Turns out I have a whole lot in common with a troubled actor I’ve never met. Who would have thought?
When the team here at Mountainside heard that actor Shia LeBeouf wrote his latest film in rehab, our eyes and 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, GA, 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 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) was a war veteran with substance abuse issues. Eventually, James would become Otis’ handler and chaperone on movie sets. Honey Boy Director, Alma Har’el, (like LeBeouf himself) is the child of an alcoholic and she has made an empathetic 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: With time, we can all heal.
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.” There was a scene where 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. That moment hit me in the heart. I know what being that “over-achieving, people-pleasing kid” is like. 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, myself, have spoken to but so many of us exist on this proverbial tightrope, where we’re always trying to get in front of the next big fight. It’s a lot to ask of a kid; some of us feel we’ve had to grow up before our time and become “caretakers” for our parents in an often futile effort to keep the peace.
In my experience, I find that a lot of children of alcoholics tend to be these 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 can creep in and take hold, no matter what we go on to accomplish.
So, from one child of an alcoholic to perhaps another, please know that things can get better and that healing may look different for you, BUT IT IS POSSIBLE. There are 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 feel what you’re feeling. 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 we 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.