True Life Drama
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True Life Drama

Until I read Stay Close: A mother's story of her son's addiction, the phrase ‘heroin user' conjured scrawny addicts shooting up in back alleys and cheap motel rooms; malnourished models getting their buzz in posh clubs. This book shattered my naïve image and showed me

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Thu 18 Jun 2009 12:00 AM

Until I read Stay Close: A mother’s story of her son’s addiction, the phrase ‘heroin user’ conjured scrawny addicts shooting up in back alleys and cheap motel rooms; malnourished models getting their buzz in posh clubs. This book shattered my naïve image and showed me that a heroin user could just as likely be a college-educated, upper-middle-class guy from the suburbs and a ‘good’ family with a mother with a PhD in education. The book’s cover and frontispiece features photos typical of most American family’s albums: a precious little boy dressed in 70s-style knee socks and a home-made Superman cape hugging a tire swing; an infant in the arms of his young mother. The first line of the book, however, is ‘My son is in jail.’What follows is the story of Libby Cataldi, her sons Jeff and Jeremy, and how drug addiction settled into their upper-middle-class lives. It is the story of a family and how they dealt with-and continue to deal with-the addiction of their oldest son and big brother. We follow Jeff through high school, where he began experimenting with drugs and alcohol and had his first scuffles with the law. From a private school in northern Maryland whose principal was his mother, Libby, the book take us through his preppie Boston university days, his first job, his numerous professional successes-and his subsequent slide farther and farther into addiction. Initially, his drug abuse seems counterbalanced by his achievements. However, as his life spirals out of control, the story becomes so gripping and so sordid that I found myself turning the pages quicker and quicker to see what Jeff’s next move would be, to find out how Libby would make it through yet another dramatic episode. Most striking is the juxtaposition of the chaos of Jeff’s life and Libby’s calm narration. The immediacy and accuracy of Libby’s account is the result of her faithful nightly journaling-and thus it captures the blame, deception, desperation, isolation, fear, secrecy and chaos she and the family felt. Because Jeff is clean today-after 15 years of heavy drug use and countless rehabilitation treatments-it is Libby’s hope that by sharing the family’s story, her family can heal and others can hope. Some readers will question Libby’s reactions and choices: Why didn’t she see the problem early on? Why did she continue to believe him when he said he was finished with drugs? How could she continue to trust him? I believe that she expects these questions, almost welcoming them, for they are the same questions she asked herself for so many years. Perhaps what makes this story different from so many others about addiction: she does not pretend to have the answers. In fact, the only answer she offers is one she got from an Italian man, the director of a drug rehabilitation center near Florence. She had gone to the center in the hope of enrolling Jeff in its intense treatment community. In tears, feeling broken and desperate to find a way to help Jeff, she had decided to give up and let him go, once and for all. The director urged her not to surrender but to stargli vicino, stay close to him. With that simple imperative, Libby began her courageous climb out of desperation to a place where she can now share her story without shame. Stay Close: A mother’s story of her son’s addictionSt. Martin’s Press, 2009Euro 22,40

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