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I’M IN CONTROL OF JUST ONE PERSON: MYSELF

by libbycataldi under family

A dad wrote to me: I got so tired of the lies and the constant drama that our family had to endure. 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. My dad’s words rang in my ears, “Just tell him to stop.” It took me years of pain to realize that my best efforts couldn’t end the chaos of addiction in our family.

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.

THEY NEED SOMEONE TO BELIEVE IN THEM

A mom wrote to me, As I type this, our son just started methadone treatment, and our daughter is in a 28-day treatment program after being released from detox. I have to admit that I think it’s unfair that both our children are drug addicts, but I never lose faith. I keep praying for them to get well. It has been a nightmare of epic proportions and my husband and I are so very tired of living all that comes with dealing with addicted children. We just want them to get better and be able to lead healthy and productive lives.

My reflection: This mom is correct that addiction is a nightmare of epic proportions. I remember well the depression, the ache, and the suffering that our family endured during Jeff’s illness. I remember praying to find the silver bullet that would cure my son and stop the addiction. Unfortunately, there isn’t one.

Today’s Promise to consider: We all need someone to believe in us. Living in the solution takes monumental faith, courage, and determination from us and our suffering loved ones. While they try to find their way home to themselves, they need to lean on someone else’s strength. Positivity is a super power – one we can transmit. My son once asked me, “Never quit believing, OK, Mom?” I answered, “I won’t quit believing. Never.”

 

CREATING JOY IN THE MIDST OF ADDICTION

Lynn Lyons, LICSW, offered her thoughts about how important it is for us to create moments of joy for our children, especially when we are making our way through difficulties.

Her mother sent her a 15-second video of her 79-year-old father vacuuming while blasting his favorite 50’s music. While she watched her father dance and sing, she said, “It made me have this sense that things will be OK.” She went on to say that our children need to see us laugh, smile, sing, or do anything that shows some happiness. These moments can help our family members feel more secure during the crises of addiction.

My reflection: When my son was using and on the streets, the chaos, worry, and fear affected every part of my life. For example, when my sons were little, we used to dance around the kitchen as I cooked and they helped. When addiction entered our lives, the dancing stopped.

Today’s Promise to consider: This day is all we have, and we’re not entitled to tomorrow or the day after. Yet, we often allow ourselves to become so embroiled with the fear of what might happen in the future, that we forget to create joy today. We forget about self-compassion and self-care. We owe it to our other children, to our husbands or wives, to throw off the shackles of addiction – if even for a moment. Today, let us take a minute or two to smile, dance, sing, or skip. Let us show our family that addiction doesn’t rule our lives.

ADDICTION AND RECOVERY: HOW TO TRUST AGAIN

by libbycataldi under family

A mom wrote to me: I wrote to you a few years ago about my son’s addiction. As every parent, we barely functioned for almost three years. After his marriage of two years ended, he went to rehab and a halfway house for some time. Today, he has a good job, met a great girl and seems to be doing well. He just announced his engagement and even though things seem better, I worry. I know I should have a positive outlook, but the past haunts me. How do you ever begin to trust and live without fear?

My reflection: I once asked Dr MacAfee this same question, “How do I learn to trust again? The past trauma is hard to forget, and I worry what might happen in the future.” The good doctor answered, “Your feelings are normal. You’ve been vigilant a long time. Be patient with yourself.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Trusting that a recovering loved one will stay well and not return to the chaos of addiction is difficult. Most of us have been deeply scarred by years of turbulence. Today, I’ll be gentle with myself. I’ll breathe, acknowledge my fear, and move toward releasing my worry. In doing so, I learn to live in the present. My loved one deserves this effort. So do I.

FEELING POWERLESS: ADDICTION AND LIFE

The pandemic, the continuing isolation, and the ever-present uncertainty have been increasingly difficult for me. Anxiety mounts, and I work to stay calm. I remember well these feelings of worry and concern. When my son was in active addiction, my mind was a whirlwind of thoughts of what could be and what I would do if the worst happened. This is a triggering place for me – a reminder that I need to take refuge in my spiritual practice.  

My reflection: I know well the feelings of stress that threaten to overtake me. I need to work to counteract these emotions. Addiction thrives on chaos.  

Today’s Promise to consider: When negative emotions engulf us, we need to implement the practices that are nourishing for our souls. For me, that means staying in gratitude, exercising (even when I don’t want to), writing, walking in nature, and meditating. We all have ‘go to’ routines that bring us some semblance of peace. Today, let us prioritize self care. Let us retrain our brain to stop ruminating, if even for a few minutes. Let us breathe and find our calm.

 

LOVE AND BOUNDARIES: A FINE LINE TO WALK

A mom wrote to me: When my son was little and struggled so much, I always seemed to be able to make it better. But addiction is not like that. The hard part for me was not staying close, but staying out of the chaos. And because the chaos of this disease is crazy making, it is so hard at times to not get sick from worry and fear. Depressed. Worn down.

Loving your child while learning about self-preservation and boundaries is so very hard. It is not natural to put oneself before a child, no matter how old, but giving in and giving money could have killed my son. Such a fine line to walk. Stay close means LOVE first, but stay out of the chaos. Take care of yourself. I send deepest prayers.

My reflection: During my son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction, I struggled with the line between love and boundaries. When my son was in pain, of course I rushed in to help. It took me years to learn that my version of help wasn’t helping.

Today’s Promise to consider: The line between love and boundaries might be the most challenging part of addiction. We parents want to help; we want to make things better. The question is: Are we helping when we deny our children the need to face the consequences of their addiction? The answer to this question is individual. We each need to make these kinds of decisions for ourselves.

THE HEALING POWER OF STORY

Barry Lopez wrote: Remember on this one thing…The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.

My reflection: I needed to hear other parents tell their stories about addiction. I needed to hear about their suffering and heartaches, but also about their hope and love. That’s one of the main reasons why Al-Anon meetings were so important to me. 

Today’s Promise to consider: There are few things more comforting than a moving story. When I was at my lowest point with my son’s addiction chaos, the stories of other parents connected me to them and helped me to feel less alone. I listened intently to how they handled their sadness, hardships, and joys. Their words helped me to understand and think about my own experiences, often giving the courage to move forward. Let’s continue to share our stories of both pain and joy.

ADDICTION TAUGHT ME THAT ANSWERS AREN’T AS IMPORTANT AS LOVE

Recently, I was faced with a family issue that had nothing to do with addiction, but had everything to do with what I had learned through my son’s fourteen-year struggle with heroin. All the suffering and confusion of those addicted years taught me that I don’t need to give instant answers. I can take time to breathe, keep my wits about me, and stay close. Problems can be opportunities for learning, and I learned in spades that answers aren’t as important as love and hope. 

My reflection: During the early years of Jeff’s addiction, my typical response was frustration, blame and anger. It took me years to accept that I was powerless to control his behavior, but what I could manage was my response.

Today’s Promise to consider: We can learn many valuable lessons from the trauma of addiction. Through my son’s fourteen-year struggle, my biggest breakthrough arrived in two words: Stay Close. For me this meant that I didn’t have to jump every time he called with a problem, and I didn’t have to provide answers every time he demanded one, but I could stay close and out of the chaos of his life. Today, I use this Stay Close mantra with all my loved ones.

ADDICTION AND COMPASSION, FOR ALL OF US

One of my favorite stories about compassion is told by Tara Brach. She writes: I often tell the story of a person walking in the woods and coming upon a little dog. The dog seems harmless, but when they reach out to pet the dog, it growls and lunges at them. The immediate response is fear and anger, but then they notice the dog has its leg caught in a trap and compassion begins to rise up in place of anger. Once we see how our own leg is in a trap and hold our experience with self-compassion, it becomes easier to see how others might be caught, too – causing suffering, because they are suffering.

My reflection: My son had his leg in the trap of addiction for fourteen years, and it took me about that many years to understand the depths of his suffering and the effects on our family.

Today’s Promise to consider: Compassion for our addicted loved ones often doesn’t come easily. We get caught in the downward spiral of blame, hurt, and anger. Tara Brach says that acceptance and compassion are not about condoning, complacency, or resignation, but rather the courageous willingness to face reality as it is right now. Today, let us work to understand our addicted loved one’s pain so that we might find compassion for them, and for ourselves in the process.

HOW DO WE FORGIVE?

A dad wrote: I have worked so hard on forgiveness. I have prayed for His Spirit to grant me the gift of forgiveness. I must somehow still be resistant. I sometimes, in prayer, feel I have forgiven, then the past comes back to haunt me and the anger and remembrance of betrayal returns and I am back where I do not want to be. Share with me, how do you forgive and stay in forgiveness?

My reflection: The Big Book tells us that resentments are toxic in the lives of recovering addicts. I think that’s also true for those of us who loved them. Was I resentful and unforgiving when my son was in active addiction? Yes. Did I try to blame others for the pain addiction caused? Yes. Did my resentments help my son? No. Did it help my family? No. Did it help me? No.

Before my mother died, she said, “Forgiveness comes in waves.”

Today’s Promise to consider: I don’t have a personal process for forgiving, but I do know that the release of resentment is central to my wellbeing. It’s easy to ruminate on past hurts, but when I consider the pain and suffering of the other person, it’s sometimes easier to let go of my discomfort. As one mom wrote, “It’s anger that keeps us hostage.” If you have a successful process to forgive, please let us know. We can help each other.