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Author Nic Sheff Kicks Off 2019-20 Liberal Arts Convocations Series

Published on 11 October 2019

New York Times bestselling author Nic Sheff launched St. Louis College of Pharmacy’s 2019-20 Liberal Arts Convocations series on Sept. 3 with a candid discussion about his memoir of addiction and recovery, “Tweak.” Sheff’s presentation marked the first of several cultural events being presented during the school year that will share the goal of providing the College community with intellectually and culturally edifying experiences that enrich, complement and extend the reach and value of the College’s academic programs.

Themed “transformations,” this year’s Convocations series challenges attendees to contemplate health as a fundamental change from the confinement of illness to new forms and possibilities for bodily freedom. Sheff is among several writers, musicians, dancers and other artists who will appear at the College in the coming months, demonstrating how their work springs from, honors and celebrates the rich capacity for vital transformations built into the mission of pharmacy and health care. 

“We were grateful to welcome Nic Sheff to campus to kick off this year’s Liberal Arts Convocations series,” said Brian Walter, Ph.D., professor of English and director of convocations at St. Louis College of Pharmacy. “Nic has an arresting story that really helps to put a human face on the topic of addiction, and we felt his message would connect well with our students and the Campus community as a whole.”  

During his presentation, Sheff addressed the lack of education about addiction he received as a child and how the lack of awareness made him more vulnerable to becoming an addict himself.

“Growing, up, I didn’t know addiction was a disease or that there was a genetic component, even though I had a grandfather who was an alcoholic,” Sheff explained. “I was an insecure and unhappy teen and drugs felt like the only solution.”

Sheff traced his journey from age 11, when he tried alcohol for the first time, to several years later, when he reached the height of his addiction to methamphetamines. He discussed his many failed attempts at rehab and his eventual path to a successful rehabilitation and reconciliation with his family.

“Once I started taking crystal meth, I changed into someone else,” Sheff stated. “My brother was born when I was 10, and I was really excited to be a good big brother and be a positive role model for him. But a few years later, when I was addicted to meth, I started stealing from him to buy drugs. The drugs changed my whole personality.”

Sheff’s years as an addict were also the basis of his father, David Sheff’s, book “Beautiful Boy,” which inspired the 2018 film of the same name. Nic Sheff started writing “Tweak” while in rehab and coincidentally finished it at the same time his father was finishing “Beautiful Boy.” The two had not spoken in over a year, but when they got back in touch, they agreed to read each other’s books. 

“Before I read my dad's book, I thought that when I was using, I was hurting myself the most,” Sheff explained. “But I learned that he was always consumed with worry about me. I finally saw how much my actions affected the people that love me.”

“And my dad, he thought that when I was using, I was just partying and having fun,” Sheff continued. “But in reading my book, he saw that it wasn't about having fun. It was about me being in a ton of pain and using drugs to try to feel better but not being able to stop. That enabled him to forgive me and know that addiction really is a disease.”

Sheff noted that he welcomed the opportunity to speak to a group of future pharmacists about the important role they can play in reducing the stigmas that surround those recovering from addiction.

“The pharmacists who filled my prescriptions could be very mean and judgmental, and that made it harder to recover,” explained Sheff. “So I’m glad to be talking to future pharmacists because I want them to understand what it’s like from the addict’s perspective so that they will be kinder to their patients than those pharmacists were to me.”

Walter commented that Sheff’s advice resonated with students who gained an insider’s perspective on addiction that will help them connect with their future patients.

“To have somebody tell a personal story of addiction, so bravely and honestly, was a great opportunity for our students, and all of our attendees, to see the human side of medicine,” Walter explained. “We always tell students that pharmacy goes beyond dispensing medication. It’s about connecting with people and showing compassion, and Nic’s story is a firsthand example of this. ”

Upcoming Convocations events include performances by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra this month and two-spirit Mohawk singer-songwriter, Shawnee, in November. Click here to view the full schedule and read more about the 2019-20 Liberal Arts Convocations series.

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