Two Sides of Addiction: Mother and Child
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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My biggest powers are acceptance and unconditional love.