In his revealing memoir “Beautiful Things,” Hunter Biden tells a story about addiction that at times may appear sensational: smoking crack cocaine every 15 minutes, the two weeks he spent thousands of dollars on drugs, the intervention led by the now president of the United States that ended with his father chasing him around outside their family home in Delaware.
But mental health experts say his journey is also deeply relatable for others living with addiction: the shame he struggled with, the relapses he overcame, the humility he eventually found.
His brutal honesty about his struggles with addiction is important for his own healing as well as for others living with substance use disorders, experts say.
Kelly E. Green, a psychologist and associate professor at St. Edward’s University, said when public figures like Biden tell their stories it plays “a really important role in de-stigmatizing addiction and (illustrates) the multiple paths to recovery.”
In the book, Biden notes his privileged background. His first taste of alcohol was a glass of champagne at 8 years old, the night his father was reelected to the Senate in 1978. His drinking followed him into adulthood. He eventually went to rehab but describes relapsing, a normal part of recovery, in November 2010 after having three Bloody Marys on a plane while his father held one of the most powerful positions in the world.
Green said Biden’s disclosures illustrate how addiction can impact anyone, regardless of social class.
“What we think of as a crack addict is not always accurate,” she said. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation about addiction and recovery in popular media. TV and movies often show a very stereotypical depiction.”
It’s a point Biden highlighted in his book.
“We’re all alone in our addiction. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, who your friends are, the family you come from,” he wrote. “In the end, we all have to deal with it ourselves – first one day, then another one, and then the next.”
‘People see themselves in other people’s stories’
“Beautiful Things” may also be validating for readers going through similar situations.
“I want those still living in the black hole of alcoholism and drug abuse to see themselves in my plight and then to take hope in my escape, at least so far,” Biden wrote.
Green explained that sharing is a key component to recovery and works well for some who are struggling.
“We know that one of the ways that groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) are impactful is that people see themselves in other people’s stories, and so that can really cut through some of the shame,” Green said. “And we know that addiction is really driven by shame, and so the more vocal people are about what they’ve been through, the more it gives others the sense that they are not alone. “
Debra Jay, author, speaker and former addiction expert on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” said Biden’s candor is important.
“Because of its brutal honesty, it not only addresses the unrelenting power of addiction but the misery of living with it,” she said. “That is where the empathy comes from… It can take anyone down, no matter who your family is.”
More:Hunter Biden says he was ‘smoking crack every 15 minutes’, more jaw-dropping moments from memoir ‘Beautiful Things’
Biden’s book is important for his healing
Green said Biden’s book may also be a helpful piece in his own journey of recovery and healing, explaining that “shame grows in the shadows.”
“By opening up about your story and owning that it is part of you, it helps you battle that self-shame and helps you embrace and accept those parts of yourself with more compassion, and that self-compassion is such a key piece to recovery,” she added.
Biden noted writing the book was “wasn’t easy.” “Sometimes it was cathartic; other times it was triggering,” he wrote.
Jay cautioned that those recovering should tread lightly when it comes to rehashing their own stories.
“When they first get into recovery, they’re very vulnerable and doing this can have a negative effect,” she said. “But once they have some real stability in their recovery, I think it can be great.”
As the son of a sitting present, Biden had another layer of difficult in his journey to sobriety: being in the public eye. Writing the book may have also helped him take control of his story.
“He has not been afforded the privacy of living through his addiction and his recovery outside of the media, so I think it would make perfect sense that he would write this book … (to) control the narrative,” Jay said.
Green added Biden’s platform puts his sobriety journey under a microscope, but his story is relatable.
“That also puts him in a much more powerful role to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I’m not perfect, my recovery path wasn’t perfect,’ and it’s actually more consistent with most people out there who actually did take multiple tries, down the recovery path for something to stick,” Green said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) any time of day or night.
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