Can an Infamous Meth-Head Find True Love with the Girl Next Door?

By Nic Sheff 06/30/11

After an adolescence spent in countless rehabs and psych wards, Nic Sheff came to believe that everyone suffered from suicidal impulses, oozing abscesses and maddening drug cravings. Then he fell in love with a girl from the other side of the tracks.

Dating fellow addicts is easy but falling for a normal girl is another thing entirely

At 28, I’ve been in and out of dozens of treatment programs and sober livings and detoxes and outpatients and hundreds of 12-step meetings and whatever else for the past 10 or more years.

Honestly, it’s gotten to the point that people with substance abuse issues seem more “normal” to me than people who are, in fact, you know, normal. 

I guess over the years I kinda just started to think that everyone goes around telling stories about lancing their own abscesses, or getting cotton fever, or having to push the coagulated blood out of their rig, but not wanting to waste any dope, so they had to put the end of the syringe into their mouth to catch all the excess that sprayed out. I thought stories like that were pretty, you know, typical. Really, I did. And, besides, who doesn’t have a story about digging around in their arm for a half hour with a dull needle frantically trying to find a vein?

Even the non-addict girls I’d dated had at least spent a little time in psych wards. 

It was commonplace. Hell, I took it for granted.

But then I started dating someone who isn’t in recovery.

And not only was she not in recovery, but she had no history of mental illness or depression or cutting or fucked up shit whatsoever.

It was weird.

I mean, even the non-addict girls I’d dated had at least spent a little time in psych wards. Or it would turn out later they were bulimic or eventually had to start going to SAA meetings or something like that.

Basically they were all fucked up and could relate to my stories about being fucked up, too.

But dating a non-addict and a non-mental patient, non-suicidal girl, who was not sexually abused, eating disordered, heavily medicated or really into daddy issues was another experience entirely. And, honestly, the experience has proven to be a whole lot fucking harder than I would have thought. I mean, in a lot of ways it’s like being with someone from an entirely different planet. She has absolutely no context in which to place my experiences. And I have no context in which to place hers.

Hell, my fiancee was one of the popular girls. She played sports and went to like seven proms and then she put herself through college, working different jobs and things, eventually getting discovered as a model and all. She was happy. She didn’t ask herself day in and day out what the point of it all was. She never just wanted to disappear and not have to exist anymore.

A few years ago, when I was working at this rehab in Malibu, I remember reading through one of the client’s intake charts. Part of the chart was a Q&A where the clients had to answer different questions about their lives and their histories. 

Anyway, I was reading this girl’s chart along side one of the counselors and he pointed out in a kind a of horrified way that for the question, “Have you ever contemplated suicide?” The girl had answered, “Of course.”

For most people that is probably not a normal response.

But her answer didn’t make me think twice. 

Of course I’ve contemplated suicide. Many, many times.

I guess I pretty much figured it was the same for everyone.

And I guess I figured when I told my “normal” fiancee about the time I hid $200 worth of crack in my underwear to get through airport security, she would just laugh and think it was such a funny little anecdote.

But, uh, she didn’t.

It was the weirdest thing.

She didn’t think it was funny at all.

And I’m pretty sure she definitely wouldn’t have answered, “Of course,” to the whole suicide question either.

No, in fact, when she heard that crack story she got really upset. It freaked her out to think of me doing something like that. She even got kind of angry at me for telling her.

I mean, to her that is so far beyond the realm of normal that it’s impossible for her to even begin to fathom it. And it’s not like any of her friends ever smuggled crack in their underwear (I’m sure there’s a joke there, but, uh…I’m no good with stuff like that). Hell, her friends probably don’t even know what crack looks like. She…them…they…are the normal ones. Me and the other former addicts I see each day, we’re the ones from another fucking planet.

And, the thing is, the more serious our relationship has become, the more she can’t stand to hear these stories of mine—even though they’re collected in two books for all the world to see. And the angrier she seems to get at me for things I haven’t done since my early twenties.

I guess the way she sees it is—well, she wants to spend the rest of her life with me and have kids together and raise a family and everything and she feels comfortable doing that with the me that she lives with every day.

But the me of the past—well, there’d be no fucking way.

And I think, when she hears me talking about stuff I did back then—especially so cavalierly—it makes her feel like I’m not taking it seriously and, even worse, like it’s still something I’m consciously battling with every day.

She doesn’t understand, because she’s not an addict and has never had to deal with anything remotely like this ever. She doesn’t realize that talking about all the crazy shit and making jokes about it and laughing at all the painful debauchery is just what we do to get by. 

Maybe it has something to do with trying to take the power away from all the hell we’ve gone through. Like, you know, if we can laugh about how close we came to dying and losing our arms or whatever, it makes it seem not so scary and shameful.

And, beyond that, because she’s not an addict, she doesn’t understand that it is possible to move on—that when I talk about those battles of the past, it’s not because they are still my battles today. I’m not sitting on my hands constantly fighting the urge to stick a needle in me. Most of the time, I don’t even think about it at all.

I mean, that’s not to say that I’m cured or that I don’t have to keep being super active in my recovery. But I’m not white-knuckling it every day either. My life is fuller and larger and, you know, even happy most of the time—without drugs and alcohol. It’s not some demon that I have to fight off every time I wake up in the morning.

For the most part…really…I’ve moved on.

When I’m not depressed and resentful and frightened by my past, I can laugh at all that shit now.

And, really, it’s the other people I’ve met in recovery who’ve given me that gift. I mean, I’m so grateful there is a place where I can go listen to other people share and not feel like the only crazy one on the planet. And over time I’ve learned that those meetings are probably where I should go to share my own sick fucking stories.

Because they freak my fiancee out.

Nic Sheff is a columnist for The Fix and the author of two memoirs about his struggles with addiction, Tweak, and We All Fall Down. He lives in Los Angeles with his fiancee, two dogs, and a cat. He is currently working on a novel about sisters growing up in a Northern California cult.

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Nic Sheff is the author of two memoirs about his struggles with addiction: the New York Times bestselling Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines and We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction. Nic lives in Los Angeles, California where he writes for film and television. Find Nic on Twitter.