A mother wrote to me: My son is a recovering alcoholic, but he doesn’t know how to live in recovery. Sure, he knows that he can’t drink or hang out at parties, but it’s tough for him. He was used to having drinks with his brothers and friends. When they were young, my husband and I had parties where there was drinking. Now I wish I had never drunk in front of my kids. We are a big football family, so I don’t have to tell you what Sundays are like around this town. Very hard for a recovering addict.

My reflection: How do addicts learn to live in abstinence? Dr. MacAfee says this is the essential question.

Today’s Promise to consider: We know a lot about addiction, but we don’t know much about how addicts learn to live in sobriety. My experience is that AA and NA gave Jeff a recipe for living that underscored accountability, faith and contribution. Simultaneously, Al-Anon provided me a community of people who helped me prioritize self care. Today, I will support those I love with compassion and understanding as they relearn how to live life. This includes me.

Misconception #7: Life in sobriety is easy

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

From my son, I learned: that life in sobriety is one-day-at-a-time. Recovering addicts must learn to take risks and live with courage. When Jeff went back to work in sobriety at a PR firm, he felt like he was constantly walking on eggshells, one step away from being fired every day for the first year. He didn’t feel qualified, felt in over his head, but he tried his best and became a strong employee. When he moved on to start his own company, his boss thanked him for his important contributions.

My reflection: Jeff and I spoke to a group of recovering addicts at a treatment center and, after our presentation, a seventeen-year-old boy said to Jeff, “I can’t even skateboard to the same music I used to. When I do, I think immediately of drugs.” Jeff replied, “Yep, I had to re-learn everything when I got sober. I didn’t even know what color I liked best.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovery requires a ‘control-alt-delete’ on the old life. Addicts know well how to exist in their illness, but when they are sober, everything is new: social time with friends, a Saturday night date, and how to be a responsible employee. Learning to live in sobriety is not easy. I respect those who stay close to the program and commit to living a healthy life in recovery.






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.


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.





Uncle Jeff and niece Iysa

Uncle Jeff and niece Iysa

A mother wrote to me: I am the mother of a heroin addict. He is 18 years old and living at home. We have been through a lot over the last two years, but I’m afraid that we are just at the beginning of his addiction. He has been in and out of rehab centers because we’ve forced him to go. He believes he can overcome his addiction on his own; he won’t go to AA or get any help. I fear the future. I am worn down, both emotionally and physically. 

My reflection: Can an addict get clean without help? After my son’s second recovery center, he said, “If you’re not working against addiction, it returns. It’s inevitable. The time in treatment was helpful, but it was too early for me. The consequences of my use had been minimal and I was convinced that I could control my using. I refused to accept that drugs had become bigger than I was.”

Today’s Promise: Sobriety is a choice that only our loved one can make. Addiction professionals and the Big Book of AA say that sobriety is best achieved by diligently working a program of recovery. I will encourage my loved one to get help. I pray he fights for his own sake, and ours.


Uncle Jeff and Niece Iysa making s’mores

An Italian friend sent me a poem written by the Uruguayan poet, Mario Benedetti. A young man in recovery told her that he had to hurry to finish the program, to find a job and a house. She shared this poem with him as a way of saying that recovery takes time: time to start to live again, time to reestablish connections with family and society, time to change old habits and to start new ones. Recovery is the time to learn how to live in abstinence.

How do I let you know?

How do I let you know that there is always time?…

That no one sets rules, but life …

That wounds heal …

That it never hurts to be thankful …

That nobody wants to be alone …

That to receive we must also know how to ask …

That one feels with the body and mind …

That it costs to be sensitive and not get hurt …

That it would be better to build bridges

That on them we reach the other side and also come back …

How do I let you know that no one set rules, but life? 

Today’s Promise to consider: For both the persons in recovery and their families, recovery takes time. Wounds heal, but the process takes time. New memories are made, but they take time. We may all be in a rush to start a new life together, but time can heal, and time takes time.



jeff_TM (1)

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A recovering addict told me, You know, you can’t force sobriety on anybody. Cause Mum tried everything. She gave me money, didn’t give me money, made me go to rehab, didn’t make me go to rehab, drove down four or five hours to pick me up, and on the other hand left me somewhere. Nothing worked. No matter how many rehabs I’ve done or how many counselors or meetings I went to, I never got it, until one day I was just sick of it and had enough. 

My reflection: Over the years, I tried countless ways to force sobriety on Jeff. I threatened him that if he didn’t go to rehab I would never give him another cent or allow him to come home again. One time, I told him that I would cut him out of my will. I cried, yelled and bargained. I would have sold my soul if that would have made the difference.

Today’s Promise to consider: We can try to force our loved ones into sobriety, and it might work for some. For my son, it never did. I learned that it didn’t matter if the treatment center had a swimming pool, horseback riding or massages. I learned that my son had to be ready to change, and that happened when the pain of his using became too much for him to bear. I thank God every day that he came back home to himself and us.



IMG_0787 copyWhen you meet a clean drug addict

You meet a hero.

Their mortal enemy slumbers within them:

They can never outrun their disability.

They make their way through a world of drug abuse,

In an environment that does not understand them.

Society, puffed up with shameful ignorance,

Looks on them with contempt,

As if they were a second-class citizen

Because they dare to swim against the stream of drugs

But you must know:

No better people are made than this.

~Friedrich von Bodelschwingh 1831-1910

My reflection: Addicts are often considered second-class citizens, junkies, losers and scourges in the community. While it’s true that our loved ones in active addiction are not contributing to society, it’s also true that when they find the strength to live in sobriety, they return to life with a commitment to service, to help others and to make a difference.

Today’s Promise to consider: It takes courage for someone addicted to drugs to pick himself up and to change his life. It takes strength for him to live a life of abstinence. It takes grace for him to serve others and to give back. Today, when I meet a person in recovery, I’ll tip my hat in honor of his journey.


Jeff and friend Jason

Jeff and friend Jason

A nationwide survey, conducted over four years and funded by the National Institutes of Health, asked almost 10,000 people in recovery to define what “being in recovery” means. The researchers identified 39 descriptors, including:

Recovery is being honest with myself.

Recovery is being able to enjoy life without drinking or using drugs, i.e. abstinence from all alcohol and drugs.

Recovery is living a life that contributes to society, to my family and to my betterment.

Recovery is giving back.

(For all the results and definitions, please see http://whatisrecovery.orgThanks to Cathy Taughinbaugh for bringing this to our attention.)

My reflection: The goal of this project was, “to develop a way of defining recovery based on how it is experienced by those who actually live it.” It is the largest and most comprehension research project ever conducted about recovery, with results compiled from interviews and questionnaires from people addicted to all kinds of substances, including alcohol, prescription drugs and illegal drugs.

What’s so exciting about this project? This research project is like the shot heard by many. It confirms and affirms that society is paying attention to the many deaths from overdose each year, prescription drug abuse and alcoholism. For change to happen, the problem must be acknowledged on a grand scale. The What is Recovery Project is doing just that.



Jeff and Granddad Cataldi

Jeff and Granddad Cataldi


I asked a young man, who has been sober for almost three years, what he’s learned from recovery. He wrote:

Change is constant.

What’s that about?

Life is in motion. And

It’s happening now.

Life in Recovery? (life as a healthy human)

Draw on the past

Hope for the future

With my feet in today

My reflection: When Jeff became sober, he faced a myriad of problems caused by his years of using: financial, health, legal and personal. He had to take one day at a time, live in the present and trust that with persistence, sobriety and faith, he would piece his life back together. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Keeping both feet in today is a challenge. Our busy minds swing between replaying the past and fast forwarding into the future and, in doing so, we find ourselves living in a world of regrets and projections. Today, I’ll do my best to be present and to appreciate the magic in everyday moments.