Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler with Libby Cataldi
Addiction is a family disease that storms in like a tornado and leaves its victims shattered. I know because I, along with many other mothers, witnessed my own son’s struggle with drugs and alcohol. When I met Libby Cataldi online, I knew I had met a kindred spirit. Libby shares the hard-earned lessons she learned from dealing with her son’s drug addiction in her memoir, Stay Close: A Mother’s Story of her Son’s Addiction. I featured Libby in this recent post. Today, she will discuss lessons she learned from her son about sobriety.
Seven Things I Learned From My Son About Sobriety
My son is a recovering heroin addict and his addiction lasted fourteen years. At the end of his using, he was shooting heroin into his neck, having destroyed his veins in his arms, legs and feet. Today, he is ten years sober. That doesn’t mean his addiction is over, but it does mean that Jeff made the decision to change his life.
Here are some things that I’ve learned:
- It takes courage to live in sobriety. I once told Jeff, “You have courage to try again.” He replied, “Courage. That’s not a word usually used with addicts.” But it takes courage. Every day, he must make the decision to live a sober life.
- The community of AA was and is an important part of my son’s recovery. There he found people who knew his journey and have walked in his shoes. Jeff learned to lean on that community and to contribute to it. He gave the 12 steps a chance and they changed his life. In AA, each person makes a difference. They saw him: They celebrated his successes and stood with him when he was in need.
- Addiction is a family disease and we all suffer. But family can be healing, a part of the medicine. In sobriety, when we saw Jeff taking responsibility for his life, our arms and home opened. Trust takes time, so we each needed to be patient with each other. Success isn’t short term. It takes time for life to settle down and for new structures to be built.
- Life in sobriety is an adventure. My son learned to take risks, live with courage and have fun. He told me that when he went back to work in sobriety at a PR firm, he felt like he was going to get 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 left, they thanked him for making an important contribution to the company. As they say in AA, “Suit up and show up.”
- Life in sobriety is worth living. Jeff told me that drugs were about excitement – big weekends and bursts of pleasure. Sobriety outweighs all that. Being clean lets a person build a life of substance with real relationships, people who depend on him, a career he can count on. Jeff says that the biggest realization of all is that life is incredible without drugs and he can’t imagine losing the things he now has.
- Service is an important part of recovery. Learning to live in sobriety is about giving and receiving. In AA , the saying is, “In order to keep it, you have to give it away.” Reaching out a hand to help another person strengthens each of us.
- For my son, his sobriety is based on his spiritual practice. Every morning, he reads, stretches, meditates and prays. His life is based in honesty with everyone he meets, and with himself.
The Buddhists say that suffering serves to awaken compassion. My prayer is that all the suffering we’ve been through leads us to greater compassion for our addicted loved ones and for ourselves. Miracles happen. I’ve seen them.
Libby Cataldi was the head of a private school and prided herself on being attuned to the problems her students endured. So how was it that she missed her own son Jeff’s descent into addiction, even as he escalated to more and more dangerous drugs? How did Jeff, a loving brother and son, and a star athlete, start using in the first place? And how could Libby help him without risking the rest of her family?
“Stagli vicino”, an Italian recovering addict told the author. “Stay close―never leave him, even when he is most unlovable.” This is not a book about how to save a child. It is a book about what it means to stay close to a loved one gripped by addiction. It is about one son who came home and one mother who never gave up hope.
Stay Close is one mother’s tough, honest, and intimate tale that chronicles her son’s severe drug addiction, as it corroded all relationships from the inside out. It is a story of deep trauma and deep despair, but also of deep hope―and healing.
He told her, “Mom, never quit believing.” And she didn’t.
“Hope finds its strength in the heart, not the brain. With addiction, the events often spell disaster, and I found that only love could combat my despair. My younger son once asked, “Momma, how will you end the story about Jeff?” I admitted, “I don’t know, Jer. It’s not my story to end.” His answer was clear, “But that’s the point. We don’t know what will happen to Jeff, but no one can ever take away our hope. You have to end the story in hope.”
Thank you Libby and Jeff for sharing your love and hope. Your courage in sharing your story gives me hope for my own story and I know touches many who deal with addiction in a loved one. May we all stay close as we move forward one day at a time in love and hope.
How about you? How do you find hope for an addicted loved one?
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Memoir Author Dorit Sasson will return to discuss her upcoming memoir, Sand and Steel.