Mom to Mom Blog: Just the Two of Us

Our wedding was beautiful and so were the vows. Till death do us part was our promise. But our child’s addiction is like a chainsaw, hacking away at our union–cutting apart a bond meant to last forever. It is destroying the foundation on which our family is built.

In the day-to-day survival-during the prolonged hideousness of this fight–we’ve lost sight of one other. We’ve lost sight of what matters. We no longer reach out to each other when we hurt. Instead, like wounded animals, we withdraw, trying to heal ourselves as we sit, alone, in dark corners. We snap and growl at each other like beasts. I don’t know what happened to the best friends we used to be.

But it is our child’s addiction we need to fight, not each other. So, like folding away the wings of a kite, I will tuck away the tension between us so it can’t catch the wind. No matter what happens during the day, I will say I love you when I say goodnight.

“May we shine with love, kindness, and encouragement toward ourselves and each other every day.” ~Lynn Dailey

SAVE THE DATE!

Free webinar:

Title: Mom to Mom: Facing the Holidays When Your Child Is Addicted

Date: Friday, December 15, 2017 (Will be recorded for future viewing. Registration required.)

Time: 10:00 AM Central Standard Time

Duration: 1 hour

Register HERE.

Today’s thought from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is from the book:

Tending Dandelions by Sandra Swenson

Mom to Mom: Thanksgiving–Filling Not Stuffing

When my boys were little, they hovered about the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning, eager to get started with stuffing the turkey. We tied on aprons, washed our hands, pushed step stools over to the kitchen counter, and discussed who, exactly, would need to touch the pale and pimply turkey flesh.

My oldest son dumped bread cubes into a large bowl and his brother stirred in the onions and sage; they took turns scooping stuffing into the hollow center of our holiday bird before it was slathered in oil and popped in the oven. Our home was full of pleasant aromas and anticipation and things to be thankful for.

Norman Rockwell picture-perfect.

But things changed once my oldest son became addicted.

Facing the Holidays When Your Child is Addicted

Thanksgiving became a day stuffed with unspoken disappointment, anger, and fear rather than too much pie and good cheer. His younger brother, dad and I would wait for my son to show up—or not show up at all—while our turkey and sweet potatoes shriveled away in the oven. Retreating to different parts of the house, we avoided the sad festivities and phony smiles until tradition beckoned us to sit down at the table across from my son’s very empty place. Thankful, I was not.

It has been ten years now since my son even pretended he was coming home for Thanksgiving dinner. (I don’t know where he has turkey. Or if he has turkey.) I’ve had time to adjust to Thanksgiving the way it is and stop wishing for the way it should be, but time hasn’t taken away the hurt—or the hole where he should be. I suspect it never will. Instead, over time, I’ve grown stronger. Over time, I’ve learned a few things that have helped me to get through and even enjoy the holidays again.

1. Make room for your feelings and let go of old expectations.

I’m now strong enough to face the hurt rather than stuff it away (more often than not), and I’m strong enough to fill the holes in my life and my heart with things that make the day better, not worse. That means facing reality, not trying to re-create what can’t be re-created, starting new traditions, and spending quality time with some happy old memories.

There’s a lot wrapped up in this big day that rolls around one short day a year. A lot of hopeful hopes, fears, disappointments, and stress—when holiday tradition and expectation meet addiction it can be madness. But it’s possible to look at things differently, to do things differently,especially if the whole family is recruited to open their eyes and minds. And when the spirit of things leading up to the big day is giving thanks, that spirit is contagious.

Thanksgiving is meant to be a day for gathering together with loved ones and having fun. So simple—and beautiful—if left simple. A performance, it is not. And living up to unrealistic expectations, I will not.

I no longer spend the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving trying to pretend that everything is fine, that addiction hasn’t consumed my son (and therefore my whole family), and that we can still pull off a pretend-perfect performance.

I no longer stuff down my sadness, putting on the dressing of normal life in the same way I shove myself into my jeans after a big meal—by taking a deep breath, swallowing the pain, and pasting on a smile.

Instead, I plan ahead. I take the time to face my feelings—I take the time to grieve and cry for what was and what isn’t—and then, acknowledging the pitfalls I don’t want to fall into, I figure out ways to make the holiday work. And one of those ways is to ask for help—from friends, family, a therapist or counselor or any of the hundreds of support groups, like Al-Anon, Families Anonymous, or The Addict’s Mom.

2. Celebrate those who are at the table and let go of perfection.

I have Let Go of thinking that I’m the only one who can make the day (any day, actually) perfect, for anyone. Or that I can please everyone. Thanksgiving is made all the better with family participation—which means asking for everyone’s hands and hearts to be in the right place at the right time. Together we can prepare and adapt to the fact that our addicted loved one might not show up (or worse).

But, who is not at the table shouldn’t take up more space than the people who are.

There is no end to the room I have at my table. And in my heart. But both my heart and home have rules. Before the big day, I set my boundaries (and set up escape hatches), knowing that it’s possible that not everyone who shows up is going to behave. I can’t control the actions of anyone else, but what I can control is me (and even that is no easy task.). By facing reality, my actions don’t need to be reactions. My boundaries don’t need to be rough, they just need to be strong.

3. Try something different; open your heart to something new.

When the holiday hurts, maybe it’s time to try something different—something smaller, or bigger, or somewhere new. The meal, the menu, an old family recipe, the way (or the place) that we’ve always celebrated Thanksgiving…. the little traditions mean nothing compared to the meaning of the big tradition itself. There was a time when I would spend weeks shopping and chopping, mixing and rolling, cleaning and decorating, for a meal that, for all of its hype, actually took less than thirty minutes to eat (not counting the time spent talking). But I enjoyed all the creative chaos. Until things changed. And then I didn’t. I felt a bit guilty at first, serving store-bought pie or stuffing from the deli, but the reality is, that isn’t what matters. And no one ever noticed—or if they did, they didn’t care.

4. Share your gratitude and give back.

Who is at the table is more important than what is on the table (or where the table is). In the holiday hubbub, it’s easy to forget what the holiday is really about.

Giving thanks.

So I’ve learned, having grown in my own recovery, to make every effort to live in the moment. To give thanks for the moment. To give thanks for those around me—those people who matter, and who deserve to feel like they matter, no matter what else is going on. I take the time to soak in and appreciate everything I have to be grateful for. Of which there is a lot.

My need to fill the hole that addiction has left in both my heart and life is big. And I’ve found that helping others keeps me moving forward. It may be overwhelming to add one more expectation to a day already laden with so much, but giving thanks by showing thanks doesn’t have to fall on one particular day in the fall. I’ve got 364 other days of the year in which to do what my heart needs to do. It helps me to help kids whose moms, for whatever reason, are unable to do mom stuff for them right now. And maybe someday someone will do the same thing for my son.

5. Accept what is, one day at a time.

Yes, I’m finally strong enough to fill the hole in my life where my son should be with things that make the holiday better, not worse. I’m strong enough to face reality—to accept what is—to start new traditions, and to spend time with some happy old memories; those are mine to keep and enjoy, forever.

Old memories still have the power to bring tears to my eyes, but I’m finally able to treasure my memories for what they are: gifts. I am blessed to have had so many years of such happiness, and not even addiction can take that away. After everything that has happened, I still have my sons’ smiles, the sounds of their voices, and the feel of their hugs, no matter how far away they may be. So, in giving thanks, I take the time to remember what was before embracing, fully, what is. I laugh, I cry. I allow the movies in my mind to fill my soul.

This Thanksgiving I will travel from Texas to New York City to spend the holiday with my youngest son who is now twenty-seven. We will have our feast in a restaurant, for the first time ever—and I won’t have to wash any dishes, also for the first time ever. We will spend several days together, and I will get a glimpse of his new grown up life in action.

Many years ago my oldest son sent me this message:

“Happy Thanksgiving, Mom. Hopefully, someday I’ll give you a reason to be thankful for me. I love you. Thank you for still loving me.”

No matter what, I have always been thankful for both of my boys. And I’m thankful for what I have now. And I’m thankful that they both know how much they are loved.

This is me filling, not stuffing.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with things to be thankful for, too.


SAVE THE DATE!

Free webinar:

Title: Mom to Mom: Facing the Holidays When Your Child Is Addicted

Date: Friday, December 15, 2017

Time: 10:00 AM Central Standard Time

Duration: 1 hour

Register HERE.

Tending Dandelions by Sandra Swenson

About the author
Sandra Swenson is the mother of two sons—one of whom struggles with addiction. A voice for the loved ones of addicts, she first documented her experiences with her son’s addiction in the critically-acclaimed book The Joey Song. Her most recently published title, a Hazelden-publishing meditation book, Tending Dandelions: Honest Meditations for Mothers with Addicted Children, was released in 2017. An advocate for acceptance, education, healing, and recovery, Sandra can frequently be found sharing her story.

Mom to Mom: 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

Today’s thought from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is from the book:

Tending Dandelions by Sandra Swenson

Mom to Mom: 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 every time 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 head off in the wrong direction toward a cliff. And I’m supposed to just stand there and wave.” ~Because I Said So

Today’s thought from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is from the book:

Tending Dandelions by Sandra Swenson

SandySwenson.com Subscriber List

Boundaries

Fences are built to keep valuable things safe–to keep children and pets from escaping or running headlong into danger. Roadways have painted lines to keep cars in their own lane, and homes have signs to keep interlopers away. Boundaries keep things in place, keep things just so. Keep problems from popping up. Keep things under control. Boundaries are a necessity.

Boundaries don’t need to be wrapped in barbed wire or topped with shards of glass or constructed of three-foot-thick blocks of concrete. Boundaries don’t need to be hostile. Or harsh. Boundaries can also be neatly trimmed hedges or flower gardens or silken lengths of rope. Boundaries can be passive. Quiet. They don’t have to push and shove–sometimes, they’re just there. A definition of space. A reminder not to cross.

Boundaries are what I make of them. They are what I need them to be. To protect myself and others. Boundaries are a necessity.

“Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Don’t leave home without them.” ~Jeff Brown

Today’s thought from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is from the book:

Tending Dandelions by Sandra Swenson

 

Mom to Mom: Getting Honest About Our Kids and Their Addictions

Register Here!

Please join Sandy Swenson on Thursday, September 14 for a Hazelden Webinar!

Time: 9:00-10:00 AM Central Daylight Time

As mothers of addicted children, we share realities we never expected our families to face. We are in this strange, shadowy place where love and addiction meet. Fear and shame may have caused us to go underground, to internalize what our family endures, sleepless night after sleepless night.

It’s exhausting. We need help. We need to help each other. We need to help each other break through the fear and the shame and the stigma. We need to shine a light on the disease of addiction and stand up as the families fighting it on the front line.

No matter what your family’s specific situation is, one thing is constant, you are not alone. Please join me for an hour of understanding and support as we talk together about the disease of addiction, how it impacts us, why recovery is just as important for us, and how we can make each other stronger.

P.S. Dads are invited too!

 

Continue reading

Parenting a Child With Addiction–where love and addiction meet

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

☼ Crying Is Okay Here

crying, addiction, grief, mom of addict

Photo by SSG Robert Stewart

A child has died. Not my child, but the child of a friend. Technically, he was no longer a child. But still, he was her child. She was supposed to have her child forever. Except forever didn’t last.

I didn’t know this young man. My friend’s son. I don’t know if he liked basketball or if he wore his hair parted on the side or how he preferred his steak cooked or on what day he was born. My arms don’t cuddle the memory of his tiny heft and softness as though years haven’t flown by since his birth. I don’t know the feel of his hand — if it was calloused or smooth — or the sound of his voice curled around the name Mom. Like silk. Or wind. Or leather.

No, I don’t know the things, the essence, the him that filled the space in his mother’s universe like stars, filling and fitting like only he could. But I can imagine.

I don’t know what dreams her child had for today and tomorrow, or what dreams my friend kept polished up for her son. I never looked through their window of hope to the future. But I feel the slam. And the crumble.

He was, now he isn’t.

His mother has to find a way to live with that.

This mother is a puddle of tears.

 

Sandra Swenson is the author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction . Her forthcoming book, Tending Dandelions: Honest Meditations for Mothers With Addicted Children will be published by Hazeleden in October, 2017. An accompanying app will be released spring 2018.

‘ASK’ Documentary–Addiction, Codependency and Love

Addiction is only a maze if you don’t ASK for help.

“I’m the mom of an addict, and I’m not ashamed to say that anymore. There’s a time when I was…..” My interview with the ASK team about love, learning, and letting go.

Sandy from Kurt Neale on Vimeo.

Please watch and share this beautiful documentary with anyone who might benefit from it—anyone who might need help navigating the maze that is addiction: “ASK is a film about how both the addict and co-dependent relate to one another, love, and how both need help.

ASK – Can Love Survive Addiction and Codependency? from Kurt Neale on Vimeo.

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