Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tweak and Imperfect Endings

Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines
I'm reading Nic Sheff's Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, Nic's gritty memoir about his drug addiction and the beginning of his recovery. His father wrote a companion book, Beautiful Boy, about being the dad of a drug abuser. I read Beautiful Boy over a year ago and am appreciating seeing both sides of the story, one from the person who is addicted, and the other from a loved one watching.

Both are fascinating, and both are helpful to me as I train drug and alcohol counselors who work with abusers. (I use the book I wrote (ISBN: 9780595342051) to help drug and alcohol counselors deal with their clients' religion and spirituality.)

As many memoirs about abuse, it is often hard to read, hard to see someone, even from the distance of reading their book, in such a horrific circumstances.

Imperfect Endings: A Daughter's Tale of Life and Death

I just finished reading Zoe Fitzgerald Carter's Imperfect Endings, a book coming out this month. Carter describes her mother's wish to end her life after suffering for years with debilitating illness, and her mother's hope that her daughters will help her decide exactly how to end her life and be there for the death itself. Not living in Oregon (the only state that allows assisted suicide in circumstances like this), her mother faces additional challenges in actually how to carry out her wishes.

I wanted to see how this daughter navigated this often scary and ultimately courageous decision, knowing that I might make the same decision someday (if I were to have a debilitating illness. which I don't.).

Carter goes into detail about her own fears about losing her mother, mostly not wanting her mother to want to die. She describes her childhood and her mother's childhood, hoping to gain insight into her own fears as well as why her mother might make this decision, as well as her mother's inclination to include her daughters in what might be a grisly process.

I absolutely agree with her mother's choice to end her life on her terms. Her illnesses guaranteed more pain and less dignity as it progressed, and she wanted to die before the pain and other effects of the illnesses (dementia, for one) got so bad she didn't feel as though she was able to be herself anymore.

This is an interesting (and unintended) pairing of books for this post...Tweak, about a young man who was going to die if he kept up his life of addiction, and Imperfect Endings, about a woman who chose to die on her own terms.

One argument addicts make (and Nic is no exception), is that it is THEIR life to throw away if they so choose. Why should anyone stop them if they want to keep using their drugs? If it kills them, then it kills them, and they argue that they are making a conscious decision, knowing that a life of drugs might kill them.

Yet Nic has a choice every day about whether to stay clean and to get healthy. Granted, it's an incredibly hard choice, one that seems monumental to make with the disease of addiction. Zoe's mother's debilitating illness offer her no choices. There is nothing she can do to make herself healthy. Medications might help some of the symptoms for a time, but nothing can reverse the progression of the diseases.

With both of these books, the story propelled my reading, more so than the quality of the writing. Sheff writes in that fragmented, broken way, jumping from one event to another, which seems to reflect his meth use. He holds nothing back, and sometimes the details are hard to read (digging for veins, prostituting himself). Carter's writing is much clearer, and there are insightful passages.

(Probably my favorite is when she describes her sister's penchant for labeling personality disorders, but mostly it talks about how she herself deals with pain...

"Her diagnoses of people tend to go through phases - borderline personality disorder, passive aggression, sugar addiction - and I wonder if trauma is her current favorite.
"Not that I don't find labels reassuring. naming the pain means holding it away from you, labeled and contained, instead of allowing it to wreak its havoc inside you like some rogue strand of DNA quietly lethal."

...maybe it was just insightful to me...I also find labels reassuring, my theory is that if I name it, then I can look at it and deal with it. This sometimes works well, sometimes not.)

We're all gonna die. Both books talk about how the choices we make affect how we die, but mostly the choices reflect how we're going to live.

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