has said, after being disappointed so much by her parents (and her Mom has not been available for years) that she is sad, that she feels trapped, like she is in a video game and there are no more levels… That she is stuck. All because the individuals, her parents are addicts. Just so you know she is not even in double digit numbers for her age, and she has only played video games 3 times in her life!! What a clear description coming from a child of what living with, and trying to love family members that are addicts is like . Marc, any thoughts?

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