Two Sides of Addiction: Mother and Child

by Libby Cataldi
June 24, 2019

My son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction suffocated our family and brought us to our knees. Those who are reading this entry know the feelings of fear, guilt, deep shame, and confusion. In the end, my son made the decision to change his life with the help of his Higher Power and the support of our family. Today, my son is healthy and a contributing member of society, and every day I am grateful. Today, he and I talk about addiction with clarity and compassion. Today, I am able to see addiction through my eyes and his.

In the world at large, relatively few people truly understand the addictive condition as a legitimate, life-threatening illness. Rather, there is even general disgust not only for addiction but for the addicts themselves. My son once told me, “Society loathes addicts, and addicts loathe themselves.” This disdain and contempt permeate society, sometimes even within the individual family. By taking addiction out of the shadows and bringing it into the light, we are learning how to confront it.

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that love wasn’t enough to save my son from addiction’s clutches. The disease takes the healthiest parts of love and smashes them into worry, helplessness, and hopelessness. When my son was newly sober, I once said, “Jeff, look at all the damage you caused our family. Why didn’t you ever stop?” He looked at me with deep sadness, and tears welled in his eyes. “I tried to keep you out of things. I tried to keep you to the side. You’re my mom, and I never wanted to hurt you. But I’m an addict.”

Dr. MacAfee, Jeff’s beloved addiction counselor, once told me that, as a parent, I speak about addiction, but Jeff speaks from addiction. The difference is huge.

As a mom, I know only my walk, my suffering, and my desperate attempts to save my son. I learned that, for us, STAY CLOSE made all the difference. I learned to stay close, but out of the chaos of my son’s addiction. 

Jeff knows his walk and how he found recovery. Only he knows his suffering. Only he knows his desperation. Only he knows what it feels like to live on the streets, be locked up in jails, and to lose all sense of dignity and hope. Learning to live drug free touched every facet of his life. He had to learn to laugh without using, how to “do today” without using, and how to be intimate without using. There was no facet of his life untouched by his drug history. It was literally like starting his life over, yet with a memory of a life before.

We can walk together with our children. Miracles do happen. Staying close with love but staying out of the chaos might not change the course of addiction, but it opens the space for us to confront addiction with greater equilibrium, faith, and hope. It’s time for us to put fear aside and bring compassion forward—for ourselves and our children. If the worst happens, we will never regret responding with love.

Links from Libby Cataldi:

Book: Stay Close: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction
(St. Martins Press, Macmillan, NYC; translated and published by Rizzoli, Milan, Italy)

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Libby Cataldi

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  1. It wasn’t your son, it was the addict!!! My son was as addict since the age of 13 he is now 3o and by the grace of God he is going on 4 years clean!! I never gave up on my son because I knew it wasn’t him it was the drug, I lost 2 nephews and I wasn’t about to lose my son!! I we fought hard but it was him that fought harder to come back to be the son I knew I was the son I never gave up on!!! Yes people Judge but those who Judge don’t matter..but those who matter don’t Judge… yes I hit my knees every day and every night and Thank God for giving me my son a second no a 4 th chance!! And yes my son through everything never lost his faith in God, he know goes to church every Sunday he a relationship with his nephew and his niece and yes he has a wonderful girlfriend who he stays he’s going to marry ❤️God is Good!! Yes I’ve been through hell and back Losing 2 nephews who were like my own but I survived and my sister did and my brother did you see they were they were the ones that lost there boys?? So whoever reads this there is HOPE!!!!

    • Thank you for sharing your insight and strength, Kathy! Xoxoxo

  2. I believe there is hope for everyone I loss my son threw addiction ? I gave him lots of love and support but it wasn’t enough I watched him struggle he went to a few rehab places still I was there for him Now I’m watching my Niece go threw this it breaks my ❤️ and how it has infected all of us

    • Sandy, you are right, there is always hope. But all the love and support in the world doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. Because we don’t have control over another person. I’m so sorry addition has stolen away your son. Sending love and hugs to you.

  3. I want to understand the addicts point of view, I really do!! My daughter has walked away from 3 beautiful children and all of her family!! She was always a productive member of society, raising her babies virtually on her own. The kids dad is the one who introduced her to Meth, then heroin. I had the kids for 6 months, while she went through rehab the 1st time. She has, within the last year, hooked up with a POS who I feel is keeping her high just to keep her. He’s beat her and I’ve had her to the point of going I to a so shelter but then he convinced her to come back and right befor she was to go I to the shelter she disappeared. I haven’t talked to her in over 3 months and have no clue where she is. I worry constantly and its affecting my health. PLEASE, someone tell me how to deal with this, what to tell her kids, how to help her!!

    • The only way I have survived my daughter’s heroin addiction was to get help and support for myself. Can’t control it, Didn’t cause it, Can’t Cure it! 3 Cs, I get emails every day, I have a support group, I saw a counselor and still check in, I have co dependency cards I read every am and one in my jeep and 1 in my classroom, I reach out for help and move past the shame. You can’t do this alone! Alanon or Narcanon is good too. I pray all the time.
      For her: Set boundries when she returns and stick to them, that’s a hard one. Try not to dwell on the what if’s, underneath all the drugs is your daughter, who is struggling and in pain.
      What to tell the kids depends on their ages, I would ask their school counselor for resources and find a child counselor if they are old enough. Mommy is sick with a disease and needs help, and she loves you is what I would say. Surround them with people that love them and stay busy. It’s all the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life…Thank goodness her kids have you, God Bless you Tammy,

  4. My son is 18 months into his sobriety from opioid addiction after at least 20 yrs active using. Thank you for your words of clarity. As a family we have walked a jagged road.
    Each of his 4 siblings have had their journey with him. They continue to struggle with acceptance and compassion but currently… it seems as if they have an understanding of what is needed to stay close but not in the chaos of addiction. I really liked the way you stated how you talked about addiction and he talked from addiction.
    That made sense to me! Finally, words put to the idea.
    I know the anguish and the guilt and the sadness my son feels for what his addiction has ravaged from me. I explain it to him like this…. “I’m a sinner. I’ve done wrong, hurtful, mean and dishonest things in life through actions, thoughts and words. By what I’ve done and by what I have NOT done. God still loves me. He cares about me, he takes care of my needs, he provides for me, he accepts me, he continues to want the best for me. If God can do that for ME, FOR ME, when I think and feel I dont deserve it….. how can I NOT do my best to do the same for you, my child, whom God entrusted to me to take care of in this world?”
    Thank you for your share. I continue to walk this path next to me son and I have HOPE.

    • Heidi, thank you for sharing your wisdom and hope! Much love and hope back to you!

  5. I have been looking for a support group like this for two years! Thank you for showing up on my Facebook page this am- I want to be involved

    • Kathy….so glad you are here! Together we are stronger!

  6. Have 2 children one clean the other alcohol. Its been a nightnare on our entire family and marriage past 5 years.thank you for sharing this message

    • Sending hugs and hope to you, Mary.

  7. I wish I could continue to connect with love and support. But I have been raising my granddaughters for 10 years now. Realizing my support was only enabling him. My love was used and abused and kicked to the curb. I have exhausted my life savings. I love my son but there are two other little ones (his children) who did not deserve this either. Their mother, not my daughter – abandoned them for her love of drugs. I spent years trying to help her too. I am only 1 person trying to do the job of 20 (other grandparents will see the girls at their convenience – and guess who has to drive them and pick them up…. so it is easier to focus on trying to raise them to be strong, respectful, kind and caring young ladies rather than deal with everyone’s drama. I finally threw up my hands after more than 10 inpatient rehabs, in different parts of the state… maybe if there were mandatory 6 month rehab inpatient stays – our children might have a fighting chance. I cannot have my son living under my roof anymore. I hope and pray that God will save his life because I know all the love in the world from his children and myself can’t.

    • Tracy, you are connecting with love and support by caring for your granddaughters. How blessed they are to have you. Love is enough. You are amazing.

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