I recently read a story about a mother who saw a homeless boy on the streets and, in the young boy, she saw her own son, who also suffered from the disease of addiction. She talked with the boy and asked him his name. He told her that he wanted to get clean, but that he felt lost and couldn’t figure out how the system worked to be able to access free recovery. He’d given up. She helped him find a treatment center, and he entered of his own accord. The world is full of angels.

My reflection: In my own life, there have been people who have, by coincidence ‘shown up,’ seemingly, out of thin air to help me. When I called a woman whom I didn’t know and asked about Al-Anon, she immediately and without a question, took me to three different meetings until I found my home base. That began my healing.

Today’s Promise to consider: During my son’s fourteen-year struggle with addiction, many angels entered his life, particularly his sponsors in AA. In those rooms, he found people, who knew his walk and were willing to guide him, and to love him back to health, however momentarily my son’s health lasted before he continually relapsed. Over and over again, he reached out his hand, and someone was there. Dr. MacAfee was the angel who helped my son to ultimately find himself, and to this day we honor the good doctor’s memory. God bless all our children’s angels.


by libbycataldi under family

From my son, I learned that the knowledge that our family was waiting for him when he got healthy was an important part of his recovery. He knew that when he made the decision to live a sober life, we would be at his side. 

The words of Johann Hari in Chasing the Scream echo in my mind: For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

My reflection: Years ago, the Director of a branch of San Patrignano in Italy taught me the meaning of stagli vicino (stay close to him). He counseled me to stay close, but out of the chaos of my son’s addiction. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is a family disease, and we are all involved, hurt and traumatized. We must learn to define and protect our boundaries, but we also should recognize that family members can be powerful parts of the medicine of recovery. Today, I’ll stay close in love and prayer.


From my son, I learned that an important part of his recovery was the knowledge that our family was waiting for him when he chose health. He knew that when he made the decision to live a sober life, we would be at his side. 

My reflection: A wonderful man was the director of San Patrignano, a recovering community, in Florence, Italy. He taught me the meaning of stagli vicino (stay close to him). He counseled me to stay close to my son, but out of the chaos of his addiction. 

Today’s Promise to consider: There was a time when the standard advice to parents of children suffering from substance abuse was Tough Love. While there are some aspects of merit to this thought, in Italy I learned a more effective approach for our family: Stay Close. Don’t abandon your child, but stay out of the chaos of his addiction. By staying close but out of the turbulence, my son knew my boundaries, yet he also felt connected. He knew he was not alone in his battle. Through addiction’s trauma, family can be part of the medicine of recovery.


A mother wrote to me: My daughter struggled with addiction issues for over ten years. Today, she has risen from the ashes and is doing well. I still hold my breath a bit when I don’t hear from her regularly, but each time she reaches back out she is stronger than before. She has been fully sober for almost three years. I cannot say that the inner voice of fear doesn’t call to me, but most days, most hours, and most minutes, I rejoice with her and enjoy this beautiful time of sobriety.

My reaction: Fear is a powerful force. When my son was in active addiction, I lived in constant worry. When he changed his life and started to live in health, I thought the fear would go away, but it continued. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Trusting that our 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 trauma. I once asked Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, when the fear would go away, and he said, “Your feelings are normal. You’ve been vigilant a long time. Be patient with yourself.”



by libbycataldi under family

I’m currently listening to a course on mindfulness called, “Cloud Sangha,” where Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, authors and Buddhist practitioners, offer daily 10-minute training sessions. In one session, Jack talked about the conflicting feelings we might harbor with those we love. We can feel love, care, anxiety, resentment, tenderness, attachment, frustration, and compassion, all at the same time. In a single morning, we can experience a whole variety of strong feelings and emotions. Emily Dickinson calls these the “mob within the heart.”

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction – and even in my daily life today – I am awash with emotions, often about the same person or event. Love, resentment, joy, anxiety, care, anger, and betrayal can exist in me, all at the same time.

Today’s Promise to consider: We, who love those with substance abuse problems, feel deep love for our children, yet we often also feel betrayed, tricked, abused, and hurt. For the longest time, I couldn’t jive these conflicting feelings. How could I love my son, yet feel such anger at him? I realize now that these conflicting feelings – the mob within the heart (Emily Dickinson) – are normal. They make us human. Being human can hurt.


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.


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.



A dad told me: When I visited my son at his halfway house, I asked him, “If you feel yourself slipping or getting into the danger zone, what should I say or do to you to help?” He answered, “Nothing. If I need help, I need to reach out to these people around me. They know my walk.” I felt relieved when he said this to me because I just want to be his dad.

My reflection: As parents, we put huge pressure on ourselves to solve our children’s problems and lift them out of the chaos drugs create. In reality, we’re not best suited for the job. Our children have entire communities in AA, NA, or other groups who know their walk and who are ready to reach out their hands.

Today’s Promise to consider: We, as parents, can offer our children our support, love, and words of wisdom. We can and should Stay Close. But we also must acknowledge that programs like AA and NA are more helpful in providing the help they need. There, they will find people who are also on the path of sobriety. Today, I’ll step aside and allow my child to be part of their recovering community. I’ll be ‘just his mom,’ or ‘just his dad,’ the person who will always love him.


A young man in recovery wrote to me: My mom told me that reading the book STAY CLOSE was very difficult for her, but that she recognized her own life throughout the story. When she told me this, our conversation was remarkable – the tone of her voice and the way she spoke to me. She seemed calm and, when I said something funny, she laughed. I cannot tell you how long it has been since my mother actually listened to my voice and listened to what I was saying. Something magical happened. She saw me as her son again. She looked me directly in the eyes and finally, after about fifteen years, she was able to stop giving me one-armed, sideways hugs, and instead she wrapped both arms around me. For that, I will be forever grateful.

My reflection: When we open our hearts and listen deeply to our suffering loved ones, we make room for magic to happen. Stories about addiction often allow for that by reminding us that we’re part of a large and worldwide community of others who know our struggles and pain.

Today’s Promise: Those brave souls in recovery desperately want to ‘be seen’ by those they love. They need to feel a connection, especially with their families and, even more so, with their mothers. The young boy above eventually relapsed and passed away, but he left this earth knowing that his mom, “saw me as her son again.” God bless him.




A mother wrote to me: My son was handsome, respectful, smart, athletic, and funny. 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 are like.

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

Today’s Promise: Judgment comes swiftly when people hear that our children are suffering from drug abuse. Society criticizes us and holds us at fault, but these are the chains of addiction. Maybe it’s impossible for others to understand the crisis we parents face when the nightmare of addiction enters our homes. Maybe it’s impossible for others to understand the toll it takes on the entire family and the countless efforts we make to stem the tide. I’ve come to realize that all I can do is educate myself, follow my heart, lean into my support group, and pray for my child’s healing.