ONE LIFE AT A TIME: 41 years strong


Harry: A 22 year love affair with drinking, 17 years in the Navy, and now a drug/alcohol counselor celebrating 41 years of sobriety on March 23, gave me this poem:         

A little boy walked carefully along a crowded beach

Where starfish by the hundreds lay there within his reach.

They washed up with each wave, far as the eye could see

And each would surely die if they were not set free.

So one by one he rescued them, then he heard a stranger call,

“It won’t make a difference…you cannot save them all.”

But as he tossed another back towards the ocean’s setting sun,

He said with deep compassion,
”I made a difference to that one!”

My reflection: Harry has dedicated his life to helping those who are suffering find recovery. In his journey, he made a profound difference to my son and has made a difference to many others. Our family will be eternally grateful for his work.

Today’s Promise to consider: The Talmud says, “He who saves one life, saves the entire world.” Alcoholics Anonymous was started by one man: Bill Wilson. From there, countless lives have been saved. Great change can start with one person. Today, I’ll reach out my hand and help someone else. We can all make a difference – one life at a time.




Jeff and Grams Cataldi

Jeff and Grams Cataldi

A mother wrote to me: My youngest daughter is 19; she started with alcohol at age 12 and ended up a heroin addict. After many false starts and years of fearing that phone call when I would hear that she was dead, she finally entered an inpatient center. After completion, she wants to come home. I want her home, but I am also very realistic that we are NOT out of the woods by a long shot. She is going to need help from someone who truly “gets it” and is not family. Our family is still healing – we have a very long way to go.

My reflection: We need to stay humble in the face of addiction because it lurks in the shadows, always taunting and biding its time, gauging just the right moment when vulnerability is high and relapse is possible. Addicts need to work their program. For Jeff, this meant the twelve steps of AA, meeting with a sponsor and attending AA meetings. As his family, we could provide a loving shoulder for him, but the work of recovery is a personal process forged between the addict and his support group.

Today’s Promise: AA talks about rigorous honesty and a spiritual awakening as the way to keep sober. Recovery takes work, plain and simple, for the addict and for those of us who love him. I will keep hope.



Jeff and niece Iysa

Jeff and niece Iysa

A mom wrote to me, My son is coming home from treatment next week and I am excited to see him and at the same time afraid he will relapse. He knows what we are asking of him, but I remember when he was living at home we had many arguments because he was using and did not listen to us. Now that he is coming home, what should I do if he goes back to using and doesn’t listen to us again?

My reflection: I asked Dr. MacAfee for his advice, and he explained that, before the son left treatment, it was important for him to have a plan for continuing care and a list of people to call for help and support. For the family, boundaries were critical to put into place, i.e. what would they do if he were to relapse. The son needed to tell his parents how he would like them to help him accomplish his plan for sobriety along with him, not for him.

Today’s Promise to consider: When Jeff completed treatment and came home again, I felt great joy and hope But I was also afraid. Would he use again? Would he come home and respect the boundaries we had in place? These were normal fears. Al-Anon and other family support programs helped me. So did prayer.


Libby, Jeff and Jeremy

Libby, Jeff and Jeremy

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 addiction. 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 and to have faith in our abilities to overcome. The words that I wrote eight years ago remain true today:

“Never quit believing, OK, Momma?”

“I won’t quit believing, Jeff.”






Dr. Patrick MacAfee and Jeff

Dr. Patrick MacAfee and Jeff

A mom wrote to me, I just read your book and would like to know how Jeff is doing now.  I realize that you probably get 40,000 such inquiries weekly, but in reading your book, your family became an extension of my own as my son continues to battle his own addiction issues. I do hope and pray that all is well and that your family has found peace and contentment.

My reflection: This Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful to be able to respond to this question by saying, “Jeff is good today! He fought a hard battle, but he made the decision to change his life. He celebrated eight years of sobriety on July 21, 2014.” I’m also grateful that this mom knows she is not alone as she watches her son struggle to find his way out of the tunnel of drug addiction. I’m grateful she reached out to us.

Today’s Promise to consider: Life is never trouble free, but today I’ll concentrate on living in gratitude. Being grateful is essential to living in serenity. For our family, we are grateful that Jeff is healthy and living a full life for over eight years. We are grateful for today and we pray for tomorrow.


Jeff with Grandma Cataldi, our prayer warrior.

Jeff with Grandma Cataldi, our prayer warrior.

A mother wrote to me: I wonder how many prayers we have lifted up as parents of addicted children? And how many prayers others have lifted up on our behalf in an effort to do something, anything to support our both tender and strong parent hearts. How many prayers are lifted up, especially during those times when there is no clear answer to, “What do I do?”

A song: Below are two stanzas of a song written by John Elliot. The lyrics serve to remind us how much comfort and strength comes to us through those who never hesitate to ‘pray us along.’


Somebody’s prayin, I can feel it

Somebody’s prayin’ for me

Mighty hands are guiding me

To protect me from what I can’t see

Lord, I believe, Lord, I believe

Somebody’s prayin’ for me.


Well, I’ve walked through barren wilderness

Where my pillow was a stone

And I’ve been through the darkest caverns

Where no light had ever shown.

Still I went on ’cause there was someone

Who was down on their knees

And Lord, I thank you for those people

Prayin’ all this time for me. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Whether I believe in the power of prayer or not, today I will send forth into the universe positive thoughts and energy for my loved one and all those who are suffering. I will bombard the heavens with requests for love and strength.






IMG_0387Dr. MacAfee told me, There is a difference between willingness to change and readiness to change. Many times an individual has a moment of clarity when he becomes willing to see his situation, reaches out for help, or even stops using for a while. However, willingness doesn’t mean he is ready to stop using. Moving from willingness to readiness happens when the consequences of using become more painful than the use. This begins the crises. The decision to stop using is in the addict’s hands.

My reflection: The difference between being willing and ready is clear to me, especially when I reflect on Jeff’s words that he wrote eight years ago, I was done using and I knew it. Even my bones knew it. My obsession to use with control and temperance had disappeared. I saw where things were going and knew that if I didn’t stop, I was inches away from another devastating run. I’d been in the same space countless times before and chose differently – this scenario was familiar and it always ended badly. Before getting out of bed, I called a friend from treatment who was still sober and active in the program. I explained my situation and he understood. Things changed that day. 

Today’s Promise to consider: I understand that recovery is a painstaking process, a time of transformation when our loved one shifts from the person he was and becomes the person he wants to be. When the consequences of his addiction have worn him truly thin, he follows his road home. It is a deeply personal revelation that only he can navigate.



empty without purpose“I HAVE A PURPOSE”

I asked a young man, who has been sober for almost three years, what he’s learned from recovery. He wrote:  Today I can use my past to help myself and, more importantly, to help others. I don’t carry around shame and guilt about what I’ve done. I don’t dwell on the past, but it’s there if I need to use it. As for the future, I plan as far out as I need to, but I don’t obsess over events that haven’t happened. I don’t live in worry and fear. Instead, I have been made useful to others. I have a purpose.

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee says that addicts are saints in the making. They’ve lived a life that most of us will never know and, when they become healthy, they bring an immense energy, compassion and understanding to their families, communities and themselves.

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovering addicts know that they have an important purpose in life: to contribute, to serve and to help others. Jeff and other recovering people continue to teach me and to inspire me with their courage. They have wisdom born out of suffering and pain. We, who love them, also have a purpose: to reach out our hands and help another.


Jeff and niece Iysa

Jeff and niece Iysa


Jeff wrote: Getting sober is the most important thing an addict will ever do, but it has to be enjoyable along the way. It’s my opinion that recovery should include a sense of both seriousness and levity. A program involving step work and meetings and spirituality should be balanced with hang time with friends, art and exercise – or some combination of things we enjoy. Ultimately, sobriety is about restoring the fun and inspiration in our lives.

My reflection: When Jeff and I talked about this topic, I was confused and questioned him saying, “How is it possible to have fun in recovery? I thought changing from a drug-filled life to a sober life would be excruciating.” He responded with the message above.

Today’s Promise to consider: For both the addict and those of us who love addicts, recovery is a critical endeavor, but it’s also a time during which to have fun and rediscover the joys in life. We don’t forget the past, but we learn from it and embrace life again.


Jeff and niece Iysa

Jeff and niece Iysa

A mother wrote to me: My son was a star athlete in high school and at age seventeen began his downward spiral into this insidious disease. I taught in the school district that he attended so it was doubly hard getting calls just about every day from the RN to take him for a drug test. He fell asleep in class or didn’t even show up for school. I blamed myself – his dad and I had separated before this nightmare began so I assumed he took drugs to medicate himself or to use as a band-aid.

My reaction: We parents often blame ourselves for our child’s addiction. When our child is broken and ill, we would rather point to anyone, even ourselves, before we blame our addicted loved one. We feel powerless and assigning fault comes easily in moments of crisis.

Today’s Promise:Many experts say that addiction is an illness. Who is to blame for this illness? I will blame no one. Our family is affected by addiction. I will accept it, find strength in God and my recovering community, and go forward.