Uncle Jeff and Niece Iysa

Uncle Jeff and Niece Iysa

I wrote this in Stay Close: During the Christmas of 2006, when neither son came home for our large Italian family gatherings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends didn’t know what to do. My brothers didn’t know what to say. They didn’t even know whether to invite me to the festivities. The cousins were confused; could they ask about Jeff or would it be kinder to leave him out of the conversation?

My reflection: I remember well that Christmas Eve Mass when my older brother turned gently toward me and said, “Not sure I should ask, but how is Jeff?” I looked at him as tears welled in my eyes. He just nodded as we left the question float in the air.

Today’s Promise to consider: During the holidays, let us remember that addiction can severely isolate us. We might feel ashamed and lonely because our lives are not as joyful as we wish they would be. I will avoid this treacherous place by being compassionate with myself and my family. I will find serenity in honesty and prayer.



DSC01595.JPGFrom a recovering alcoholic: Stagli vicino, stay close, is I think very Italian or perhaps even Mediterranean, certainly not British. Whether a person stays close or not is really the choice of the person who wants to help the suffering addict. I know that there is nothing I can do to stop another person drinking or using unless he wants to quit. It is really as simple as that.

My reflection: It really is as simple as that. We cannot make our child quit using. Change must come from the person. When I had breast cancer, I had to choose to fight. The doctors offered their advice for the best course of treatment, but it was my decision to stay positive and committed to my wellbeing. Our children must choose recovery, and they must choose every day, just as we must choose to give them the space to reach that decision.

Today’s Promise to consider: With every cell of my body, I want to force my child to stop using drugs and alcohol. I want to demand it, command it and make sure it happens. But I can’t. I can only make choices for myself. I will stay close and pray he chooses sobriety, today and everyday, one day at a time.


img_3932This is part of a series of monthly posts that reference many conversations with Dr. MacAfee. Thanks, Doc. 

A friend, who also loved Dr. MacAfee, and I remember when he told us both that you get what you tolerate. She and I both respected Dr. MacAfee’s years of wisdom in working with addicts and, at different times, both of us had been the recipients of our sons’ disruptive behavior, lies, manipulations or deep hurts. Dr. Mac told us to stay close, but not to allow ourselves to be abused. “Whatever behavior you tolerate,” he counseled, “will continue.”

My reflection: As my son’s addiction took over his life, his lies, manipulation and downright bad behavior became more pervasive. With every low, I thought, “This is his bottom,” and I rushed in to save him from the consequences of his actions. The more chaos I allowed myself to be subjected to, the worse things got. 

Today’s Promise to consider: We parents of addicts are known to sacrifice our own well being as we tolerate the intolerable. Firm boundaries are imperative for both our loved ones and ourselves. The consequences of the addict’s behavior must be his to bear. We reach out in love and stay close, but we must keep ourselves safe.



Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

My son wrote about his first rehab center: The family sessions were valuable in that I started seeing you, my mother, as a person. Treatment lifted the backdrop of everyday life and allowed me to look at the drug use alone. You were afraid, and I could feel the gravity of that pain. You couldn’t fix my addictive patterns and your fear was evident. I began to understand that parents carry the full weight of their children’s hardships.

My reflection: The family sessions started honest conversations between my son and me. Jeff could see and feel my fear, and he knew that I wanted desperately to help him, to fix him. I, too, saw his fear and felt his pain. Together, we learned about each other and about addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: Family sessions in rehabs taught me to listen deeply to my child and to work with him as we learned about addiction and its patterns. Today, honesty rules our conversations as my son and I continue to heal. Over time, he’s come to understand my pain, and I’ve begun to understand his.


TM_1696 (1)A friend of mine forwarded me a letter written by her son. He wrote: The moral of this story is: Never Give Up. Life is an absolutely terrifying phenomenon, but there is always hope hidden somewhere. On July 28, 2012, I remember sitting alone in a drug induced state, watching the sunrise and praying for a god to kill me. I prayed for no afterlife so the pain, the inner anguish, could finally end. This was the moment when I had an epiphany. I thought that instead of slowly watching myself die, I would give life a chance. I checked into rehab and I got clean. Turns out that was the easy part. Staying clean, that’s where shit gets real. I had to figure out who I was, better yet, who I am. The answer didn’t happen overnight. Hell, it’s still an ongoing process. I had to accept that I’m an awkward guy, a people pleaser who doesn’t want anyone to find out that I’m just an asshole with a big heart, and a nervous wreck who tries his best to remain calm. Then something magical happened: I realized that I wasn’t alone. One day I woke up and thought, “Holy damn, I can relate to other people without the use of drugs or alcohol, and they might even like me for who I am?!” And that was a beautiful thing. Life is a beautiful thing. I never thought I could make it to four years clean and sober. With the right attitude, essentially anything is possible.

My reflection: This young man calls out many important parts of the recovery process and delineates the numerous epiphanies that happen along the way. I often hear addicts talk about the rays of hope that enter when things are at their worst and the personal bottoms that ignite the gift of desperation where real change takes hold.

Today’s Promise to consider: This young man’s words remind us all that with addiction there is hope and that sobriety is possible. He discovered that life can be a beautiful thing. Our prayer is that all our suffering children fight for and embrace life in recovery.






Photo Credit: Patrisha Lauria

Jeff sent me a passage from a Taoist book he’s reading: Like water, we’re encouraged to follow the gentlest path through life. In the face of obstacles, let us be fluid and flow downward to bend around trees and fallen branches. And when encountering rocks, let us rise like water vapor to float across the sky. 

(paraphrased, Eva Wong, Being Taoist: Wisdom for Living a Balanced Life, 2015)

My reflection: When Jeff sent me this passage, I reflected on his fourteen years of active addiction and realized that I was anything but water flowing gently. I fought the addiction with every ounce of my being. True, it did me no good and I stopped nothing. I was neither powerful nor strong enough to stop the destruction.

Today’s Promise to consider: With addiction, is it possible to follow a gentle path? Can I be subtle as vapor and rise above such heavy obstacles? I must stop getting mired in things I can’t control. For today, I will do my best to handle adversity with grace and objectivity. I will let go of anxiety and suffering. Join me?



jeff_TMA mom wrote to me: I tried everything humanly possible to save my son. And then I let go. I have so much love and gratitude for the peace I am now experiencing. I have no illusions for tomorrow. I went to three funerals of young people in ten days.

My reflection: I, too, tried everything humanly possible to stop my son’s addiction. I paid to get him out of trouble, forced him into recovery, and tracked him down whenever he couldn’t be found. After fourteen years of trying to control my son’s addiction, I surrendered with love.

Today’s Promise to consider: It was only after acknowledging that I did everything in my power to stop Jeff’s addiction, was I able to let go. It was sobering, but crucial for me to realize that no matter how much of myself I poured into his illness, the choice to stop was his alone. When I surrendered with love, I felt peace.



TM.3A dad wrote to me: I got so tired of the lies and the constant drama that our family was brought into. We parents care so much for our children that it’s really difficult to watch them self-destruct. I’m getting much better at realizing that I am in control of just one person: myself. I think prayer is the only answer.

My reflection: It’s incredibly difficult to admit that we can’t control the behavior of our addicted loved ones. It was unfathomable to me that Jeff wouldn’t listen, even when I threatened dire consequences. My dad’s words rang in my ears, “Tell him to stop, daughter. Dammit. Tell him to stop.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Once at an Al-Anon meeting, the speaker held a hula-hoop over her head and then dropped it around her and onto the floor. She pointed to her feet and the space inside the hoop, “I can control only what’s inside this hoop.” It was a simple visual that resonated deeply with me. My son had his own hoop. I had mine. There’s only room for one in an addiction.


TM.FullSizeRender (2)A mom wrote to me: He doesn’t call for weeks. Then calls and says his cell phone was stolen from his car that he left unlocked while he went into a convenience store for a second. The next week he lost his dog, saying he left the window open, the dog got frightened, hopped out the window and ran away. Stories don’t jive. But I just listen. Dog is found. Wait for the next crisis. What is important in the long run I ask myself? Don’t criticize, just listen. Don’t give advice. He’s 41. Just stay close.

My reflection: With addiction, there is always drama and chaos. During the years that Jeff was using, I felt as if I were walking on floorboards that weren’t nailed down. As I walked, I was never sure when a board would come loose and hit me in the back of my head.

Today’s Promise to consider: The addict chases the drug and we chase the addict. Addiction throws us into a state of constant apprehension and worry as we wait for the next traumatic event. It is a depleting, debilitating cycle. What is important in the long run? I agree with this mother who wrote, “Don’t criticize, just listen. Don’t give advice. Just stay close.” I had to learn how to stay close, but out of the chaos of my son’s addiction.


04-Jeff photo shoot 304A mother wrote to me: Our son, who is now 26, cannot get sober from heroin addiction. He was clean for eight months, got married and is back on it again. He has been an addict since he was 19, starting with marijuana, then methamphetamine and now heroin. He has been in jail, then prison and at this time he is on probation again. He has been to five or six rehabs. How long will this last? When will he ever be ready to change?

My reflection: The answer to this question would be like finding the Holy Grail. All of us who love an addict want to know, “When will that moment of clarity happen?” Our prayer is that it happens before it’s too late.

Today’s Promise to consider: I had to admit that I had no power over my son or his addiction. I had to admit that I wasn’t in control of when he would be ready to change. I had to admit that I had no ability to stem the endless stream of negative consequences that resulted from his using. All I could do was stay close and pray that he would soon reach that moment of grace when he would make a decision to change.