From One Mother to Another (an excerpt from Tending Dandelions: Honest Meditations for Mothers with Addicted Children, written by Sandra Swenson)
We may often feel fragile, but we are strong.
And we are many.
As mothers of children suffering with addiction, we do battle with a disease that oozes misunderstanding and shame. Alone and afraid, we try to do the right thing—even when we’re not sure what that right thing is. We try to hold our families and ourselves together, even when it feels like we’re falling apart. We feel every pain our child feels, no matter the distance (in miles or years). We try to carry on, even when our heart is breaking in two. But, as tired and tattered as we may be, like the deceptively delicate dandelion, we moms are made to persevere.
Together, we’re traveling a most unwanted, unanticipated, and unclear journey—for a lifetime. Whatever happens next may or may not follow a neat or hopeful path. So, we all need to find our own inner-dandelion; we all need to take a close look at the things we don’t want to look at—the things lurking around in this place where love and addiction meet—so we’re as strong as we can be. My wish is that the “ponderments” contained within this book—the thoughts laid bare for you to think about—will help you achieve that.
Whenever I sit down to write, I write as a mom, as the mom of an addict, and, specifically, as the mom of a son—a son who has not yet found his own recovery. I write as a mom who has begun her own recovery, though her son has not. My writing comes from deep within this particular mix.
However, while the voice burbling up comes from the well of my own experience, it is intended to be a reflection of the heart and soul of every mother of an addict. It is intended to help put words to your own thoughts and feelings. To help you heal.
Recovery is a process we all share. It’s not only for the health and well-being of our beloved addicts, but for our families—and ourselves—too. On the road to recovery, we pass through several stages—sometimes again and again (and all cattywampus), and in our own good time. The ponderments within, collected as a set of meditations, reflect those stages.
When addiction first takes root in our child, we may be completely unaware, but once we’ve heaved ourselves over the monstrous hurdle of realization, the recovery journey begins: We learn, we grow. We cry, we wilt. We learn the value of nurturing ourselves. We find strength, we bloom. And finally, like fields of frazzled flowers, we scatter seeds of truth and goodness, changing the dynamic of this place where love and addiction meet. One by one, and one after another, we are carried aloft by the hope, the help, and the beating hearts of other mothers who love a child suffering with addiction.
We may often feel fragile, but we are strong.
And we are many.
We have the power to overpower the destruction that addiction spreads.
dandelion | noun | dan•de•li•on \’dan-də-lī-ən\
[from Anglo-French dent de lion, literally, lion’s tooth]
●vibrant golden-yellow flower. under-appreciated. thrives in harsh conditions. shabby tufts scatter the flowers of tomorrow.
●a weed or a wish, depending on point of view.
●strong. like a roar.
Where Love and Addiction Meet
The first time my child reached his dimpled little hand out for mine, I was there. And I’ve tried to be there whenever he’s reached out to me—and even when he hasn’t—ever since. Until, that is, my child became an addict. Addiction has made such a mess of things that I’m no longer sure if I should be within range when he reaches out (or even when he doesn’t).
I don’t know if my help is hurting this child of mine. I don’t know if I should stay silent or speak up. I’m not sure how to love without doing the things that seem loving, or where to put the dreams and conversations and hugs that have gone unused and are piling up. I don’t know how to fill my empty arms, or where to put my love for this child who says he hates me. My heart doesn’t understand this place where love and addiction meet—it’s all confused about what it means to be my son’s mom.
I cannot be there for my child in the way life intended, but my love will always be there whenever he reaches out—and even when he doesn’t.
“I mean, it is the most impossible love… it’s absolutely fine for me to teach you how to walk and talk, and then you grow up and you head off in the wrong direction toward a cliff. And I’m supposed to just stand there and wave.”—Because I Said So
Before My Child Was an Addict
Before my son was an addict, he was a child. My child. But he could have been anyone’s child. Before my son was an addict, he liked to joke around, give big hugs, and work hard and play harder. Sometimes, he also lied, or said things that were mean, sulked, or was crabby. In other words, my child was perfectly normal.
Even though he has done some bad things while being an addict, my son is not a bad person. He’s a sick person. When addiction scooped up my child, it did so indiscriminately; my son, at his core, is one of the least “bad” people I know. Before my son was an addict, I used to judge the dusty addict on the corner very harshly. Now I know that being an addict isn’t something anyone would choose.
I wish I hadn’t waited for the worst to happen before I opened my eyes and heart. Before I looked beyond the addict’s dust to the person he was meant to be. To the person my child could easily become. . . and did.
Addiction can happen to anyone.
“Don’t judge, just love.”—Anonymous
To Love an Addict
When I held my baby in my arms for the very first time, I rubbed my cheek on his fuzzy head and whispered, “I will love and protect you for as long as I live.” I didn’t know then that my baby would become an addict before becoming an adult, or that the addict taking his place would shred the meaning of those words to smithereens.
Slowly at first, came the arrests and overdoses and big fat lies. My sweet child was turning into a stranger, manipulating me, using me, and twisting my love into knots. I was befuddled by this scary new world that I didn’t even know I was in and that I knew nothing about.
I thought I was just a regular mom stumbling through regular parenthood, but then I had to figure out how to be the mom of an addict. I had to figure out how to love my child without helping to hurt him, how to grieve the loss of my child—who’s still alive—without dying, and how to trade shame and blame for strength.
To be the parent of an addict is to be an ambassador of truth and understanding. No more shame. No more silence.
To love an addict is to run out of tears.
I’m Not Ashamed
My child dreamed of becoming a firefighter, a fisherman, and a marine biologist when he grew up. Becoming an addict was not on his list. I know the child who dreamed those dreams and he is a child to be proud of. Tender and thoughtful and smart, he should be living his dreams. But my child isn’t here—an addict has taken his place. Someone who looks like my child is hooked to the strings of an evil puppeteer and living a tortured life. Instead of fighting fires my child is fighting demons. Instead of tying flies, he’s flying high. Instead of reaching for the stars, he’s reaching for a bottle. A life full of promise lost to a jug full of lies. Addiction took my child’s dreams, chewed them up, and spat out a nightmare.
No, my child didn’t dream of becoming an addict, and it certainly wasn’t what I dreamed for him either. But I’m not ashamed my child is an addict. I’m sad he’s an addict. By shining the light on addiction I might just get him back.
“Shame is a soul-eating emotion.” —Carl Jung
I Did Not Cause It
I did not cause my child to become an addict. As a parent I don’t possess that power.
When my children were little, I imagined I had all kinds of power. I could decide when it was time for their nap—but they might play in their cribs instead of sleeping. I could serve up a healthy dinner—but if they didn’t want to eat the small mound of lima beans on their plates, They Did Not! I could teach my children right from wrong and good from bad, but my word alone often wasn’t enough, and they experimented to see how those rights and wrongs worked.
It soon became clear that while I could be their guide, my children were going to be who they were meant to be. My real power as a mother was simply to love them. (And to annoy them and make them mad.)
As a parent I was perceived to be too nosey, too clingy, and, on occasion, not clingy enough. I hurt my children’s feelings. I made them feel angry, sad, unheard, and misunderstood. At times I hovered like a helicopter mom—at other moments I might have flown too far away.
I am an imperfect mom. But imperfect parenting does not cause children to become addicts.
If that were so, every child would grow up to be an addict.
“Too many people are spoiling their existence carrying needless guilt and shame.”—Anonymous
Sandra Swenson is the mother of two sons—one of whom struggles with addiction. A voice for the loved ones of people suffering from addiction, she first documented her experiences with her son’s addiction in the critically-acclaimed book The Joey Song. An advocate for acceptance, education, healing, and recovery, Sandra can frequently be found sharing her story. Her first Hazelden-published book, Tending Dandelions, is full of honest meditations for mothers with addicted children.
I’m not sure how to love without doing the things that seem loving