Published: November 26, 2019
Turns out I have a whole lot in common with a troubled actor I’ve never met. Who would have thought?
When I heard that actor Shia LeBeouf wrote his latest film while he was in rehab, my ears perked up. LeBeouf has been an actor since childhood and is well known for his roles in the Disney Channel show Even Stevens and the Disney movie Holes. Later on, he’d appear in the original Transformers movies, and “go viral” for his “Just Do It” motivational video.
By 2017 he’d be associated with some not-so-great things, including an arrest in Savannah, Georgia, for public drunkenness and other charges. LeBeouf started the therapeutic writing that became the script for his newest movie, Honey Boy, in court-ordered rehab.
Honey Boy is the semi-autobiographical story of a child actor named Otis (AKA “Young Shia” played by Noah Jupe) and his troubled dad, James. James (played by Shia LeBeouf) is a military veteran with substance abuse issues. Eventually, James would become Otis’ handler and chaperone on movie sets. Honey Boy director, Alma Har’el, (like LeBeof) is the child of an alcoholic and they’ve managed to make a film that truly speaks to the nuances of this kind of parent-child relationship. Har’el and LeBeouf make it clear that alcoholism impacts so much more than the person who is doing the drinking, while being respectful of the person struggling with addiction. What’s more, Honey Boy is a real, and at times very dark, film that still sends a message of hope.
Another takeaway from the film is that we aren’t alone, even in our most isolating struggles. Our lives are probably very different, but there were so many moments in LeBeouf’s retelling that I recognized so acutely; from not being able to reconcile the “loving version of your dad” and “the angry, drunk version of your dad,” to being so angry and needing to express that anger, then instantly blaming yourself for “starting a fight.” In one scene, Otis wakes up early, gets ready, makes a pot of coffee and pours a cup for his dad, then leaves it on the nightstand. Otis then gently woke his father by brushing his feet and vanished from the room. I recognized that “over-achieving, people-pleasing kid” very well because I was that kid. And, in a lot of ways I’m still that kid. I can only speak for myself and the other children of alcoholics that I’ve spoken to, but so many of us exist on that proverbial tightrope, where we are always trying to get in front of the next big outburst. It’s a lot to ask of a kid and some of us feel we’ve had to grow up to soon by assuming the role of “caretaker” for our alcoholic parents, in an often futile effort to keep the peace.
In my experience, I find that many of children of alcoholics tend to be rabid overachievers because we’re always seeking approval from someplace where it may never come — and it’s through that void that low self-esteem or “imposter syndrome” can creep in and take hold, no matter what we go on to accomplish. From one child of an alcoholic to another, please know that things can get better and that healing may look different for you, BUT IT IS POSSIBLE. There are so many empowering resources at your disposal. For me, books helped a lot: I devoured Perfect Daughters: Adult-Daughters of Alcoholics by Robert J. Ackerman and Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet G. Woititz in my search for the tools and vocabulary to assist in my own healing. But, another level of comfort always comes from just knowing there are other people who can relate to your experience. I found tremendous solace in talking to kids like me — some who struggled with addiction themselves and some who vowed to never, ever, ever touch the stuff (maybe out of equal parts protest and fear that they might be addicts, too).
The thing about any “stigmatized” hardship or struggle is that sometimes people feel too ashamed to start the conversations that can kick-start healing. Movies like Honey Boy shine a light on addiction and recovery while providing a springboard to destigmatize these conversations at scale. Addiction can be messy and traumatizing, but there’s hope for resolution, whatever that may look like for each of us. That “hope” is why I work at Mountainside.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or other substance abuse, there are resources for them and for you. Check out Mountainside’s Support Group offerings, including Friends & Family Support Groups. You can also explore all of Mountainside’s Programs and Offerings to find the solutions that work best for you.