18-Jeff TM (1)A nurse friend from the Cleveland Clinic sent me this article: One Heart Surgeon’s Story of Helping a Drug Addict Find Hope in which Gösta Pettersson, MD, PhD, wrote about his 27-year-old, heroin-addicted patient. Everyone was convinced she would die. So often we meet patients like this and are perhaps tempted to dismiss them because of an apparent personal failure like drug abuse. We don’t really understand what they’re going through. We see their physical suffering, but it’s actually only a small fraction of what they endure. He operated on this young girl’s heart and she is, today, six months sober. He ends by saying, My patient’s drug addiction will be a lifelong battle – but ‘so worth living to fight it,’ she tells me. She knows now that because her life was worth saving, it is also worth living. 


Today’s Promise to consider: Lives are worth saving – all lives, even drug-addicted lives. This cardiovascular surgeon saved a young, heroin addict’s life through both medical and emotional care. Addiction wants to suffocate and end lives – and not all lives can be saved – but where there is life there is hope.


Dr. Pettersson is Vice Chairman of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery and Section Head of Congenital Heart Surgery at Cleveland Clinic. He contributed this article.




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.


IMG_1353 (2)A high school student, who is not an addict, wrote to me, I always knew drugs were bad and plenty of people have told me that they are, even ex-addicts. Now I realize that addiction can happen to anyone. I used to think, foolishly, that addicts were all people from somewhat messed up backgrounds with sad lives. Obviously, this horrible stereotype is completely inaccurate and your family’s story clearly showed that. I realize that it could be my family or one of my friend’s. It made me realize that we’re not invincible.

My reflection: The young writer above sent me this message after hearing our family’s story. Her generalization that addicts were all people from somewhat messed up backgrounds with sad lives is one that many people still believe. While the medical community categorizes addiction as a disease, others consider it a moral breakdown. Whatever you believe, addiction can grip any family regardless of economic status, social standing or educational level.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction happened in our family when I wasn’t looking. Maybe I didn’t want to see, but in time I had no choice but to acknowledge that the demon of addiction had taken my son. Today, I won’t ask why my son or why my family? Today, I’ll educate myself and open my eyes.






Granddaughter Iysa and Nonna

Granddaughter Iysa and Nonna

I attended my first Al-Anon meeting almost 20 years ago and I wrote in my journal: There were twelve people in the basement of a church, and everyone had an alcoholic husband or wife. They talked about taking one day at a time and about how they needed to take care of themselves. What was I doing there? I am a mother and my son is an addict. I didn’t go to the meeting to learn how to take care of myself. I went to learn how to protect him, fix him, and help him. I don’t think I’ll go back.

My reflection: I went to three different meetings before I found my home group, a community of people that would love and support me through the most challenging times of my life. In the halls of Al-Anon, I learned that I was not alone and that others knew my pain. I learned that addiction doesn’t discriminate and that I could trust others to be there for me. I learned that there was wisdom, real wisdom, in taking one day at a time. I’m glad I kept going back.

Today’s Promise to consider: Al-Anon meetings and support groups are filled with parents of addicted children. I was one of those parents who needed help without judgment. I still go to meetings: to help myself and to help others. Community is part of the healing. Today, I’ll reach out my hand. We’re all walking together toward home.