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ADDICTION: THE GREAT TEACHER

A mom of a son in recovery wrote to me: I’ve learned to be understanding and not angry. I’ve learned to be forgiving and not disappointed. I’ve learned to be loving and not frustrated. I’ve learned to be patient and not anxious. The disease of addiction has to run its course. Our children find recovery in their own way and in their own time.

My reflection: I didn’t want to learn anything from addiction. I hated it and just wanted it to go away. I spent most of my days being angry, disappointed, heartbroken, and anxious.

Today’s Promise to consider: Some of the things I’ve learned from my son’s fourteen years in the miasma of addiction and his fifteen years on the other side of it are: *Al-Anon, AA, and family groups work. There’s immense power in community. *Educating myself was crucial. The more I understood about the disease of addiction, the more skillful my responses became. *My son’s addiction was not mine to solve, but his. The choice of sobriety rested with him. *Stay Close, but out of the chaos became a road map for me and gave me some semblance of peace, while giving my son the space to find recovery in his own way and in his own time.

SET AN INTENTION: DO NO HARM

From the Book of Joy: I asked the Dalai Lama what it was like to wake up with joy, and he shared his experience each morning: “I think if you are an intensely religious believer, as soon as you wake up, you thank God for another day. And you try to do God’s will. For a nontheist like myself, but who is Buddhist, as soon as I wake up, I remember Buddha’s teaching: the importance of kindness and compassion, wishing something good for others, or at least to reduce their suffering. Then I remember that everything is interrelated, so I set my intention for the day: that this day should be meaningful. Meaningful means, if possible, serve and help others. If not possible, then at least not to harm others.” 

My reflection: For years now the idea of loving-kindness has resonated with me, although when my son was in active addiction, this concept was not even on my radar. Every day was survival, a nonstop exercise in trying not to drown under the weight of all our problems.

Today’s Promise to considerKindness and compassion are lofty goals, especially when we’re battling the tidal waves of addiction in the family. Perhaps the best we can do some days is set an intention to ‘do no harm.’ For me, that requires constant presence of mind and body. My first reaction is not always a loving one, but if I’m able to observe my behavior against the criteria of whether it produces harm or not, I’m able to live without the regrets unskillful actions cause. And from there, I’m one step closer to the next rung of the ladder: loving-kindness.

STANDING TALL FOR THOSE IN RECOVERY

A father of a son in recovery wrote to me, I wonder if we will ever outlive the scare of addiction. Our family had an incident during Christmas. My three children got into a discussion that became an argument. As tempers rose, my son’s former struggles with addiction were brought up, even though he has been healthy for eight years! I talked with my son and assured him that the past is the past and that we have all had problems in our lives. For the girls, I made it extremely clear that the addiction period will not cross their lips again or there will be severe consequences. I could imagine how he felt under attack for something that happened years ago.

My reflection: I, too, wonder if we will ever outlive the chains of addiction. If my son was recovering from a kidney disease, people would inquire compassionately about his health, but that’s not the case with addiction. Responses continue to range from those of suspicion (Is he still clean? How are you sure?), curiosity (How does he stay sober while working in the music industry?), or contempt (He’s nothing but a drug addict. I remember.).

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovering loved ones need safety and trust. They cannot continue to live their lives under the scrutiny of all that has gone before. They need an advocate, and I will be that person. I will stand firmly for my son and for all those who have the courage to live in sobriety.

FOCUSING ON THE PRESENT

A friend wrote to me, This week, we laid a family friend to rest. It was a sudden and unexpected passing. The priest’s sermon was Life is a Gift.  This is something that I know to be true; however, I have not been true to it, especially not this month. I’ve been rushing around and distracted. I heard his message loud and clear: SLOW DOWN and focus on the present.

My reflection: It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of the season as we try to accomplish our to-do list. Soon it will be over, and all we’ll have are memories.

Today’s Promise to consider: We all know that our problems don’t go away for the holidays, and they often loom over every moment. It is up to us to make the decision to pause and be grateful for this time with our loved ones, our friends, and even ourselves. There will be plenty of time to worry and fret, but – for this one day, for this one season – let us slow down and give thanks. Let us focus on what is important and who is important.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our friends around the world. Love from our family to you and yours.

RECOVERY: WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE?

A mom wrote to me: My son told me that his many years of rehab, talking with friends and family, AA, and all the other attempts to get clean seemed to have fallen on his deaf ears, but in reality they all contributed to his decision to change his life. In other words, not one thing made the difference, but the accumulation of things made a difference. I never thought of it that way, and this gives me hope. From now on, I will never underestimate the potential power of my words, his support systems, rehab, AA, counseling, or any other intervention. Any or all of these might end up being a big part of his decision to choose health.

My reflection: For fourteen years, I searched for the one thing that would change the course of my son’s illness. I finally realized that it wasn’t mine to find. 

Today’s Promise to consider: We all want to find the ‘magic bullet’ that will change the course of addiction, the one thing that will make the difference and bring our loved ones back to life. For fourteen years, I searched for that elusive and miraculous power. In time, I learned that there was no Holy Grail, but that all the interventions in his life would accumulate to make a difference: from good things like AA, spirituality, the Big Book, friends, family, to bad ones like jail, loss of jobs, and destroyed relationships. But the most important thing I learned was that the final decision was his, and only his.

LET’S PREPARE OUR HEARTS FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Tara Brach, one of my favorite Buddhist practitioners, recently wrote, ‘While the holidays can be times of loving celebration, they can also highlight relational conflicts and challenges.’ Old patterns of behavior kick in, and we can get sabotaged by our own controlling natures. In her podcast, she offers ideas about how to bring loving kindness to ourselves and others. She posits, ‘We need to make space for us imperfect humans.’

My reflection: During my son’s many years of active addiction, I took no time to prepare my heart for the holidays. I was more like a train on an errant track, rushing to get through the holidays in one piece. Overwhelmed with emotions and fears, I plowed through each day.

Today’s Promise to consider: The holidays can be times of extreme stress for all families, and especially when addiction is involved. Let us prepare our hearts for the holidays and not place unreasonable expectations on ourselves or others. Life is limited and we aren’t guaranteed next year, so let’s make an intention – now and not in the New Year – to celebrate and be present for family and friends. As Tara says, ‘We are all imperfect. Let us connect with the gold inside us.’

Maya Angelou wrote:  

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,

People will forget what you did,

But people will never forget how you made them feel.

ADDICTION TAKES PRISONERS

A mother wrote to me: My son walked out of his fourth rehab, and in November of last year my husband kicked him out of our house, again. I couldn’t help but mourn. I lay on my bed and didn’t move for two days. He’s presently in an outpatient methadone program. His addiction has claimed him for five years. Methadone is not the answer I wanted for my son. I want to see him whole, clean, and well again. His drug addiction has had such a big impact on our lives. 

My reflection: No matter how hard I tried to keep my feelings and suffering to myself, my angst seeped into all my relationships, including my family, friends, and work. Yes, addiction has a huge and undeniable impact on all our lives.

Today’s Promise: Addiction takes prisoners: Parents argue, mothers mourn, siblings are heartbroken and angry, while our suffering loved one is in his own world, chasing his next fix. The entire family spirals into chaos and despair, which is why we must learn to take care of ourselves. When we maintain boundaries, participate in our support groups, and lean on faith, we’re better versions of ourselves – and better able to support our family ecosystems. It all starts with reaching out our hands. We are not alone.

TODAY LET’S LIGHT UP THE SKY WITH GRATITUDE

The Great Sufi Master, Hafiz, wrote:

THE SUN NEVER SAYS

Even

After

All this time

The sun never says to the earth, 

“You owe

Me.”

 

Look

What happens

With a love like that,

It lights the

Whole Sky. 

Today’s Promise to consider: The greatest gift we can give ourselves and others on this Thanksgiving Day is to be grateful for what we have, instead of grieving over what we have not. Let us hold our suffering loved ones in our prayers and ask for nothing in return. Let us open our hearts today and simply wish others well. Today, there is no self-benefit, no pain, no angst. Let’s allow our love and gratitude to light up the whole sky.

BOUNDARIES: ARE THEY IMPORTANT?

A mother wrote to me: Today I am struggling with Staying Close as I fear my son’s addiction is taking hold of him again. Part of me wants to say Stay Away, “I don’t want to be your mother anymore. I can’t continue to deal with your addiction.”

My personal reflection on the above passage: I know this feeling of wanting to run away from all the chaos that is addiction. There are times when we, as parents, are so overwhelmed with its myriad problems, legal issues, car crashes, lies, and betrayals that we just want to opt out. Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction psychologist, told me, “Obliterating relationships won’t obliterate addiction. I know that parents want the pain to stop, but disowning their child does not alleviate the pain.”

Today’s Promise to Consider: Good, solid, and meaningful boundaries are essential when dealing with addiction. Every parent needs to say what she means and do what she says. This clarity will help not only the parent, but also her suffering child, who needs to know what he can expect. Today, I will tell him clearly what I can and cannot do, and I will mean it. I will follow through. I will respect my boundaries for his sake, and mine. I will stay close and pray that he chooses a different life.

PROTECTING THE INNOCENT ONES

by libbycataldi under family

 A mother wrote to me: My husband and I have tried everything, even letting our son stay in jail. I don’t know how our journey will end, but I pray that he will accept the help he so desperately needs. I feel such despair and such anger that this is happening to us. What makes it worse is that he is a father to a beautiful seven-year-old little boy, who I worry about all the time. He is such an innocent.

My personal reflection: Addiction brings entire families to their knees. We, as grandparents, often struggle doubly as we watch the damage extend from our children to theirs, who don’t deserve this turmoil.

Today’s Promise to Consider: Addiction isn’t fair and stops at nothing but full destruction. The children of our suffering loved ones get caught in the chaos, and we need to help them through their confusion and feelings of insecurity. I will stay close to my innocent ones and provide them a safe space in which to share their feelings. I will be strong for them and support them always, especially when their family systems are spiraling out of control.