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WALKING WITH VERSUS WALKING FOR

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

An Italian friend, whose brother is a recovering addict, wrote to me, “Perche ci hai insegnato ad abbracciarci senza stringerci,” which means that she and her family learned (from our book Stay Close, Stammi Vicino) how to walk with her brother and not for him; how to hug her brother but not squeeze him.

My reflection: Across the globe, addiction forces us to decide how best to help our loved one who is struggling with drugs or alcohol. I always wanted to make things better for my son, to make things easier. Often these attempts happened at the expense of my own and my family’s health. I would have sacrificed anything to stop the addiction for him. I couldn’t.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years to learn how to support my son without trying to take control of his recovery. Today, I will walk with my loved one, all the while recognizing and admitting that I cannot walk for him. I will give him space to direct his own program – in its victories and setbacks. I will stay close in hope, faith and prayer.

 

RELAPSE AND THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

A mother wrote to me: My son is still on the revolving road to recovery. He has been in detox three times, rehab – both inpatient and outpatient, in a sober house, involved in AA with a sponsor, and presently is trying the suboxone route with individual counseling.  My heart is broken, but I will find my courage. The words stagli vicino will be my mantra of hope.

My reflection: Relapse happens and happened often to my son. I learned more about relapse when my son wrote about a friend, “I know that place. He was in pain, and it was too much. He used to kill it. Then he needs to keep using because the addiction has kicked in. An addict loses all sense of free will; you’re thrown back into the space of obsession, of always needing something more. I’m sure he’s scared and confused.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is terrifying to those of us who love someone who is suffering and also to the suffering person himself. As much as I fear the pain of relapse and the consequences for my son, I will stay close with hope and faith. Though Jeff is clean and living a healthy life, we know that relapse is a perpetual threat. It’s only with vigilance that it’s kept at bay. Today I’ll support my addict in his efforts to stay clean while giving him space to steer his own program.

WHAT ARE THE ANSWERS WITH ADDICTION?

A mother wrote to me: My son is in jail. He is only 18. I will not bail him out. I cry every night. He has not yet escalated to the harder drugs, but the criminal behavior is there. I hate that my son is in jail, hate that I cannot and will not bail him out, and hate what is coming down the road for him, but I know that this is the necessary action to be taken if he is to get on the road to recovery. I also know that he must be willing and we do not see that yet. I pray I’ve made the right decisions.

My reflection: Addiction gloats in our confusion and chaos. Do we bail out our children? Do we give them money to pay their bills? Do we cover the fee of yet another rehab center? There are no easy answers and we must make the decisions based on what we’ve learned, what professionals recommend, and what our hearts tell us.

Today’s Promise to consider: I accept that I don’t have all the answers about addiction, but today I will listen with an open heart to the help and advice of professionals, those in recovery, other parents, and my own good counsel. When I had breast cancer, I talked with three surgeons and each one offered differing recommendations. We each must make the decision that we think is best for our loved one and our family. I pray for wisdom.

 

 

“I SAW WHAT I WANTED TO” – ADDICTION AND DELUSION

While I was listening to a song by O+S, the words “I saw what I wanted to” made me think about addiction. During the early years of my son’s drug use, I was quick to see what I wanted to: the boy who earned high grades, the athlete who was the captain of the soccer team, the son who spoke with respect and commanded an impressive grasp of the English language. I’ve wondered why I didn’t see the boy who insisted on spending every weekend out of the house and with his friends, the boy whose clothes smelled like cigarettes, and the boy who dressed in black and had multiple stories as to where he spent the weekend nights.

My reflection: I saw what I wanted to. I believed the son I loved. I chose to look at the good grades and athletic prowess, and I refused to see the reality of what I think I knew was happening.

Today’s Promise: Today, I choose to live in honesty. The early years of my son’s addiction were filled with fiction – the stories I accepted, and those that Jeff projected. I believed them because, maybe, it was easier. If that’s true, what was easier became a nightmare. There is only one way out of addiction: seeing and telling the truth.

CAN WE CONTROL OUR LOVED ONE’S ADDICTION?

A mother wrote to me: My 24-year-old, heroin-addicted son is in jail. He has been using drugs since he was 14. Today, he asked me to help get him into a sober-house program. I told him that I would help him as long as he has no further involvement with his girlfriend. Even reading what I just wrote I see that I am still trying to control the outcome. I must detach with love and stay close. My next letter to him will be one of hope, love, and courage to move in the right direction and in a timeline that the court decides. 

My reflection: I, too, tried to curtail my son’s addiction by issuing ultimatums. It took years of pain for me to realize that I could control nothing. Although I wanted only health and healing for my son, my plan of action for Jeff was often counterproductive.

Today’s Promise to consider: I admit that I cannot control my child’s addiction, and I can’t dictate the rules the disease will follow. What I can control is my own behavior. Today, I will pray, go to support meetings, read addiction literature, and work with professionals. I will stay close with hope and allow my son the space to find the courage inside himself to fight against his addiction.

BREAKING THE DRAMA OF ADDICTION

Dr. MacAfee wrote: As addicts become increasingly drawn into addiction, their families get drawn into dysfunction. The common dynamic shows the family polarizing and moving into either/or thinking. The addict becomes the major focus for some family members. For others, the addict is a target for rejection, disdain, and fury.

My reflection: The drama of addiction took over our family’s life. The fear of watching my son fail was frightening, and I spent most of my time defending him to people who knew little about this disease.

Today’s Promise to consider: The pain and confusion of addiction became more manageable when I took the initial step to name and define what was going on. When I got honest and quit living in delusion, I became open to the help of Al-Anon and started to accept the wisdom of other recovering individuals. I also became transparent with our beloved addiction specialist. By taking addiction out of the shadows and bringing it into the light, I started to heal. So did my son.

“How do I get out of his way but stay close?”

A mom wrote to me: My son is in the thick of alcohol addiction. This last year has been particularly difficult with a third DUI and forced hospitalization. There have been some patches of clarity and health, but the battle rages. A few days ago I finally accepted the fact that my help, over all these years, was not helping and that I could no longer allow him to live with me. Is it possible to stay close if I withdraw my support of a place to live? How do I get out of his way but stay close?

My reflection: After fourteen years of addiction with my son, I changed my behavior: I didn’t give him money and didn’t allow him to live at home; however, I never stopped taking his phone calls and I continually reminded him that he was loved. I told him that once he was healthy again, home and family were waiting for him.

Today’s Promise to consider: We each must answer the title question for ourselves, but for me, I learned to stay close and, at the same time, allow my son to face the consequences of his addiction. As parents, we often turn ourselves inside-out in an effort to ‘fix’ our addicted children, until we realize that our help isn’t always helping. In some confounding way, when I got healthier so did my son.

 

Misconception #10. Spirituality isn’t central to sobriety  (and last in the series)

From my son, I learned: that his sobriety is rooted in his spiritual practice. Every morning he maintains a routine: he reads from a spiritual or philosophical text, stretches, meditates and prays. Today, his life is based on a set of principles and he must be honest with everyone he meets, including himself.  He says that he acknowledges his past and strives for a better tomorrow.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, he was spiritually bankrupt, self centered, dishonest, and isolated from family and those who love him. Naively, I thought that abstinence from substance equaled recovery, but I’ve learned that it’s so much more.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today, I will support my loved one as he works his program of recovery. My son wrote: Through all my years of cynicism and turbulence, I’ve seen with my own eyes something at work on this earth that’s bigger than I am big – good natured and unexplainable. It appeared when I looked for it. Abstinence helps the brain heal; spirituality helps heal the heart.

Misconception #9: Service is not an important part of recovery

From my son, I learned: Living in sobriety is about giving and receiving. Reaching out a hand to help another person strengthens both the addict and those he tries to help.

My reflection: When my son was in the midst of recovering, I was afraid that others would lead him off track and divert his attention. I thought it best if he spent time dedicated to self-care and to his personal recovery program. Fear drove me.

Today’s Promise to consider: True recovery is learning how to have healthy, meaningful relationships and how to interact with others, without drugs. Service – reaching out a hand and helping another person – gives the recovering addict a sense of purpose, an opportunity to regain a feeling of self worth, and a forum to engage the world in meaningful ways. Today, I will encourage my recovering loved one in his efforts to contribute. It is in giving that he receives.

 

 

Misconception #8: Relapse is failure

From my son, I learned: that relapse happens. It happened often with Jeff. There are countless examples of recovering addicts like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stay clean for years, relapse, and die. Drugs are powerful and addiction never rests. It bides its time and waits for the right moment to pounce.

My reflection: Through a dozen of my son’s relapses, I suffered. I wondered what I was doing wrong, and what I could/should be doing differently. Every relapse was a red, flashing light that blinded me with a sense of failure. It took me years to understand.

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is a gut-punch, instantly dashing hopes and optimism. But the reality is that relapse happens. Each time it did for Jeff, I felt guilt, anger, and betrayal…until one day Dr. MacAfee told me, “Relapse isn’t failure. It’s one step closer to recovery.” I still hold that thinking close in my work with addiction. It buoys me when I hear about recovering people losing their footing. It helps me keep hope alive.