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Dear Nic Sheff

Alexis McCown
White Station High School
9th - 12th Grade

Dear Mr. Sheff,

I first read your book Tweak in my freshman year of high school. This probably sounds cliché, but for the first time in my life, I felt understood. I identified with you, with your story, with your feelings of alienation. I understood your desire to show everyone around you that you were the best sibling, child, coworker, and peer. I read about how you saw the world, and my heart felt full at the idea that someone may see people and family and the world as I do. I finally felt I wasn’t so alone. I do not think I will ever be entirely able to express how helpful that was.

I have always struggled with feeling different than everyone around me, and seeing such a lack of genuine attitudes and motives in the world. I have always felt so self-destructive, because I felt no matter what I did, I would never be able to measure up to others. I’d always overthink everything, and doubt people. I’d never feel normal; I’d always be different. I would always be a nobody. Because of these feelings, I’ve always been so drawn to other outsiders, especially those with drug problems. I have never been sure why. Maybe the creativity that came from them, the withdrawn way they lead their lives – it appealed to me in a way nothing else could.

I read both your memoir Tweak and your father’s Beautiful Boy. It was astounding all the parallels I recognized between myself and the feelings you and your father described. I realized I wasn’t the only person in the world to feel those things I described. I realized I wasn’t alien.

I devoured your book. I read it vicariously, over and over. I checked it out of my school’s library so much they knew me by name. I guess that was a form of idolatry, seeing as though your book is just another relation of the human experience. But for me then, it helped more than anything. It provided relief from this knowledge I had that I just had to be crazy. I just had to be the only one who felt this way. I felt, I had a good upbringing; I had parents that cared about me and siblings who adored me. There was no way how I was feeling was justified. But reading your book and your father’s helped me to understand that some people feel this way. It does not matter how good or bad your upbringing. Some people just exist like this. I am only one of them.

In your book, you said that living on the streets, getting high, it made you feel so much more alive. I understood what you meant. I still feel that way sometimes. I don’t think I am able to put that into adequate words, how much I emphasize with that. To my best ability to explain, you feel you are more alive because everyone else is living day by day, doing required things, working at their required jobs. Everyone is controlled. No one is truly living freely, or how they want to. Living on drugs made you feel like you were living life unbound. I understood the almost seductive appeal of other tortured artists who lived the same way.

I wish I could say that I read your book and it showed me the reality of addiction and I was able to avoid it. However, I made some mistakes a couple years ago. When I did fall, your book helped me through it, and it helped me to stop before I tried the things I really thought I wanted to. And now, when I get the urge to let myself fall back to where I was, I read your book and I am able to realize the changes you made. I am able to see your love for your family, and see that in my own life, and use it as a preventative measure. I see the growth you made each time you quit, and I see the potential for that in everyone. I see that things got better for you, that you became content and even happy with your life, and that has given me hope that one day, I will be able to too. It gives me hope that I will not always feel like such an outsider. I see that there is rebirth after what feels like death, and that has given me hope to go on.

I read through your book periodically, especially when I am feeling crazy and ostracized, to remind myself that I am not alone; to remind myself that there hope in a seemingly abysmal, hopeless existence. To remind myself that there is healing for broken relationships, that there is life after rock bottom, that love is alive and well. And I could not ask for anything more than that out of a piece of writing.

I thank you sincerely. You have helped me more than you will ever know.

With Admiration,

Alexis McCown