A mom wrote to me: We’ve corresponded a few times over the course of a lot of years as my son wandered through the maze of his addiction and I followed along, hanging onto his shirt tail trying to keep him safe. Of course, that didn’t work. I know more about addiction now than I ever wanted to know. He’s five years clean this week. He’s living on his own, paying his bills, and working in the same job the whole time. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m filled with gratitude for today.  He has thanked me for not giving up on him, even when it was almost impossible to stay close.  

My reflection: I, too, hung onto my son’s shirt tail as I tried to keep him safe, and I, too, found that it didn’t work.

Today’s Promise to consider: When we are feeling battered by the consequences of addiction’s grasp on our children, it’s hard to stay close but out of the chaos. During my son’s fourteen-year addiction, I struggled tremendously with this concept. It wasn’t until I visited the Florence, Italy, office of San Patrignano that it started to make sense. A recovering man’s words hit me hard: “Love your son, don’t abandon him, but don’t give him money for anything – not his cell phone, not his car, nothing.” It was never easy to follow this advice, but I did. And, just as this mother, I stayed close, but with boundaries.



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 son got arrested and we hired a lawyer and bailed him out, but he kept using and stealing. He got arrested again and bailed himself out. We knew he was dying – his behavior was dangerous and reckless – so we asked the attorney to have the judge put him back in jail. We told our son we would not bail him out again. We explained that we loved him, but could no longer let his addiction destroy our family. All the love in the world was not enough to make him stop.

My reflection: All the love in the world will not stop an addict from using because addiction is the antithesis of love. Dr. MacAfee tells of a group therapy session when he asked a young man, “What is your drug of choice?” The boy thought carefully and responded, “more.” MacAfee explained, “The group answered with a consensus of silence, affirmative head nods. No addict ever intends to end up where he’s really going. Substance drives the addict.”

Today’s Promise: Our children are trapped in the disease of addiction and, although it doesn’t always look like it, they loathe the life they are living. Today, I will not feel betrayed. I will not feel self-blame. I will stay close and pray that my child decides to stop, for himself. I will continue to love him through it all, by remaining close, but out of the chaos.


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.


A friend wrote to me: The hardest thing of all for me is to see that we, families and friends, walk a different and separate path from those we love who suffer from the disease of addiction. How can we feel happiness or find peace when someone we love is in pain? We each have to answer that in our own way. I do not always follow this or do it with grace, but I keep trying.

My reflection: I went down the rabbit hole of grief with my son. As he suffered the ravaging consequences of his disease, so did I. As he fell deeper and deeper into addiction’s grasp, so did it. This didn’t help either of us. 

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s normal for us to feel deeply the pain of our suffering loved ones, but we can take this to the extreme and behave in ways that hurt family members, friends, and ourselves. Boundaries are difficult to maintain and they can be different for each of us, but we can’t allow addiction to swallow us whole. Let us meet our loved ones where they are. Let us pray for grace and wisdom.


A mom wrote to me: Your story meant I was not alone. I loved  my son even as I was terrified and, for so so long, I thought I could do something to fix him. When he 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 for those who love a suffering child, it is so hard at times to not get sick oneself from worry and fear. Depressed. Worn down. Giving in and giving money– which could have killed him. Such a fine line at times to walk.

My reflection: I, too, thought I could heal my son, change his life, and make things better. I couldn’t.

Today’s Promise to consider:  As parents, we often turn ourselves inside-out in an effort to ‘fix’ our suffering loved ones, until we realize that our help isn’t always helping. It took me fourteen years to accept that I couldn’t change my son’s destructive behavior. In time, I learned to stay close and continue to love him while I disengaged from the chaos of his addiction.


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.


A mom wrote to me: I know we are not alone, but I hate answering questions about my children. In fact, I avoided a gathering at my mother’s house with some dear neighborhood friends because I didn’t want to be asked how my sons were doing and have to pretend all is well. My dad has passed and his dearest friend asked me how I was doing with my boys. I answered honestly, “Not the best.” He replied with kindness, “I’m sorry. I see you are struggling.” He understood and didn’t judge me. I am blessed to have shared a few minutes with him.

My reflection: The Big Book of AA says that addiction can only be defeated through rigorous honesty and the help of a power greater than ourselves. There were many times I lied about my son’s addiction and our family problems. After much time and even more failed attempts at hiding the truth, I finally decided to respond honestly. It wasn’t easy, but I released myself from worrying about what people thought of me.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today I will listen to others without judging. I will respect their right to share their truth and I will be there for them, just as others were there for me. When I’m ready to answer questions about my child’s struggles, I will, but I won’t feel coerced into responding. I’ll listen to my gut and follow my heart. I will pray for wisdom.


A mother wrote to me, ‘Letting go and letting God’ must have no strings attached, that is, any expectations of outcomes. Death is a very real outcome in our stories. I remember when a friend confronted me with this. Yes, it is terrifying, and I lived in fear and worry for many years, often reacting in unhealthy ways, trying to fix and control. When I realized nothing I did made my son’s situation any different and, in fact, often made things worse, I hit my bottom. I had to save myself. This did not mean I turned my back on my son. I talked with him often, but I stopped trying to determine if he was sober or if he was using. I realized that I was powerless over another human being, no matter what the situation.

My reflection: Although ‘Let go and let God’ was my mantra for years, I just couldn’t relinquish the thought that I could change my son. I was convinced that love was stronger than the pull of addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s natural that want to save our children. When they are suffering, we are quick to jump into the fire and rescue them. It took me fourteen years to admit that I was powerless over my son’s addiction. I fought the good fight, but in the end HE had to save himself. Today, I will stay close and love my child, but I will stay out of the chaos of his addiction.


Gabor Maté, Hungarian-born Canadian physician and author of the highly respected book, In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, posits that addiction is rooted in the pain of individual trauma and family history. He emphasizes that addiction must be met with compassion and quotes the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: “Whatever you do, don’t try and escape from your pain, but be with it. Because the attempt to escape from pain is what creates more pain, and that’s the reality with addiction.”

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee, my son’s beloved addiction therapist, said, “Shining a flashlight on Jeff and his addiction never helped. I had to work with him with candle light.” MacAfee knew that my son needed gentle understanding.

Today’s Promise to consider: Gabor Maté asserts that addiction is rooted in pain and compassion is needed to counter the suffering. Several years ago, I surveyed forty-one recovering people and asked them, “What made you choose recovery?” Thirty-eight said, “When I was ready to change, someone was there for me after all the destruction. Someone still loved me and had stayed close.” Today, let us stay close and join in prayer that our loved ones choose sobriety. We will be there.