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Jeff

“KEEP ON TELLING THEM YOU LOVE THEM AND MEAN IT.” 

DSC02457.JPGA mother wrote to me: I am working on the “loving with detachment” issue. I spend hours each day trying to look at where I went wrong as a parent or what I should have done differently. I’ve been to Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and private counseling, but the pain is always there. The best advice I ever received was from my pastor/counselor who told me to, “Keep on telling her you love her and mean it, because you’ll never regret those words.” 

My reflection: There is a Tibetan expression, “Even if the rope breaks nine times, we must splice it back together a tenth time. Even if ultimately we do fail, at least there will be no feelings of regret.”

Today’s Promise to consider: When my addicted love one is unlovable and certainly when he is at his worst, I will continue to tell him that I love him. I can’t fight his battles and I can’t change his life, but I can and will love the man who is under the drugs.

 

 


ADDICTION IS A FAMILY DISEASE

jer and jeffThe sister of a brother, who died of addiction, wrote to me: We lost our brother to a drug overdose at the age of 50. We went though a lot and we always thought he was better and clean. Our parents died years ago and they did everything possible to help him. They lived a frugal existence because they could never deny him help. Do you call that enabling? I don’t know anymore. It was a long, long struggle and now my brother is at peace.

My reflection: What is enabling and what does it look like in a family? We parents see things one way and the siblings see things differently. I don’t believe there are definitive answers, but I think communication and learning are critical. We need to work to keep communication open among all family members and try to understand genuinely their pain. In the end, we must make the decisions that we think are best for our child. As Terry Gorski says, “Society gives us no rules when dealing with addiction.”

Today’s Promise to consider: I will respect the feelings of all the members of my family and try to recognize their points of view. Today, I will listen to their concerns calmly and not become defensive. I will admit that I don’t have all the answers and will explain that I am trying to do what I think is right.

 

 

 


TEN YEARS OF SOBRIETY

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Photo Credit: Audrey Melton

AN OPEN LETTER TO MY SON JEFF

Today, on July 21, you celebrate ten years of sobriety. This is a huge feat, especially after having suffered a fourteen-year addiction. What would have happened if we had lost you? You faced the demons and came home to yourself and to us. Some research says that only 4% of heroin addicts live and stay well. This is a day to honor.

How far you have come in these past ten years. You pray and meditate, and you radiate serenity and peace. You’ve started a successful music label, and you are a businessman of integrity and strength. Spirituality is at the center of your life, and you inspire me with your hard-fought wisdom and good sense. You have suffered and you have risen.

It took courage, dedication and hard work to reach this day. I call this out because it’s important to do so. A person in active addiction once told me, “If Jeff can do it, so can I.” You give others hope. You give back. You work hard to make the world a better place.

Dad, Jeremy, Iysa and I join your many friends and relatives, who love you and wish you well. We’re proud of you, my son. Here’s to another ten years, one day at a time.

Love you, always and forever. I’ll stay close,

Mom

 


SAINTS IN THE MAKING

Dr. MacAfee and Jeff

Dr. MacAfee and Jeff

Dr. MacAfee explains, The word saint used in the context of addicts is controversial, but there’s an important distinction to be made between recovering addicts and those who are abstaining from drugs. Abstinence is the beginning, the time when the addict puts down the drugs. Recovery is a transformative process when the addict moves, step by step, into living a life of truth. Recovery happens when the addict leaves the hell that he has been living and moves to a place of belonging, of contribution, of coming alive. His defensiveness goes down and he knows that honesty is his only way to health. With this transformation, his humanity starts to emerge.

My reflection: When Dr. MacAfee told me that addicts were saints in the making, Jeff was still sick and had been sick for 14 years. What I heard in Dr. MacAfee’s words was hope. Hope that Jeff would recover and grow to be the person he was meant to be.

Today’s Promise to consider: When our loved one is in active addiction, life is suffocating. But when he decides deep down to recover and takes the diligent steps healing requires, he comes back with a burning desire to be of service to others. He regains his humanity and chooses a life of truth and purpose. In this transformation, he is, to me, a saint in the making.


CHASING THE HIGH

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Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A recovering addict told me, When you’re an addict, you don’t think about anybody else. No one. The only thing you think about is drugs and getting high. And I didn’t realize until getting healthy how much the families of addicts suffer. They have emotions. We’re addicts, we’re numb to everything, we’re medicated away from society, away from emotions. I don’t know how my mum and sister lived with those kinds of emotions for so long. 

My reflection: When Jeff was sick with addiction, I couldn’t understand how this child of mine – so elegant and cultured – could be living in his car, shooting heroin into his neck and getting arrested time and time again. He went into the same detox center so often the intake officer told him, “Get out of here. We’re not a hotel.” He hit countless bottoms. I couldn’t imagine it getting worse. It always did. 

Today’s promise to consider: Our loved ones don’t think about us when they’re on the chase for the high. They are totally focused on getting and using drugs. We, as family, don’t enter their minds, and on the rare occasions that we do, the pursuit of drugs silences our voices. I’ll stay close and wait for him to remember that he is loved.

 

 

 


WHEN HE IS SOBER, HE HAS A HEART OF GOLD

DSC02685.JPGA mother wrote to me: My son earned his college degree in May, but a few months later his life was spiraling out of control. He ended up in his first rehab in September. Soon after entering, he walked out even though we begged him to stay. A few months later, he entered his second rehab and walked out again, saying that he would try outpatient group. Then he was on suboxone and had to report to a group once a week. He entered another rehab last summer for a month, trying to get clean again. He came out of rehab his old self. When he is sober, he has a heart of pure gold!

My reflection: Our children are alive under the drugs, but the chaos of their using inevitably fogs all that is good, turning their best qualities against them. It is hard to remember their gentleness, especially when our loved one has been using for a long time. Addiction steals our child’s soul and gobbles his heart.

Today’s Promise to consider: I will not allow addiction to win. My child is alive under the drugs and I will not give up hope. I know my son’s heart is compassionate, loving and kind. I will stay close, pray and wait until he throws off the chains of his addiction and comes home to himself and to us.


TELL HIM TO STOP, DAMMIT

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Jeff, Granddad Cataldi, Grams Cataldi, Jeremy

My dad, who would have been 95 this month, didn’t understand addiction. He once pointed his finger at me and said, “Why don’t you tell him to stop, dammit? We can all see that he’s not right. Listen, daughter, you gotta do something. You gotta tell him to stop.” I just stared back at my dad and thought, “Don’t you think I’ve told him to stop, Dad? Do you think I can’t see that he’s not right? Don’t you think I’ve tried?” I didn’t say these things to my Marine Corps Drill Sergeant father.

My reflection: My father wasn’t an addict and for him addiction was non negotiable, something that shouldn’t exist in our family and a problem that ‘had to go.’ In his mind, I was the parent and I should have able to demand that my son quit using drugs. To Dad, it was black or white, two extremes, and Jeff’s behavior wasn’t acceptable and had to end.

Today’s Promise to consider: Many people think that addiction is a lack of character and a moral weakness and, with enough guts and grit, the person should be able to stop. Stop, dammit. My dad thought that way. I wish I had had the silver bullet or had know those magic words to make the destruction stop. Instead, addiction is a cunning, baffling and insidious disease that requires extreme patience, education, perspective and faith.

 

 


HE IS NOT HIS ADDICTION

Jeff1 (1)An Italian friend, whose brother is struggling with recovery, wrote to me: I wanted to share this poem by Hemingway. During a meeting with my brother and the psychologist of the rehabilitation program, I found myself asking how could addiction happen to us and where is the brother we used to know. I hope that one day we can find the serenity to accept ourselves and to know that he is not only his addiction. He – and we with him – are better than that.

You are not your age,

Nor the size of the clothes you wear,

You are not a weight,

Or the color of your hair.

You are not your name,

Or the dimples in your cheeks,

You are all the books you read,

And all the words you speak,

You are your croaky morning voice,

And the smiles you try to hide,

You are the sweetness in your laughter,

And every tear you’ve cried,

You’re the songs you sing so loudly when you know you’re all alone,

You’re the places you’ve been too,

And the one that you call home,

You’re the things that you believe in,

And the people that you love,

You’re the photos in your bedroom,

And the future you dream of,

You’re made of so much beauty,

But it seems you forgot,

When you decided that you were defined,

By all the things you’re not. 

Today’s Promise to consider: My son is more than his addiction. Yes, it is a part of him as it is a part of us. But he is so much more. He is son and brother; he is kindness and loyalty; he is compassionate and smart; he is the sweetness of his laughter and the dreams he now dreams. He is his own person, who has his own God, his own life and his own loves. He is still the boy with a skip in his step.


ONE LIFE AT A TIME: 41 years strong

Harry

Harry: A 22 year love affair with drinking, 17 years in the Navy, and now a drug/alcohol counselor celebrating 41 years of sobriety on March 23, gave me this poem:         

A little boy walked carefully along a crowded beach

Where starfish by the hundreds lay there within his reach.

They washed up with each wave, far as the eye could see

And each would surely die if they were not set free.

So one by one he rescued them, then he heard a stranger call,

“It won’t make a difference…you cannot save them all.”

But as he tossed another back towards the ocean’s setting sun,

He said with deep compassion,
”I made a difference to that one!”

My reflection: Harry has dedicated his life to helping those who are suffering find recovery. In his journey, he made a profound difference to my son and has made a difference to many others. Our family will be eternally grateful for his work.

Today’s Promise to consider: The Talmud says, “He who saves one life, saves the entire world.” Alcoholics Anonymous was started by one man: Bill Wilson. From there, countless lives have been saved. Great change can start with one person. Today, I’ll reach out my hand and help someone else. We can all make a difference – one life at a time.

 

 


HEALING WITH HOPE AND HARD WORK

Jeff and Grams Cataldi

Jeff and Grams Cataldi

A mother wrote to me: My youngest daughter is 19; she started with alcohol at age 12 and ended up a heroin addict. After many false starts and years of fearing that phone call when I would hear that she was dead, she finally entered an inpatient center. After completion, she wants to come home. I want her home, but I am also very realistic that we are NOT out of the woods by a long shot. She is going to need help from someone who truly “gets it” and is not family. Our family is still healing – we have a very long way to go.

My reflection: We need to stay humble in the face of addiction because it lurks in the shadows, always taunting and biding its time, gauging just the right moment when vulnerability is high and relapse is possible. Addicts need to work their program. For Jeff, this meant the twelve steps of AA, meeting with a sponsor and attending AA meetings. As his family, we could provide a loving shoulder for him, but the work of recovery is a personal process forged between the addict and his support group.

Today’s Promise: AA talks about rigorous honesty and a spiritual awakening as the way to keep sober. Recovery takes work, plain and simple, for the addict and for those of us who love him. I will keep hope.

 


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