HIS HUMANITY WAS IN CONSTANT CONFLICT WITH HIS ADDICTION

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A recovering addict wrote to me: Libby, I was a good friend and fellow drug user with your son. I’ve been clean for three years. Your son was one of the few truly decent addicts I ever met, meaning that he had a kind side that most addicts had already destroyed within themselves. He actually CARED about what his drug use was doing to you, his brother and his dad. I remember when your father died and you had cancer. He drove over to my apartment and we talked late into the night. But after that, we went out and copped more drugs, came back, used, and he called into work and faked sick.

My reflection: Jeff and I have talked a lot about those years when my father died and I had cancer. He tried his addicted-best to be present during those times. His words held the truth, “I never wanted to hurt you, Mom. I love you. But I’m an addict.” Jeff’s humanity and love were in constant conflict with his illness.

Today’s Promise: My son tells me that addicts, even those who can’t mouth the words, despise the destruction they are causing, but they simply can’t imagine a life without drugs. Today, I will not feel guilt, regret, or shame. Today, I will live in hope and faith that my child comes home to us and to himself.

 

“I WISH OTHER PEOPLE COULD UNDERSTAND WHAT OUR LIVES WERE LIKE”

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mother wrote to me: My son was handsome, respectful, smart, athletic, and a funny young man. Unfortunately, at fifteen, he made a bad choice to experiment with drugs. His life and ours were never the same. He tried to get clean. In fact, he was clean for forty days before he died. I have been blessed with wonderful people in my life, but I know the average person looks down on people who do drugs. I wish other people could understand what our lives were like.

My reflection: Even with the recent public outcry about addiction, society often considers the addict an abyss of moral failure. Many people judge the addict’s family as non-caring, absent, abusive, or non-communicative. Those of us who have addicted children know that this illness doesn’t discriminate. Addiction happens in happy families and unhappy families.

A young addict once told me, “I was raised on a farm in Kansas. My mom and dad were always home, and my entire family worked together on the land. I was fully loved and my family was wonderful. I’m a heroin addict.”

Today’s Promise to consider: I realize that many people judge me when they hear that my son is a heroin addict. I understand that society might criticize me and hold me at fault, but these are the chains of addiction. Today, I will find strength in my support group and continue to love my child without regard for other’s opinions.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM A SEVEN-YEAR-OLD

My seven-year-old granddaughter and I were traveling together and I said, “Iysa, I’m feeling stressful about all that I have to do for the holidays when we get back home.” “Don’t worry, Nonna,” she replied as she sat next to me in the waiting area of the Amtrak station, “Let’s meditate.” With this, she crossed her legs, put her hands on her knees, closed her eyes, and became quiet and still. As I watched her, I was struck by her ability to go inside herself and find peace, right in the middle of the busy train station.

My reflection: With all the stress the holidays can bring added to the chaos addiction adds, this time of year often feels overwhelming. Iysa reminded me of the value in developing a “refuge” – someplace we quickly go that gives us a sense of wellbeing. Hers is meditation and breathing.

Today’s Promise to consider: Stress can be debilitating, but we each have the power and responsibility to find our way to serenity. Some of us meditate, while others might run, write, exercise or cook. Whatever we choose, it’s critical that we make these activities a priority during busy periods. As we approach the New Year, let’s make the choice to do something constructive to help ourselves find peace.

ADDICTION AND THE HOLIDAYS

by libbycataldi under family


I remember well the Christmas when my son didn’t come home:
During the holidays of 2006, when Jeff didn’t come home for our large Italian family gatherings, no one knew what to do or say. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends didn’t know whether to ask about my addicted son or whether it would kinder to leave him out of the conversation. At Christmas Eve Mass, my older brother bent toward me and asked softly, “How’s Jeff?” I swelled with tears, tried to speak, but no words came. He nodded and turned toward the altar. I kept my head down and prayed.

My reflection: The holidays put the addict on center stage when the accumulated chaos of his or her life, and ours, is excruciatingly public. It is during these gatherings of joy that addiction taunts and mocks us most.

Today’s Promise to consider: During the holidays, addiction can severely isolate us. We come face-to-face, over and over again, with the reality that our lives are not as joyful as Hallmark’s greeting cards tell us they should be. I will avoid this toxic place by being compassionate with myself, with others and my loved ones. I will find my serenity in honesty and prayer. I will not allow addiction to rob me of my peace.

THE CONFOUNDING NATURE OF ADDICTION

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

Dr. MacAfee told me, When families are in the throes of struggling with addiction, they do what they know best: They help and support the addict. Families, however, do not anticipate that the nature of addiction is one of exploitation, manipulation, and betrayal. Oftentimes, the addict exhausts and abuses a family’s resources and good will, leaving the family in a state of psychological and financial desperation. It is not only how addiction destroys the addict, but it is also how addictions destroys the family.

My reflection: When our children struggle, we move in to help; however, the addict exploits this natural act of love and protection. Quickly, the chase of the drug is overpowering. The addict loses himself, and we, the family, lose our loved one.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction takes the natural love of a family and smashes it into pieces. The lies and deceit – it’s what addiction does best. Today, I’ll stay close with love and compassion, but it’s imperative that I stay out of the chaos.

 

 

BOUNDARIES: FOR ALL OF US

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mom wrote to me, It’s midnight and I’m struggling with a decision. My son is a heroin addict and homeless. He just called and asked if he could come home. I asked him if he was sober, he said yes. I don’t believe it. A week ago today, I rented him a hotel room and, when I went back the next morning to get him, I found syringes and weed in the room. Do I listen to my gut and turn him away? This is SO hard, but I don’t trust him. He lives a very destructive lifestyle and until that changes and, as hard as it would be, I feel like I need to tell him that until he’s been clean for at least 6 months, he can’t come home.

My reflection: This situation is tragic, but it is also common in families suffering with an addiction. I remember well an evening when our family was invited to a special event. I wanted Jeff to attend, but when he arrived he was covered in sweat and shaky. He told me that he hadn’t used any drugs for twenty-four hours so, according to him, he was sober. It was obvious that he was detoxing in an effort to be a part of the family. When I told him he couldn’t come to the event, he said, “I’m not a yo-yo. You told me I could come if I was sober. I’m sober.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Our addicted loved ones want to be close to home. They need the connection to those they love, and they need to know they are loved. As parents, however, we have the responsibility to be clear – to say what we mean and mean what we say. Boundaries keep us all safe and let people in our lives know what they can expect from us.

 

GRATEFUL – ONE DAY AT A TIME

Jeff, Granddad, Grams, Jeremy

A personal reflection: My worst days, the days I struggle to maintain equilibrium, are the days I forget to be grateful.

When Jeff was three-months old, he was admitted into Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital for an intestinal disorder, where he stayed for one month. I was a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh and also teaching, so my mom helped as often as possible – she stayed with him and cared for him, as only a grandmother can. When I shared my worry (and exhaustion) with Mom, her response was always the same, “Pray prayers of thanksgiving. Praise the Lord for Jeff’s recovery, for his health. Sing. Just try.”

 

Jeff, Iysa, Libby, Jeremy

I thought she was crazy. Why would a young mother sing prayers of thanksgiving when her only child was in the hospital and extremely ill? But I did as I was told. I started to pray, to sing, and to thank God for Jeff’s recovery. Feelings of gratitude filled my spirit and I found that didn’t feel so desperate, or helpless. I felt that I could do something.

This lesson happened thirty-eight years ago and, even today, when I find myself struggling with disappointments and hardships, I know I need to find my gratitude – to be grateful for all I DO have, instead of weeping for what I don’t.

On this Thursday, my family and I wish you all a most Happy Thanksgiving. May we raise our voices high and honor the blessings in our lives.

 

ADDICTION CAN MAKE US STRONGER

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

After a conversation with my son about how families survive traumas, I thought about family dynamics. Addiction brings us to our knees – that’s true. But we do not have to collapse. We can stay strong. Every trauma to a family – not just addiction, but also infidelity, financial ruin, legal issues – severely tests us. We have a choice: we can either crumble (and sometimes we do) or we can gather ourselves up and push forward. My dad used to tell me, “Daughter, there is no quit.” Families suffering from addiction have the choice to quit, but we also have the choice to go forward with endurance. Addiction and other traumas can make us stronger. That’s the choice I’ve made.

My reflection: There is no perfect family. Family stuff is inevitably painful, messy, hard and hurtful. The quality of the family doesn’t depend on living a problem-free existence. It depends on how we overcome the hard issues.

Today’s Promise to consider: Family traumas happen, and every family has them. Addiction wants to suffocate us, but we can survive. We can use these challenges to strengthen our faith, set boundaries, and learn to communicate with compassion. Pain can be the bearer of many lessons.

IT’S EASY TO JUDGE

Two days ago, I saw this painting by Alessandro Allori (circa 1577), and I was struck by the theme of judgment, with a history dating back to John 8:7. This post isn’t about religion. What it is about are the words, He that is without sin among you, let him cast a first stone at her. As I examined the painting, both the contrite face of the adulteress and the look of tenderness in Christ’s eyes moved me. I wondered if it is human nature that we so easily sit in judgment of others? Is it human nature for those who are healthy to marginalize those who are not? Is it human nature for those who have never suffered from an addiction to condemn those who have?

My reflection: Before my son endured a 14-year addiction, I’m sure that I, too, judged others dealing with addiction. We need to use our judgment to make good choices, of course, but we also need to fortify ourselves with education, an understanding of issues unfamiliar to us, a strong moral compass, and solid principles.

Today’s Promise to consider: We know the negative words used to describe addicts. However, for those of us who love someone battling this disease, we also know the courage it takes for them to change their lives. We see the physical pain they endure to put down the drug that takes away their pain. We know their hearts are good because they are our sons, our daughters, our husbands and wives. They are our loves.

WE ARE NOT ALONE

Photo credit: Davood Madadpoor

A daughter of addicted parents wrote to me: I still struggle with the pain of what it’s like to live with and love addicts. I still struggle with issues of anger and despair over all of the ‘what if’s’ and ‘what could have been’s’ that circle around and around in my mind. But it is always cathartic to hear other people’s tales of their battles with this disease – whether they’re the addict or love someone who is.  It reminds me that I’m not alone.

My reflection: There are millions of us affected by this disease, either as addicts or those of us who love them. That’s why groups like AA and Al-Anon work. I found friendship and a lifeline in Al-Anon. In our mutual stories, I discovered compassion and support.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s easy to forget that we are not alone. It’s easy to forget that many of us suffer from addiction’s grasp. Addiction is cloaked in shame, and the shame keeps us silent as we hold our family’s secret. Today, I will accept the help of others. In return, I will reach out my hand to help.