For every drug addict there are at least four people affected, a depressing assertion by some experts that is clearly borne out in this soft-spoken, utterly honest account by educator Cataldi. The mother of two sons, Jeff and Jeremy, Cataldi became head of the Calverton School in Maryland in 1987, where the boys attended; she recounts chronologically how her oldest, Jeff, a bright, capable student, embarked from adolescence onward into an ever deepening and perilous spiral of drug abuse. From getting caught smoking at school in fifth grade, attending drug-sodden raves in high school, being arrested for possession of cocaine and ketamine, and selling drugs on campus, Jeff was continually rescued by his take-charge but admittedly naïve mother, now divorced from their father. Entering Boston University seemed to give Jeff a fresh start, yet he was soon enmeshed in the party scene; in debilitating health, he dropped out and bounced around among halfway houses and rehab centers. Jeff had become a master manipulator to get his fix, even when later jailed for heroin possession, and Cataldi learned to stop enabling her "chameleon son" by joining Al-Anon. Taking an Italian expression to heart, stagli vicino, she learned to stay close and let Jeff find his way, and while her love proved steadfast, a safe outcome was never assured. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Stay Close: A Mother's Story of Her Son's Addictionby Libby Cataldi
During his early teens, Jeff Bratton started using drugs. At first, alcohol and pot, but quickly he spiraled into using cocaine, ketamine, crystal meth and eventually heroin.
How could this wonderful son, loving brother, and star athlete lose himself to drugs? How could his parents be so clueless? How could his mother, the long-term head of a private school,/p>
During his early teens, Jeff Bratton started using drugs. At first, alcohol and pot, but quickly he spiraled into using cocaine, ketamine, crystal meth and eventually heroin.
How could this wonderful son, loving brother, and star athlete lose himself to drugs? How could his parents be so clueless? How could his mother, the long-term head of a private school, be so blind?
"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 saving 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.
Here is Libby Cataldi's story about dealing with addiction without withdrawing love, learning to trust again while remaining attuned to lies, and the cautious triumph of staying clean one day at a time.
He told her, "Mom, never quit believing." And she didn't.
“Searingly honest and moving...[Cataldi] has broken the taboos about being the parent of an addict.” New York Daily News
“Cataldi's writing lays her emotions bare...she doesn't pull any punches, never shying away from the hard questions or the tough times.” The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland)
“For every drug addict there are at least four people affected, a depressing assertion by some experts that is clearly borne out in this soft-spoken, utterly honest account.” Publishers Weekly
“A spell-binding and anguished story...of a mother's deep love.” www.ewtn.com (Eternal Word Television Network)
“Mental health professionals and parents of addicts could benefit enormously from reading this heartrending story of a mother's struggle with her son's drug addiction. When Cataldi's hitherto healthy, straight-A student teenage son consorts with bad company and begins using alcohol and marijuana, the author misses the telltale signs. Before too long, he adds cocaine, heroin, and meth. Too late, Cataldi struggles to understand what went wrong as she endeavors to rescue him. Her narration and her son's, interspersed at key points, poignantly depict the story of addiction and recovery. While addiction memoirs proliferate, few wield the power of this one.” Library Journal
“As Virgil toured Dante through hell, so Libby Cataldi can hold your hand through a parent's ultimate nightmare. A gripping story of a bad time for a good person, and how she conquered it.” Tom Clancy
“Addiction poisons the whole family. It's the secret we keep from one another and we keep from ourselves. It is only when, like Libby Cataldi, we are willing to share our stories and shine a light into those dark corners that we can begin to recover.” Martha Tod Dudman, author of Augusta, Gone
“This is a mother's exceptionally touching, beautifully written story of pain, and ultimately hope. Cataldi writes a deeply honest, moving chronicle of how the natural, normal love of a family can lock everyone into a negative spiral of horrific loss of control. This mom bares the truth, which is full of confusion and baffling paradox.In a superb afterword, Patrick MacAfee explains how addicted families work and what a mysterious, counter-intuitive process it is to find your way to the freedom of recovery. The memoir, followed by the voice of the professional, offers a powerful guide to those lost in the midst of their own family addiction."--Stephanie Brown, Ph.D., Director of The Addictions Institute"Stay Close is the poignant and powerful story of one family's struggle to contend with the ravages of addiction in a beloved son and brother. With enormous courage and honesty, Libby Cataldi lays bare the searing family pain as her son descends into a world they cannot fully understand; her fierce efforts to bring him back to health and sanity; and, ultimately, the redemptive power of love, compassion, and a mother's willingness to stay close to her son even during the most harrowing of times.” Ron Goldblatt, Executive Director, Association of Independent Maryland Schools
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A Mother's Story of Her Son's Addiction
By Libby Cataldi
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Libby Cataldi
All rights reserved.
The Boy in the Cape and Cowboy Boots
November 24, 2005, 12:30 A.M. Jeff is twenty-seven years old.
So how do I feel? Like a failure of a mother. Everyone in the field of drug addiction says, "Don't blame yourself. You didn't cause it, you can't cure it; you didn't make him a drug addict." But look deeply into a mother's eyes and tell her that her child is dying and it's not her fault. Sure, it makes sense if it's not your kid. But for a mother to do nothing to stop the pain, to alter its course — is it possible for a mother not to feel guilt, shame, intense hurt? Maybe for some, but I'm not there. I doubt if I ever will be. For me, I think I will wear this like a skin. Maybe I'll forget I have it on sometimes, but it will be forever part of my being, my eyes, my smile, my thoughts — like a breath that catches me short or my heart when it misses a beat. That's it. Jeff is my heart murmur — I have allowed his aches and traumas to damage my heart, and it is beyond repair. Maybe this isn't the case for other parents, and maybe I'm wrong, not healthy. But this is what I feel, this is my heart.
Motherhood wasn't always this way, this battle with addiction, this feeling of failure. How did it all change? I wish I could trace the beginning of Jeff's drug addiction and point to a continuum of events, of specific blips on a chronological graph that cry out the alarm, danger, drug addict in the making, danger, addiction coming, like a truck's warning as it backs up. How does one become an addict? How does one become anything? Is it in the genes? Of course that's part of it, but not all. Is it in the upbringing? Life situations? Birth order? Specific events? I have two sons, and they are different. One is an addict; one is not. What is it that has kept Jeremy safe and put Jeff at such risk?
Their early years run through my memory like one of those picture books that you flip quickly with your thumb, the images blending together to tell the story. We lived at the northernmost end of Calvert County, Maryland, a rural tobacco-growing region, a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Patuxent River. Our neighborhood was called Quince View Meadows, and the boys' days were spent there, among the woods and trails. Their memories are filled with the deep greens of the woods at twilight, with the shades of yellow and orange as the light filtered through the leaves, with the laughter of playmates as they raced through the fields, with the crisp smells of autumn and the crunching sounds of leaves as they traipsed up the long driveway home, to their tree fort, to the tire swing that lifted them to the heavens and twirled round and round on the descent.
Jeff, from his earliest years, loved to imagine, to create, and I can trace his childhood through his fantasies. He was Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and even Aquaman, then He-Man, a kind of invincible superhuman, followed by Luke Skywalker fighting for good against the evil Darth Vader, Indiana Jones on a search for treasures, then a BMX biker taking to the air from the ramps he built with his buddies, and finally a skateboarder leaving the safety of the neighborhood behind as he discovered new frontiers.
Maybe Jeff always wanted to escape reality, live somewhere else. It seemed so harmless then, during his early years. It seemed magical.
When Jeff was just two years old his scarlet Superman cape became part of his daily attire, hanging around his neck and trailing down his small back. He had found an iron-on emblem on the back of a cereal box and asked, "Will you, Mommy? Can you make me a cape, just like Superman, with this on it?" When Jeff donned his homemade cloth, he became Superman and joined the fight for good.
I remember sitting next to two-and-a-half-year-old Jeff as we peered out his bedroom window on the third floor, high above the ground, and always feeling a little afraid that one day he might leap out in the belief that he could fly.
"Jeff, do you think you can fly?"
"Yeah, I know I can."
"Angel, do you know what fantasy is?"
"Yep. It's when things aren't real, like fairy tales."
"And do you know what real is?"
"Uh-huh," he nodded his head slightly up and down, his dark brown hair cut short with long bangs that framed his eyes, intense and innocent, as he studied me quizzically, wondering, I think, what was my problem that I didn't understand this whole flying thing. "Real is true, like what happens, like what we see."
"Great. If fantasy is make-believe and real is what happens, do you really think you can fly?"
"Yep, I know I can fly, because Superman is real and he flies."
And so it went, to the grocery store, to preschool, Jeff wearing his trusty red cape, denim Wrangler jeans, the cordovan cowboy belt with his name embossed on the leather, and the saddleback-colored cowboy boots that my parents had bought for him when we last visited them in Florida. Quite naturally, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., became one of our favorite destinations, since Jeff was enamored with space travel. Once, when he was about three or four, he wore his entire Superman outfit, complete with blue tights, T-shirt emblazoned with the Superman S, navy shorts, cowboy boots, and of course his cape to lead the way to the lunar space module on the first floor to the deep right of the entrance. He stood next to Jeremy and explained in a loud child's voice, unaware of others near us: "Jeremy, Neil Armstrong was the first man who ever walked on the moon, in Apollo 13. The moon has no gravity or air to breathe, so he had to wear a space suit and heavy boots made just for space. He got to the moon from the space ship in this lunar module. OK, now we'll go upstairs to show you the golf club that Neil Armstrong used to hit the ball." Jeremy, just twenty months younger, and who looked like he could have been Jeff's twin — only smaller, and with lighter brown hair and hazel eyes — listened to everything his older brother said as if memorizing each word.
Of course I was proud — proud of them both, my babies. I was a teacher, and that was my life's profession; I was a mother, and my sons were learning together. These were the days when I could love them as openly as I wanted. Which I did.
As Jeff and Jeremy grew older and entered elementary school, their bonds became tighter. They would lie on Jeremy's bed together, looking out his window at the woods beneath, and they would cloud talk, the kind of daydreaming that kids do. Although they were still confined by the borders of Quince View, their days were now filled with leaving home behind. There were other times, too, when Jeff hung out with his friends, and they would hide from Jeremy and his gang because the big guys were just too cool to play with the little ones. Jeff and his buddies built forts in the woods, played basketball at the courts, constructed bicycle ramps, careened through the neighborhood on their two-wheeled horses, and swung between trees on the vines in what they named Vine Jungle. They swam and perfected their cannonball dives in neighbors' pools, hopping between the Saltas' and the Kesslers'. Winters made frigid playgrounds, with snow blanketing the woods and fields; their world became a crystal wonder as the trees around our home were covered in white, ice dangling from the branches, and almost invisible tracks left on the surface of the snow by the squirrels and birds were the only hint of animal life. The only time we mothers would see the big guys was when they'd appear in one large group at someone's home, ready for grilled cheese sandwiches and glasses of chocolate milk.
It was so easy then.
Later, when Jeff was around ten and in fifth grade, he fell in love with skateboarding. Many of the neighborhood kids tried to balance on the oblong-shaped platform, but most often they would fall to the ground in laughter. The others soon lost interest and left to play basketball or ride bikes, but Jeff loved the sport and stayed, working to master new tricks that he had seen others perform or ones he'd made up.
My older son loved to fly, create, and invent, all positive attributes, but somewhere along the way Jeff lost his desire to use his gifts.
Whatever happened during those years and later, Jeff always protected Jeremy, almost like a father, encouraging him, rescuing him from his childhood mishaps, and listening to his boyish ramblings. When they were in middle school they played on the same soccer team. During one game, a player from the opposing team, a kid who was three years older than Jeremy and outweighed him by at least twenty pounds, was guarding him aggressively, and kept knocking him over, tripping him. Without forewarning Jeff left his position in the center of the field, jogged over to Jeremy's adversary, whispered something in the kid's ear, and then resumed playing. The boy never tripped Jeremy again, and at the end of the game I asked Jeff what had happened. He sighed angrily. "I told the kid, 'You touch my brother one more time and I'll break your fucking nose.'" Jeremy adored his older brother, and he mimicked Jeff's walk, dress, and talk, always watching. "Jeff was like a father to me. I always felt safe when I was with him," Jeremy once told me. They were the Bratton boys. They wrestled, they shared their secrets, they were bonded in friendship and in blood.
The four of us, including Tim, weren't together often. Tim and two partners had started an environmental consulting company in Washington, D.C., and twelve-to-fifteen-hour days became his normal working and commuting schedule; there was also some out-of-town travel. Work was his domain, and he was successful; with two small children, I was happy to make our home my world. Tim's income allowed me to stay home and be a full-time mom, and his absence seemed to be the price of successful entrepreneurship.
We weren't the kind of family that ate together each evening, picnicked, camped, or even played Scrabble. On weekends we were the kind of family that usually ate together only on Sunday evenings, and sometimes we went to church, but usually the boys and I would go alone or not at all. Planned family outings for special days like Mother's Day or Father's Day consisted of brunch and a round of golf. We went on occasional family vacations, planning times of togetherness in advance to fit Tim's work schedule. The boys and I had supper together, and I would prepare Tim's dinner, place it in the microwave for heating when he came home — often as late as 10:00 or 11:00 P.M. — and he would eat in the kitchen alone. By that time the boys had had their baths, had been tucked in, and were sound asleep. If I was still awake I would join him, although I was usually asleep, too. In the mornings the boys might see their dad for a brief hello, but often he would be asleep, or would be busy dressing to go back to work.
Even when Tim was home he was frequently consumed with business; his was the kind of work that was always present, floating in his head, needing attention. I knew that he wanted to be a good father and husband. He was kind, and when we first met and dated in college, I fell in love with his quiet and gentle manner. He was also smart, and when we were young and newly married he'd earned a master's degree in business administration. In addition, he was athletic and had been a long-distance runner, and I thought he would connect with the boys especially through sports, but his intense work schedule dominated his time. I felt sorry for Tim during those years; his physical and emotional absence seemed to keep him apart from his sons. Once, when Jeff was ten years old, he corrected my complaint, "You say that Dad's never home. Dad's home, but when he's home, he's like the cat."
For myself, when both boys were old enough for school, I returned to my teaching career. I had earned a doctorate in education from the University of Pittsburgh, and I was anxious to resume working, to use my degree, to publish educational research of some kind, and to make my mark in my profession. Jeff and Jeremy attended the Calverton School, a small independent day school in our county, and I began working there two days a week. Later I accepted a part-time position at Towson State University as codirector of the Maryland Writing Project, and I taught preparation courses for teachers in secondary education. I was happy with a four-day work-week teaching and a three-day weekend to clean the house, grocery shop, and cook meals for the following week.
Things changed in July 1987 when Jeff was about to enter the fourth grade and Jeremy the second. The Calverton board of trustees dismissed the head of school and the president of the board asked me to accept the position. This offer came out of left field and took both Tim and me by surprise. It was an opportunity to use my degree and to build something substantial. I was tempted; however, my dad, the Italian patriarch, a domineering and successful self-made businessman, warned me, "The school is in grave financial debt. You'll be riding a dead horse. Don't take the job."
I was conflicted. My sons were at the school, the fourth-grade teacher had quit and a replacement was needed, the second-grade teacher was great, and I cared very much for all the teachers at Calverton with whom I had been working for four years. The school was in a sorry way, and with its opening less than two months out, the calendar for the upcoming year wasn't even published. In addition, without my consent, the board had already mailed a letter to the parents announcing my "headship," and parents were calling me at home. I was angry that this dilemma had been forced on me, and to make matters worse, I was under contract to fulfill my upcoming yearlong teaching duties at the university. Also, I reminded myself, I had always stayed home with the boys during the summers, and I cherished our time during those lazy months. On the other hand, my sons were benefiting from their education, from their gifted teachers, and I didn't want to put this at risk. I was happy to be a part of my sons' educational lives. I loved kids and teaching, I thought I could do a good job, so, in the end, I accepted.
Jobs can take over lives, and as Tim's business had taken over his, Calverton began to take over mine. I started my duties as head of school on July 14, and my sons' care for the remainder of the summer was left to Hattie, an older woman who cooked, cleaned, and watched the boys. They still roamed the neighborhood playing with their friends, but with a father whose presence was still unreliable, the boys were now faced with adjusting to a mother who was around less and less.
In September, the school was ready. Veteran teachers were in charge of the fourth and second grades, my sons' classes, and I was satisfied that their education was in good hands. The school opened its doors with renewed optimism, although the serious financial issues loomed.
Each morning the boys and I would now get ready together for the day at Calverton. We'd have breakfast and then pile into the car and travel to school. I cherished those quiet moments when we would talk.
On one of those early mornings, Jeff asked me, "Do you believe in the devil, Mom?"
I wondered where this question was coming from.
"Well, some people believe in the devil, and in the Bible they talk about the devil, but I wouldn't worry about the devil if I were you."
"Do you believe in God?"
"Yes, I believe in God, Jeff."
"Do you believe in heaven?"
"Yeah, I believe in heaven."
"Good, I believe that, too. I believe what you believe."
It was just that easy. He believed because I believed, and Jeremy, who listened quietly from the backseat, probably believed, too.
That was when I could kiss a knee scrape and my mother's magic could make the hurt go away. As Jeff grew older, my power faded.
My dad proved to be correct about the school's desperate situation. It was dying financially, and it demanded long hours from me as I worked to save it from closing, to keep it alive for my sons and all the children, as well as for the dedicated teachers. It took a mighty team effort, the combination of powers of the board of trustees, the staff, the parents, and me. Sacrifice became the name of the game, and maybe because I was the head of school, I felt singularly responsible, and felt the need to work harder than anyone else. I often stayed late working, while the buildings were quiet, returning phone calls to parents, conferring with teachers, or attending the many events and meetings that happen during after-school hours. School became my twenty-four-hour occupation. Even at the grocery store, I was that ever-ready professional woman who was alert and visible, answering parents' questions about their children's grades, playground altercations, and the college application process.
Excerpted from Stay Close by Libby Cataldi. Copyright © 2009 Libby Cataldi. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
LIBBY CATALDI holds a doctorate in education and has been an educator all her life, most recently as head of Maryland's Calverton School. She has two sons, Jeff and Jeremy Bratton, and divides her time between Annapolis, Maryland and Florence, Italy.
Libby Cataldi holds a doctorate in education and has been an educator all her life, most recently as head of Maryland's Calverton School. She has two sons, Jeff and Jeremy Bratton, and divides her time between Annapolis, Maryland and Florence, Italy. She is the author of the book Stay Close: A Mother's Story of Her Son's Addiction.
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