Decision Making: Theirs and Ours

A mother wrote an email message to me. This is part of it: We have tried to stay close to our addicted son, but I think instead I have been enabling him. We hired a lawyer the first time, but my son did something worse and ended up in jail anyway. The last time, we got an attorney again, but with similar results. I know my son needs long-term rehab, but how does he leave everything and go away for a year or more? I don’t know what to do to save our son.

My personal reflection on the passage above offering my thoughts today: As parents, we want to save our children. But addiction is a confounding disease and we find that we are oftentimes powerless. Dr. MacAfee writes, “Family members repeatedly blame themselves and try to straighten out the addict. This is a mission filled with good intention, but unless the addict is ready to stop, good intentions are exploited. Addicts will do anything in their power to keep using, and family will do anything in their power to stop them.”

Our addicted children have to make the choice to get and stay clean. We can love them through it, but in our attempt to save them we often enable. This vicious cycle must be broken.

Today’s Promise to consider for all of us who love addicts: I will stay close and allow my loved one to choose a life of sobriety. I must stop denying him the consequences of his addiction. He must make the decision for himself and I must respect my boundaries.

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Pat Nichols
11 years ago

When I was faced with this decision I was only able to “let go, let God” when I trusted Him fully — when I went into my soul, paused and listened. Only then did I have the strength to let go, to understand acceptance. I began to allow others to help me, my Family Anonymous sponsor and my counselor; then I began the grieving process. There are no words to described what a difficult process we, as parents, face when dealing with an addicted child.

The good news is that where there is life, there is hope and parents who are in recovery themselves will find peace and serenity.

There is also books like, “Stay Close,” which are priceless!

Glenda
Glenda
11 years ago

First off that picture of your son made me smile Libby! It also shows hope. The last time I posted here my son’s girlfriend had given birth to an addicted baby who is still in the hospital being weaned until towards the end of this month. This broke our hearts. During these last couple days our son has been trying to quit morphine cold turkey and it’s been heartbreaking. I am afraid to hope too much because it hasn’t helped in the past but there is still a faint flutter there, a “what if this is it??” that reminds me of this quote by Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

and I guess I won’t ever stop hoping, even though I’m afraid of being disappointed again. I pray he has the strength to do it this time.

Victoria
Victoria
11 years ago

Libby,
Awesome topic! My son just celebrated 60 days clean/sober:) I have hope, guarded hope, but hope just the same. I have been struggling with decisions, his/mine. Am I helping him too much, not enough? Is he making good decisions? I told my Al-Anon Sponsor and this is what she said: People say that success really teaches the addict nothing. They learned from failure. So, he failed, he’s found his way to The Healing Place, where now, he has a chance to succeed from that failure. Allow him the dignity of sorting this out so he can find out where he was, how he got there, and work through what he has to, in order to put his life back on track. Then, when he’s out….he’ll remember that failure that took him there and he’ll remember that sweet personal success and honorable hard work that took him out of the darkness and into the light”
Hope this helps someone else as much as it helped me.
Love,
Victoria

Libby
Libby
11 years ago

Dear Pat,

Your note brought tears to me. You and I have written to each other before, and I hear in your words hope and acceptance. You are so right, “The good news is that where there is life, there is hope and parents who are in recovery themselves will find peace and serenity.” God bless you for teaching me and all of us that this life with addiction is a journey for parents and our children. There are no easy answers, but where there is life there is hope. My love to you.

Libby

Libby
Libby
11 years ago

Dear Glenda,

Thanks for the sweet comment about Jeff’s picture. You’re right – he shows hope and life. His radiant smile was gone for many years, but for today it is back. Your son is trying to quit on his own. This is so difficult and it is heartbreaking. Jeff did this twice at my home and it still brings back sad, sad memories. As Jeff once told me, “I wanted to quit and I never wanted to hurt anyone, but I’m an addict.”

Emily Dickinson’s words are lovely and I thank you so much for posting them, “hope…perches in the soul…and never stops at all.”

Stay strong and know that we are with you. With love and respect,

Libby

Libby
Libby
11 years ago

Dear Victoria.

Wow – I love what your sponsor said: “Allow him the dignity of sorting this out so he can find out where he was, how he got there, and work through what he has to, in order to put his life back on track. Then, when he’s out….he’ll remember that failure that took him there and he’ll remember that sweet personal success and honorable hard work that took him out of the darkness and into the light”

I’ve asked many addicts, “What brought you to recovery?” Everyone so far has had a similar answer, “The consequences. I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. I decided that I couldn’t continue to live my life and that I needed to change.”

After at least a year of recovery, I asked them, “What keeps you sober?” Their answer, “The benefits of living a sober life. I can’t go back to where I was.”

Victoria, your sponsor’s words ring so true with all the things MacAfee taught me especially, “allow them the dignity of their choices and the personal success of their honorable work.”

With love and thanks,

Libby

Ann
Ann
11 years ago

Libby,
I write this through a mist of tears. I thank God that my Google search brought me to you. I’m still in the grips of this enmeshed relationship with my son. He is 20 and was in rehab for 40 days in March/April 2010 – had been using since 13 I found out, and it escalated to 120 mg daily of Oxy & Morphine. He is now back at college (on an academic scholarship) and during his X-mas break at home I found signs of pot and possibly cocaine (I am still obsessed with searching his room and clothing and found signs). He is on Suboxone for the opiate addiction. (Are you familiar with Suboxone?) I am a nervous wreck …. how am I going to live through another summer of the insanity? I’ve tried Alanon & he’s tried AA/NA but there is virtually no recovery in our remote area of Wisconsin. I suppose I could drive an hour to bigger cities to try those meetings – but I work full time and am busy with the rest of my family. In the meantinme I pray and cry and keep reaching out to my son. I can’t believe his promising life has been reduced to chasing a daily high. And yes, I can’t believe I failed so miserably as a mother. Thank you, Libby, for your honest, loving, and straightforward approach. Your son’s and your stories are an inspiration. I don’t want to give up hope. I don’t want my son to give up hope. But it feels so hopeless sometimes when I read that only 1% of opiate addicts find long-term recovery.

Libby
Libby
11 years ago

Dear Ann,

I’m sorry that you are in such pain and please know that you are not alone. Your words are true for so many of us who want to help and to save our children. Your son is in college and has so much potential.

You need support; we all do. The one thing I would like you to hear is that you are NOT a failure. Addiction steals our children. My son once told me, “I didn’t want to hurt you or anyone, but I’m an addict.” I never realized that Jeff lived with self-loathing and incredible pain, too.

Our book Stay Close might help. In it, Jeff and I both talk about Suboxone: How I thought it was a saving drug and how he abused it. We also talk about his wanting to come home for the summer months during college break. Dr. MacAfee, Jeff’s therapist, wrote the epilogue and he has over 40 years of experience helping people find sobriety. He was our north star. https://www.libbycataldi.com/

My love to you. Let’s keep each other in prayer.

L

Zack
Zack
11 years ago

I am 23 and from Calvert. I am also a recovering addict. And the one thing that I have is my mom’s love and support. Not a dollar for the attorneys, gas, cigarettes..nothing. And when she started Al-Anon it helped save my life that much more. You have to let go and let God. I have seen many die from this disease and as sad as it may you have to help him help himself. Not just you helping. That gets us nowhere. Ive been to a few rehabs and moved a hundered times. Let go and love.

Libby
Libby
11 years ago

Dear Zack,

I thank you with all my heart for writing. This thought, coming from you – a recovering addict, speaks loud and clear to parents. God bless you for your courage and honesty.

Our family is from Calvert (and maybe you know this), so I feel a connection with you. Jeff started in Calvert and moved to Baltimore, then Boston, NY and from there he almost lost himself. Fourteen years.

God bless you and your mom. Please tell her that I admire what she’s done for herself and you. Stay strong and stay close.

I will keep your words close: Let go and love.

With respect, Libby

Zachary S
Zachary S
11 years ago

Dear Ms. Cataldi,
Hey i wrote you a few weeks back. The 23 year old from Calvert. Im sitting here reading the post from the “addict” that got clean in high school. As a recovering addict myself, I believe that in many ways that yes the youth today has easier access to using but I do not believe that you can be addicted at such a young age. I believe we are addicted to something more. I think what especially parents need to see is that we so called experiment to fit in. To show off. To be the cool kid. And going through school one would want to keep the reputation as the kid that knows how to party because they see their “friends” everyday and does not want to be seen as a poser or whatever. I believe it is when an individual is seperated from a norm and still has a desire to act a certain way even though they do not need to. I am having hell trying to word this I hope you can see where I am trying to take this email. I was doing some research on how drugs impact a developing brain and how it stunts brain growth all the way up to age 25 even. When I got clean I was 23 and still had alot of growing up to catch up on. And today I see alot in the youth these days and I am sure it has always been there but the lack of sense of self, the indecisiveness, the desire to be a part of something bigger. The pursuit of friends and populartity. I am not saying that kids using at 13 like the one posted was ever an addict when they decided to get clean. Maybe they just woke up to realize they were messing up. Youth are very impressionable and I think that there is a whole different type of addiction manifesting itself in todays youth. Yes drugs and alcohol play a huge role but I believe that it is an addiction for acceptance among peers, especially older ones today. I was just curious as to see what you think of this seeing as you went through this whole ordeal with jeff and maybe initially this is how we started using and then over time as we realized drugs did not make us friends it makes us happy. Sorry this is so long but for some reason i feeel compelled to contact you because my story is jeff’s. My mom teaches in Calvert and I have grown up here. I run from myself as Jeff did. I feel like we have the same story and with not alot of people to talk to you I think maybe I can seek your wisdom. Thanks so much for hearing me out Ms.Cataldi. Hope you had a nice Valentines Day. Talk to you soon.
Sincerely, Zachary S

Libby Cataldi
11 years ago

Dear Zachary,

Thanks for reaching out and for writing. You express yourself beautifully and I hear you and agree with you. Jeff has said pretty much the same thing: “Things started innocently with pot and beer. It was a party and it was lots of fun. But what started as a party ended as a sandstorm and I couldn’t get out.” He still says that his early years of drug abuse were some of the most fun years of his life. He looks back on his time in Baltimore when he had just graduated from high school and was ready to go to college. He lived a crazy life, but in his own way he loved it and has fond memories of those years and his friends during that time.

Some kids can stop. Jeff couldn’t. Once Jeremy said, “Bro, just stop.” Jeff responded, “It’s all about going to the next level.” Jeff and Jeremy were different: one was an addict; one was not.

Addiction is confounding and parents need to hear what you and Jeff say. Kids often start out ‘playing’ with drugs: it’s all cool. That is until it becomes a way of life and then everything turns upside-down.

Thanks, Zachary. Stay strong and keep helping others. In order to keep it, we gotta give it away. Libby