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Tweak's Nic Sheff On Life After Meth

How accurately do memoirs reflect the people who write them ?  Nic Sheff, our newest columnist, has a few thoughts on the subject.

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Top Sheff: Tweak, his bestselling memoir, came out when he was 23 Image via

By Nic Sheff

05/27/11

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I’m a writer.

Or, I’m trying to be one.

I mean, I’ve been trying since I was a little kid.

It’s what I’ve always wanted to be.

Honestly, I’m not even sure why that is exactly. My dad and mom are both writers—that is, journalists—so maybe that has something to do with it. Plus I always read a ton. I mean, if anything, reading was probably my first addiction—my first taste of how much I crave escape from myself at every possible moment. And I guess writing is an escape for me, too. Even when I’m writing about myself (which is pretty much always), it’s still a form of escape, of not having to be completely present in my own life. I get to transform myself into the character I’ve created of myself—the character I’ve created as “me.”

But, then again, sometimes it’s hard for me to figure out which “me” is really me, you know? When I wrote my first book, a memoir about IV crystal meth and heroin addiction, called Tweak, I was 21 and 22 years old. The “me” in that book definitely reflects the me at that time. But going back and reading passages from it feels kind of like reading the wprk of a total stranger. I mean, yes, all the events I said happened actually did happen (post James Frey, before I was able to go on Oprah, they fact-checked every minute detail in the book like I was being investigated by the goddamn FBI), but the voice of the narrator, my old voice, is so arrogant and insecure and lost and, well, just young, I guess. I was young. I was like a little kid in a lot of ways. 

All through high school and the end of grade school, I was smoking pot every day and then, of course, I got into harder and harder drugs and I never matured like a normal person. When I tried to get sober when I was 20, I had basically no coping skills at all. Plus I hated myself and, for some reason, refused to stay on the psych meds I’d been prescribed for bi-polar disorder and severe fucking depression. So the “me” writing Tweak was a very fucked up me and so my voice in the book is really foreign to me now. In some ways, that’s why I never want the people in my life to read the book: because it doesn’t reflect me anymore at all, really.

After writing Tweak, I relapsed I think five different times. So obviously I had a whole lot of growing up still to do. I mean, even when I was on book tour for Tweak, going around and talking about sobriety with high school kids and on national television—even then I was relapsing—going back home to Savannah and smoking pot on the weekends before setting out on the road again. So, I’d say pretty obviously, the Tweak “me” couldn’t possibly be me.

So who am I?

I mean, who is me?

In April I had a second memoir come out—a follow up to Tweak called We All Fall Down. The new book basically starts off right where Tweak left off—at this new-agey rehab in Arizona—and follows my life up through this last time I spent getting sober. I write about relapsing while on tour with Tweak and about my time living in the South and my struggles with relationships and medication and then, ultimately, starting to find a recovery program that worked for me.

The “me” in We All Fall Down, at least in my mind, is a more mature me—a humbler me. Plus I wrote the whole thing when I was sober and I haven’t relapsed since. Going on tour this last time for We All Fall Down, I managed to stay clean. And when I was talking to high school kids, I was able to give a much firmer anti-drug message than I was the first time, because I wasn’t still trying to convince myself that smoking pot was okay. I was able to be a whole lot more myself this tour. And, in going back and reading We All Fall Down, the voice is definitely a lot more recognizable as my own. And the “me” is a whole lot more me than before.

But it’s still not me. It’s been about two years since I wrote We All Fall Down. When I wrote it, I was only clean for six months. What I thought I knew about recovery then is not what I know about recovery now. What I thought I knew about life then is not what I know about life now.

Reading back through the book, there is such a deep melancholy in my voice as a narrator. I mean, beyond how fucked up and sad the subject matter is, the “me” writing the book seems still so lost and hopeless. Even the conclusion of the book reflects a bleakness in me—a resignation to sober life being a distant consolation prize to a normal life without addiction.

And that makes sense.

The me that wrote We All Fall Down was a bleak me, resigned to a sad sober life. I had no connection with spirituality or love or gratitude. My days then were all about killing time—making it through—getting by. That’s the “me” who wrote the book. That’s the me that I was.

But I’m not that me now.

I’m 28 now, almost 29. I’m getting married this summer to a girl I’ve been in love with since I first met her, back when I was 11 years old. I’ve found a new sense of spirituality and the knowledge that, yes, I am being taken care of. I’m grateful not to have to drink or get high every day. I’ve even grateful that I am an addict—that this was the life chosen for me. Because I love my life today. I really do.

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