☼ My Son’s Addiction Is A Tragic Disease (Not A Disgrace)

Sandy Swenson

Sandy Swenson

Addiction is a disease that breaks bonds and hearts and all the rules. A misunderstood tragedy too often hushed up.

Well, no more secrets. Not any more.

For almost ten years my son has been dying a slow death, enticed as a young teen to drink and do drugs by the very same culture that now looks (with shock) upon his addiction as a moral failure. Shame and blame and disdain.

Addiction. Never could I have imagined an illness so cruel.

Loving Joey is like grieving his death and fighting for his life at the same time―all while hated, judged, helpless, and alone.

It’s hope and belief that don’t dare come out to play. It’s a one-way street of trust and open arms. It’s empty words, broken promises, shattered dreams, and tarnished memories. It’s watching as a ship slowly capsizes in a storm, and then waiting anxiously for it to right itself. It’s nudging the baby bird out of the nest only to discover it can’t fly. It is heartbreak beyond description.

I’ve never felt so incapable, so sad, so lonely. Such fear.

If Joey were dying a slow death from cancer, the world would reach out with comfort. (I need that. Comfort.) But stigma gets in the way.

When addiction is understood as a disease, it will be treated like a disease ― but this is an understanding that will happen only when those of us who love an addict stop hiding addiction as though it’s a disgrace.

We can do this.

We’ll know we’ve succeeded once comfort is baked into bundt cakes (as it is for every other disease).

The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction  is available in bookstores and libraries.

54 thoughts on “☼ My Son’s Addiction Is A Tragic Disease (Not A Disgrace)

  1. Joyce Ford

    Thanks Sandy for sharing. I understand this all completely as I have dealt with my son and his addiction for the last 5 and a half almost 6 years years. It is so hard to watch your child self destruct and even your family wants nothing else to do with your child and talks really bad about them. Only a few understand or care but mostly they just see bits and pieces unless you have truely dealt with this you cant understand. I appreciate all your blogs and it helps to know I am not alone. Thanks again.

    Reply
  2. Trichelle

    Hello Sandy,
    I feel and completely understand your pain. My Fiance is an addict and has been struggling for a long time. He has made attempts to get clean and has relapsed over and over again. As many times as i’ve tried to help it took me so long to understand that it wasn’t him doing these things its the drugs driving him to do them and its a horrible disease. I feel the same way watching him kill his self slowly and it kills me! I read your other post about Christmas and my wish was for the man I fell in love with to be revived and stay clean, we are currently on the road of try to get him clean again. I wish you the best and wanted to let you know you post truly touched my heart!

    Reply
  3. Rona

    Hello Sandy my son is an addict and I’m so greatfull I stumbled across your blog. It’s so true that if socity would recognize addictions as an illness so much more could be done. I’m broken from the lies the pain the guilt if not being able to fix my son I feel so alone but I’m learning I’m not there are so many mothers feeling what I am feeling. All I do is pray and I will never give up on Lionelle, he also is a great person who as a child didn’t ask for this and would give his shirt off his back to anyone even a stranger if needed but now I don’t even know him and he blames me for all of this but I will never give up
    Thank you
    Rona

    Reply
  4. Kimberly Burlingame

    Hi Sandy,
    You have been in my prayers ever since I first read the story about your son over a month ago.
    My Mother’s name is also Sandy, and it always strikes me hard the emotional pain and sacrifice that parents of addicts/alcoholics endure.
    I am a RN and have been for almost 20 years. I was a heavy duty party girl since 13. I was highly functional until I had back surgery and put on Percocet, Fentanyl patches, Soma and Klonopin.
    Nightmare ensued nonetheless…
    There is much hope for long term and sustainable recovery. I have been clean 6 Year’s and 3 months.
    Please feel free to email me anytime.
    You have been in my thoughts and prayers 🙂 Kim

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Kimberly, thank you so much for writing, for sharing your warmth, honesty, encouragement and hope. Your kindness has made my day. Warm hugs to you (and one for your mom named Sandy, too!)

      Reply
  5. Tom in Maryland

    Wicked, evil, cunning, nasty, malicious are only a few words that describe my feeling about the disease we share. Like every other heart wrenching story a parent has shared about their child — mine is no different. My heart breaks everyday like an ornament falling from the Christmas tree and shattering to a thousand pieces when it hits the floor.

    He’s been away for almost 2 months of a 18 month sentence. The wake of emotions everyday is overwhelming to me. One moment I miss him so much and remember the joy he brought to my life. The next moment, I see his face looking at me so innocently and hustling me for money (every day) and a crazy rage would boil my blood. The lies…

    The disease ruined me financially. I lost everything including both my cars, all my savings and living pay-check to pay-check. Three years and probably $50K of financial wreckage later. At least today, I don’t have to deal with the disease front and center — in my face.

    Welcome to my world, I sit in silence these days and reflect upon my life in positive ways. I still struggle everyday and blame myself for failing my son. Tears flow like a river, my body hurts from head to toe and nothing soothes the pain. In 2010, I had a mild heart attack and almost died. Eleven years earlier I had my first heart attack. Earlier this year, I quit taking my heart medications, started smoking again and was giving up on my life as a way out of this disease. I’m trying to get better now but more damage to my heart has occurred. I put myself through hell and back these last few years thinking I could make a difference and all i did was compound the issue by enabling him.

    Like no other misery I’ve experienced and ten times worse than grieving the death of my mother, this disease has literally drained the living life out of me. Thanksgiving passed by, Christmas is next week, New Years the week after and then everyone’s birthdays. Presents are under the tree with his name on them. Worse than any holidays, is the grief I live everyday not having him here to share special moments. Simple things like sharing a smile, laugh, our pets, dinner, conversations and watching a couple shows on HBO together once a week.

    His younger brother (USMC) comes home in a few days and will have a one last chance to visit him before he deploys to the front lines in Afghanistan defending our freedom. His older brother (also a Marine) may get called up from reserves and head to Afghanistan in a few months. What’s the big war in Afghanistan in 2014? Of all things, the harvest of poppy which fuels the Taliban forces. The US and our allied forces are determined to not allow the Taliban to rebuild the war budgets with disease that kills our children and ruins our lives. Semper Fi

    Today, I am just grateful my is alive, healthy and loves me. I may only get to visit him 30 minutes a week but it is so much better than disease in my life 24/7.

    God bless everyone and happy holidays. Thanks for letting me rant….

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Tom, your words paint quite a picture of what it’s like loving an addict. Addiction really is the destroyer of everything.I hope 2014 brings peace and recovery to you and your son. Sandy

      Reply
  6. jess

    My best friend has been a heroin addict for 11 years now the only time he is clean is when he is in jail I just recently had to cut him out of my life bc it was killing me to see him die he looks worse now than ever he’s so skinny and has sores all over his face from picking his skin while high when I see him I still say hi and b safe I love u but being in his life is content worries idk how is poor mother does it he’s overdosed countless times addiction turns family to strangers and is the crulest disease there is bc u loose the person way before they die u see them do things say things that u could never imagine them saying u see the body of your loved one but their soul is gone…… I pray everyday he will get straight but 11 years of prayers has done nothing the life he lives makes death look like a blessing

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Jess, oh, the heartbreak of watching someone you love slowly killing himself. And, the heartbreak of having to step away. It feels so unnatural. Addiction really is the cruelest disease. But you are strong. You have loving, open arms ready to welcome the addict once he has done what he needs to do. He can recover. I hope he does. Hugs to you.

      Reply
  7. heather kiser

    I wanna thank everyone for their post. Im 28 and have been using heroin for 7 years. Been thru the ringer. Legally physically and all the ways it affects us. I am sitting here in tears because i can see the other end of addiction i grew up with adiction but my family has disowned me. I see now that that might have been their only option left. Please continue to be there for ur loved ones. That may be the only thing they have left. Maybe uf i had someone in my corner i might get better. Being an addict is like living in the dark. .continue to b their ray of hope

    Reply
    1. Janet

      You have god on your side and in your corner. Get better for yourself and give the gift of life as your present to you. Your family will come around eventually..It takes time..But it’s you that has to turn first. Recovery is your cure but it’s up to you to want it. Recovery is easier than you think…much easier than trying to find your next drug. Find a safe place and check yourself in..get better..Life is so beautiful if you can feel it..

      Mother of a daughter in long term recovery.

      Reply
    2. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Heather, I’m sorry you’ve been through the ringer with addiction. It is a horrible disease from every perspective. I am in your corner! I want nothing more than those of you who struggle to find your way out. But Heather, get better for YOU! You are your very own hero. Warm hugs and big wishes for you.

      Reply
    3. michelle Richardson

      I will pray for you and your recovery. My family stood by my daughters for 14 years. One daughter is 30 with 4 kids. Age 1yr on monday, 4 year old, and twins age 9. Guess who is raising these babies, her dad and I. Other daughter 26 with a 11 month old daughter, who is living in a safe families home. Why, because I cant raise another baby. I am 57 and my husband is 63. We have given up everything for our children and grandchildren. My daughter’s had someone in their corner and still didn’t care. When will someone be in our corner?? I will not enable my daughters anymore. They chose to be in there dark corners.
      God is here for you.

      Reply
      1. Sandy Swenson Post author

        Michelle, addiction has certainly devastated your family. Trying to shine light on addiction so families like yours and mine don’t feel so alone. There are lots of people in your corner. Try AlAnon parents meeting. You walk in the room and feel right at home. Warm hugs to you.

        Reply
  8. Melodi

    If all of us mothers represent ourselves and put our words out there do you think it would ever make a difference? There is so much that goes along with addiction that people do not understand….Trust, Theft, Jail, the same repeated behaviors over and over again. I get it because I live with it, but people that have not be through it do NOT get it. My question is how do you educate the world about this disease and make it real in the eyes of society? Why does it have to be so looked down upon. It is a disease that is killing our kids. – I will love my boy till the end of time and never stop fighting for him. A MOM.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Melodi, this is how you educate the world about the disease: “I will love my boy till the end of time and never stop fighting for him.” Keep telling people this, Melodi. When we start talking — all of us who love an addict — the people who don’t understand this horrible disease will begin to. Hugs!

      Reply
  9. Tami

    After 10 years of my sons heroin addiction I finally quit covering it up 8 months ago. When he was incarcerated I would tell everyone he was out of state working. When he was in rehab I would tell everyone he was out of state visiting a relative. Never once did I admit he was an addict except immediate family. I’ve been shunned, laughed at and lost some friends(?). Coming clean has shown who really is your friend and who is not. Just thought I’d share that. 🙁

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Tami, so sad, so true… “I’ve been shunned, laughed at and lost some friends(?). Coming clean has shown who really is your friend and who is not.”
      Addiction destroys everything. I’m sorry you’ve come to know that. But the truth does feel better. It is real. Big hugs to you.

      Reply
  10. Heidi

    I feel like I’m beating my head off a wall! This person I love more than life itself is killing me day by day. We’ve been here before with his father..years of broken promises and sleepless nights…heroin took him 4 yrs ago…now I’m faced with the truth I’m reliving this nightmare with my son.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Heidi, oh, I’m so sorry. The place where love and addiction meet is horrible like none other. If you read through these comments you will find some suggestions for support groups. Keep coming back, Heidi. You are not alone. Sending you warm hugs.

      Reply
  11. Lisa Neumann

    What a great post. I am behind in reading but wanted to chime in late. We do such terrible things to those we love. The best gift my family gave me was the gift of no-longer-pretending. My journey was to recover form addiction. Their journey was to let me go. It was hard for everyone involved.

    I love your blog.
    Lisa

    Reply
    1. Karen

      I appreciate what you shared. I know a young man who said that he sought help for his addiction only after he saw his parents doing what they needed to do to take care of themselves by going to Alanon and working on not enabling him. Addiction is a family disease and everyone must take responsibility for themselves as they work towards recovery. Family members can be supportive of the addict with their love.

      Reply
    2. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Thanks Lisa. I love what you said: “My journey was to recover from addiction. Their journey was to let me go.” Beautiful. Hugs to you!

      Reply
  12. Bobbie

    I have just waited up all night for my 27yr old son to come home, once again and he’s a no show. He pulls this when its just him and I at home, I am the one who covers for him, tries to show him living a sober life style is better.
    Its like watching your child run into to street, and for the first time you can’t grab them and save them from a collision.
    My husband and I have been in recovery for many years, and I have empathy for the alcoholic still suffering, its not black and white for me. Hate the disease, love the alcoholic..
    Its complicated, he’s returning from overseas, injured, and I don’t know how to turn my back, however I am not helping either.
    any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Bobbie, I’m so sorry for the pain addiction is causing in your life. But you are not alone. I suggest you find a support group for the parents of addicts such as Al-Anon or Families Anonymous or Nar-Anon. Also, there are lots of support groups on Facebook. The Addicts Mom, Changing Lives Foundation, for example. You will find strength from others on the same journey. Sending warm hugs.

      Reply
      1. Karen

        Learn2Cope is another online support group, and in person support group for people from Massachusetts.
        When we love our children, it’s challenging not to do things that enable them, we think we are helping. But much of what we do as parents frankly enables them to keep using. We make it easy for them in other words. I’m not saying that if we immediately stop enabling, their behaviors will change because we are talking about the disease of addiction and nothing about that disease is easy. BUT, when enabling stops it will send the message that the hard work is up to them to figure out if they want to. Family member can support their efforts to get clean and let them know how much we love them. It’s really all we can do. For the family members, they must get better and there are many supports out there to help. I encourage anyone with addiction in their family to seek out these supports.God bless.

        Reply
        1. Sandy Swenson Post author

          Karen, yes, when the enabling stops, healing has a chance to begin. For everyone. Thank you thank you for your wise words. Hugs!

          Reply
  13. Tawnua

    Another program is called Celebrate Recovery. It is a twelve step Biblical based program. There was a movie produced this year called Home Run about it. It is for anything. My mom is having to raise my two boys. But I amhelpingher from two states away. My 13 year old is gettinginto all kinds of trouble. CR helps me cope with it. So every time the phone rings with bad news I can call another women and she can help me process it. It has made me a better person and made me understand people differently.

    Reply
      1. Charlotte Moreland

        We lost my 23 year old grandson to a heroin overdose on July 19. I was so proud of his mother (my daughter) who did Jacob’s eulogy and told the 200 plus people there that their son died from a heroin overdose. She added that when they had regained their strength, they would do everything they could to make sure there was not another child lying there like our Jacob and another family destroyed like we were. Since Jacob’s death, I have talked to many people and told them of Jacob. I am absolutely shocked at how many have experienced drug addiction in their own families or who know someone close to them who was addicted. My point — this touches almost everyone in one way or another and those of us who care deeply to make a difference need to keep screaming from the tops of the hills that we have an enormous problem in this country. We need to own it and begin to fix it. There is no place for shame — the thousands of young people who are struggling (and those who have lost their lives) are amazing people who light up our lives. By coming together by the thousands, hopefully we will truly make a difference. Sending love and prayers your way.
        Charlotte in Annapolis, MD
        Jacob’s grandmother

        Reply
        1. Sandy Swenson Post author

          Dear Charlotte (Jacob’s Grandmother), what a heartbreaking loss. I’m so sorry. You are so right: “There is no place for shame — the thousands of young people who are struggling (and those who have lost their lives) are amazing people who light up our lives. By coming together by the thousands, hopefully we will truly make a difference.” Jacob’s Grandmother, I’m sending love and prayers and hugs your way too.

          Reply
  14. Lisa

    I know the feelings all too well. Unfortunately the bundt cakes and casseroles don’t come until the battle is lost. And then, too often,.they are accompanied by snide or ignorant remarks. Throughout it all I have been saddened and angered at, yes, that very cultures that led my son down that path, then looked on him with disdain. If they looked at him at all. Hugs. Never give up.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Lisa, your words are so sad, so true: “Unfortunately the bundt cakes and casseroles don’t come until the battle is lost.” I’m sorry addiction took your son. Thank you for your hugs and words of encouragement. Hugs back to you.

      Reply
      1. Kathy Frasier

        Another great group for support is Nar-Anon. I crawled in the doors about two years ago and it was the beginning of my own recovery. So grateful. I would also like to suggest The Addict’s Mom as an option for support. You can find us on facebook (community closed group). Many moms participate and offer support, kindness and love. Whatever you do, just be sure to get some good support for yourself. You deserve it.

        Sandy – I love your writing so much.

        Kathy

        Reply
        1. Sandy Swenson Post author

          Kathy, great suggestions. I have joined The Addicts Mom and it is a great place for support. (Also, thanks for your kind words!)

          Reply
    1. Annette Hanlin-Cooney

      Amy,
      My Name I Annette Hanlin-Cooney, I lost my son to addiction 3 years ago. He took his life. I do a lot of Rally’ , meetings ect… I would love to talk to you. You can get through this I will keep you in prayer look for me on facebook, Annette Cooney or Parents Against Prescription Drug Abuse. Look forward to taking to you.

      Reply
    2. Dawn

      You are and so am I… It is a daily battle to try and maintain some semblance of normalcy. When you are filled with the terror that you will lose your child and have tried everything under the sun and fought to get them well for years only to realize it is all beyond your control is heart wrenching. We have to let it go and release it accedpt that there is nothing we can do and that is impossible. I’m sorry you and your child are suffering. I belong to a couple pages that are helpful as I am to sick to attend nar anon meetings regularly this is a good one and I go to one on one therapy once a week. https://www.facebook.com/groups/NarAnonstrengthToChange/

      Reply
      1. Dawn

        Sometimes I feel like running through the streets screaming I feel so insane from it all. All of the pain, the loss, the anger and frustration and the system is no help. There is no help. Only they can help themselves. The never ending question and torture is will they get it before it is to late.

        Reply
  15. Linda Labbe

    I love your blog. It really helps me. My son, who is 24, just recently relapsed again. I just want my little boy back. I want him just to be happy and not suffering with this disease. I feel like I am losing my mind. I’m so scared for him. I’m trying to be better this time and not enable. I don’t know what to do anymore. I didn’t talk about it before because I would cry all the time but now I don’t care. I talk all the time about what is happening with this crazy prescription drug epidemic. They should be warning families with kids in middle and high school but there are no programs in schools around here. I live in Eastern CT and I’ve never seen so many kids in rehab in my life. When I read your blog it lets me know my family is not alone and so many families are going through this hell. I hate it!! Prayers for son and your family 🙂

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Linda, you are not alone. Surround yourself with people who understand. You will find strength and support there. I’m sorry you know this pain. Sending hugs.

      Reply
  16. Patti

    This is so true Sandy, as a mother of an addict of 8 yrs I have lived it all while it is killing me softly, there is nothing easy about this life. Addiction has not been identified, or believed at least, to be a disease till recent years, unless one is affected by it in their immediate family we have a tendency to ignore it or look the other way. Addiction is not socially accepted any more than AIDS was, it was not till people of all walks of life were contracting it that we saw any change at all. Sadly I believe the same thing is happening here, unfortunately we still have a pop culture of young people still out promoting this irresponsible behavior, till that stops and they advocate for a healthier lifestyle our kids will still be lead down this thorny path. I am afraid the day things will change is when more and more families are affected by it, unfortunately it has already gotten out of control and people are just now talking about it, but we need to do more than just talk It is a runaway train roaring down the tracks and picking up our kids at an incredible speed the time to put the brakes on was yesterday, I would love a bundt cake, but what I would love more is to have my son back! BTW I love your blog!

    Reply
  17. Mimi

    Sandy I think that’s my favorite yet. Thank you thank you thank you again for sharing your experience, strengh and hope. I look forward to your post every week and it gives me such comfort to know I am not traveling on this journey alone.
    I have always imagined casseroles…but bundt cakes are even better! Keep writing!!

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Mimi, you are not alone. I’m glad you find comfort here. Thanks for your kind words. And, I hope you find bunt cake (or casseroles!) on your doorstep someday soon. Hugs!

      Reply
    2. Darlene Talley

      Joey is not alone. There are millions of other people, as well as myself, who understand this disease and the war that its waging against his body and soul. Although it appears all powerful, it is not, and can be defeated, and Joey can receive the victory. #Beblessed

      Reply

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