"Recovery Boys" Doc Candidly Explores Addiction, Trauma & Rehabilitation

By Paul Gaita 06/29/18

The documentary follows 4 young men who find support and relief through delving deep into their emotions in a rehabilitation setting.

a still from "Recovery Boys"
courtesy of Netflix media

The documentary Recovery Boys, which is screening on Netflix as well as in select theaters, focuses on four young men seeking recovery from opioid dependency at a rehabilitation facility in West Virginia.

Directed by Elaine McMillion Sheldon, whose Oscar-nominated short Heroin(e) looked at women on the front lines of the opioid epidemic in the Mountain State, Recovery Boys breaks from what The Guardian calls the established narrative about dependency, with poor people locked in a cycle of use and despair in impoverished areas.

Instead, Sheldon's camera follows young men who find support and relief through delving deep into their emotions in a rehabilitation setting.

Recovery Boys unfolds over an 18-month period in the lives of four men in treatment at the Jacob's Ladder rehabilitation program in West Virginia.

Each of the individuals struggled with not only opioid addiction but an array of related wreckage in their lives—Ryan, 35, told The Guardian that he went through "overdoses and car wrecks, and I was jailed a couple of times, but I didn't want to give up."

For 26-year-old Rush, his stint at Jacob's Ladder was his tenth try at rehab. "I know what people want to hear, so it is really easy for me to skate through a program undetected," he said in the film.

But through a program of long-term residential treatment focused on holistic therapy like meditation and daily responsibilities of farm work, the men learn to speak plainly and honestly about the pain of their emotional lives and the depths of their dependency. The benefits of such work are touched upon by a patient named Jeff, who said in the film, "Now that you're not high, you come out and listen to all the birds. When you're high, you don't focus on shit like that."

Anchoring the film on a message of hope and not despair was crucial for Sheldon, who said in a statement, "I make this film not to victimize, pity or make excuses for individuals, but to uplift the stories of people who are actively trying to make change, no matter how big or small."

Her intention resonated with the film's subjects, whose desire to portray their struggle with equal shades of dark and light has carried forward after the film's completion. "My hope for this documentary is that it destigmatized the addict," said Rush. "Everybody thinks of the guy under the bridge with the tattoos, the beard. We're not just all bad people. We are good people inside."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.