Stay Close A Mother's Story of Her Son's Addiction

Libby Cataldi

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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During his early teens, Jeff Bratton started using drugs. At first, it was alcohol and pot, but he quickly 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 instead 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 and how 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. This 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.


Praise for Stay Close

"Searingly honest and moving . . . Cataldi has broken the taboos about being the parent of an addict."—New York Daily News

"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, counterintuitive 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

"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

"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

"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

"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."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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...

Read the full excerpt



  • Interview with Libby Cataldi, "Stay Close"

    An interview with the author of Stay Close. Libby describes helping her son through addiction and the writing of her book.



  • Libby Cataldi

  • 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 © Ray Haas