This documentary shows its viewers what recovery can look like.
Original Source: forbes.com
Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s new documentary, Recovery Boys, follows four young men as they struggle to recover from opioid addictions, and in some cases relapse, and recover again, and on and on it goes. In this sense, her film, though nonfiction, is very much a tragedy in the classical sense of the word: protagonists fighting a superior force they may prove to be, inevitably, powerless against.
As one of Sheldon’s subjects, Adam, puts it, “Heroin is just a whole ‘nother level. I’m not ever condoning it, but if you try it, you’re gonna like it. It’s heroin. It’s the worst drug on the planet because it’s so good. People don’t get addicted to heroin because it sucks.”
Adam is practically on the nod when he says these words, unemployed and sitting on his mother’s couch, having relapsed after a stint at Jacob’s Ladder, a farm and rehab center in Aurora, West Virginia, that attempts to help addicts find value in life beyond drugs. Despite its name, Jacob’s Ladder — named for the biblical connection between heaven and earth described in the book of Genesis — appears to downplay religion in its mission statement. Rather, the center lists its core values as community, compassion, empathy, accountability, authenticity and honesty.
Earlier in the 90-minute documentary, Adam appears firmly committed to staying clean, making his relapse that much harder to watch, but also, not surprising. Each of the four men in Sheldon’s film seems to be teetering, their sobriety as tender as a recent wound, just beginning to heal. We’re compelled to root for them, because we can see how much promise they have, but we can also see the draw they feel back to their old lives, even as they decry them as horrible and lost.
Sheldon’s other three subjects — Ryan, Jeff and Rush — have as much, and as little, going for them as Adam. Ryan arrives at Jacob’s Ladder still high on dope; Jeff feels torn between drugs and his two toddlers; Rush still struggles with having been molested when he was six years old. Together, they provide a human face to an epidemic that is often reduced to abstractions and numbers.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2015 33,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses, and from July 2016 to September 2017, opioid overdoses increased 30 percent nationwide. In the Midwest, they increased 70 percent. Sheldon’s film, beyond providing a face to this epidemic, also attempts to challenge certain prejudices and presumptions about opioid addicts in places like West Virginia.
Recovery Boys follows Sheldon’s 2017 documentary, Heroin(e), which focused on three women in Huntington, West Virginia — the so-called “overdose capital of the United States” — and their efforts to fight the opioid epidemic there. Both films steer clear of judgement and focus on the humanity of those affected by and trying to fight the crisis. It’s a worthy project, and potentially, one without end.