by Nic Sheff

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 592

Nic Sheff’s Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines should be required reading for those who work with young adults. It is a brutal, raw, and honest window into the mind of a smart and talented kid whose brain has been hijacked by methamphetamines, cocaine, and crack.

Nic narrates the story in first person and in the present tense, lending an intimacy and sense of immediacy to Nic’s personal struggles. The writing style of the memoir often mimics the patterns of addiction itself: sentences that roll on and on in an undisciplined style are juxtaposed against pages of the short, curt dialogue that appears when Nic and his companions are very high. The prose can be frustrating at times: it is monotonous and cyclical in the same way that drug addiction is monotonous, and Nic’s clever use of repetition reinforces the feeling of being trapped in a cycle that will never change.

Tweak is ultimately about how Nic breaks the harsh spell of addiction, an endeavor that requires him to finally confront the pain and hopelessness he has run from since a very early age. Never before has he allowed himself to feel scared and defeated without the buffer of mind-altering substances, and at the Safe Passage Center, Nic is, for the first time, able to experience and reflect upon his trauma in a safe environment and under the supervision of skilled clinicians. When Nic experiences his trauma again through Somatic Experience therapy, he feels the full force of the devastation of his childhood and of his subsequent life as an addict on the streets. Though this experience leaves him initially feeling shaken and out of control, his therapy gives him the tools to process this trauma differently, lessening its power over him.

Building on his success in therapy, Nic is eventually ready to reach out to both his mother and his father to ask them to work with him in therapy. When the time comes for art therapy during the parents’ weekend, Nic, his father David, and his mother collaborate on a drawing, a task that reveals how they are each processing Nic’s recovery. Nic draws “screaming faces, terrified faces, desperate faces,” suggesting that he’s dwelling on the ways in which his family has been terrorized by his addiction. Nic’s father, David, draws “something that looks like a giant vein,” which hints at the pressure and worries he feels as the parent of someone struggling with addiction. Nic’s mother’s drawing expresses several complex emotions at once: in the middle of a blue sky with clouds and a sunset are “swirling storm clouds” that turn the sky “black and threatening.” In the middle of the darkness, however, is “a solitary red balloon, drifting upward, almost too small to be seen.” Nic concludes that the balloon symbolizes his mother’s burgeoning hope for his recovery.

The overarching message of Tweak is that one should never give up in the face of addiction. Not all treatment options work for all individuals, and Nic himself frequently relapses until he attends the Safe Passage Center, a rehabilitation facility that is equipped to treat trauma and mental illness in addition to drug addiction. While in treatment at Safe Passage, Nic finally receives the mental health support that he’s long needed and is able to confront the emotional pain that drives his drug use. In the end, Nic emerges from his experiences as a more honest individual who is finally learning to feel worthy of love, acceptance, and a fulfilling life.

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