☼ The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story Of Her Son’s Addiction — An Interview


The Joey Song

Cathy Taughinbaugh — Treatment Talk http://cathytaughinbaugh.com/interview-sandy-swenson-author/

I had the pleasure of reading Sandy Swenson’s heartfelt story of her son’s journey into addiction. Her powerful tale of parental love and hope is one of those books that will heal the hearts of others who so desperately want to know that they are not alone. Sandy’s story will resonate with those who love a child. Her strength, determination, and hope for a miracle will remain unforgettable.

Please welcome Sandy Swenson, author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction.

What inspired you to write The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story Of Her Son’s Addiction?
When I first started to write The Joey Song, I was trying to heal. I was trying to understand the toxic corrosion of addiction eating away at my son, my family, my heart. I was also secretly hoping that one day my son would read the words I had written and be forever changed; I was hoping that by the time I got to the last chapter I’d have a happy ending to write about.

But, as it turns out, my story, like so many others, is a story without closure. So, I started to write the book I so desperately needed to read; I started to write The Joey Song for parents like me, parents whose beloved children remain in active addiction.

For parents living in the place where love and addiction meet—a place where help enables and hope hurts. For parents trying to figure out the difference between helping their child to live and helping him to die. For parents grieving the loss of a child who is still alive. For parents needing to find a recovery of their own.

I’ve heard it said that for every addict, another four lives are affected. That means there’s a lot of suffering going on. And, for too many people, stigma and shame have them suffering in silence.

When addiction grabs a child, it chokes a parent. I know the life-draining squeeze of its grip. I’ve never felt so incapable and helpless, so sad, so lonely. Such fear. My child has been stolen from me—stolen from himself—and I mourn Joey’s loss and suffering from a very lonely place.

There is no broad community empathy or support for the families of addicts. There is no rallying cry of solidarity, no pretty ribbon brigade, and none of the comfort that so often gets baked into meatloaf and muffins. Instead there are closed doors and mouths and minds and hearts.

I want addiction to be understood, not misrepresented, misjudged, and mishandled. Not hushed up or hidden away. Nasty things grow most freely in dark corners; the scourge of addiction needs to be dragged out into the light.

So, I share my story of love and loss and learning. And surviving my son’s addiction while coming to terms with the fact that he may not.

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.

No more shame, no more silence.

How has your son’s addiction affected your life and what did you do to help yourself?
My baby grew up to be an addict. There was a time when I believed a mother’s love could fix anything, but it can’t fix this. So, there’s a gaping hole in my life where my son should be. Falling in the hole or filling it up are my only options, so I’m taking steps to fill it.

I choose to honor my son with my words and my actions―not the addict.

This doesn’t mean I don’t care. Or don’t hurt. Or won’t cry. It just means I will fill the hole in my life where Joey should be with goodness, not badness. Kindness, not madness.

I’m not ashamed of Joey. I’m sad for him. And, I’m not ashamed to be the mother of an addict. I will no longer behave as though addiction is a dark secret and I’m not going to live like a cockroach hiding under a rock.

I will be open and honest about what addiction has done to Joey and to our family, hopefully helping some people along the way, with my blog and my book, The Joey Song.

Like Joey, I have choices. And I choose to live life.

What are three things you’ve told yourself that kept you going during your darkest hour?
“I will not help the addict to kill my son.”

For years, I did everything I could to protect Joey from himself, until, finally, I realized it wasn’t him that I was protecting. I was protecting the addict. Making it easy for the addict. Giving the addict one more day to further consume my son’s body and mind. I was helping the addict to kill the son I was trying to save.

Once I realized this it changed everything; my motherly love would need to be contorted and redefined. There’s nothing about this kind of love that feels good, but I’m not doing it for me. It’s not called Tough Love because it’s mean. It’s called Tough Love because it is tough to do. But I will do nothing, ever again, to help the addict. Because, if I do, I have no hope of ever seeing my son.

I told Joey once to never underestimate my love for him, and this is what I meant—I love him enough to bear the toughest love of all.

To Let Go is to Love. I can do both, and I can survive.

“It’s not the addict I hope will be grateful for my love. It’s my son.”

My son is the one who needs my support. My son needs to see my strength. My devotion. My resolve.

My son needs me to face down his worst enemy, not help it.

My son and the addict may share the same shadow but they will not share my love. My son is the one I want to see live beyond tomorrow.

“Letting Go is not the same thing as giving up.”

The expression “Letting Go” implies, well, letting go—as in dropping or throwing away—and as any mother knows, that’s just not possible. There is no Letting Go in a mother’s heart—not of a hand once held. Even if that little hand grows into a big hand attached to a horrid addict. But that’s not what Letting Go means. I now understand. It means to let go of the things that aren’t mine to hold on to. The things that have anything to do with addiction.

In Letting Go of my son, I’m letting him know that I believe in him. That I believe he can do this. Like a hug, full of my love, I Let Go believing that he will find his way back.

If a parent walked up to you asking for your advice and you only had a few minutes to give them your best tip(s), what would it be?
“Sometimes love means doing nothing rather than doing something. “

Our children are not marionettes we can control with words or wishful thinking. Our actions are not their actions. Our pulling the strings isn’t the same thing as them doing the work. It took me a long time to realize that my enabling was giving Joey a stage to go through the motions of recovery and that if he was going to have a chance at real success I needed to clip the strings.

There’s nothing I can say or do to stop Joey’s addiction, but he needs to have a reason to stop. He needs to know I’m keeping the place where he belongs in my life warm. I will not give him advice or a sympathetic ear or even believe a word he says, but as long as Joey is alive I will find ways to leave traces of love along with my Letting Go.

All I can do for Joey now is love him. But he will know it. And that is something.

What do you want readers to take away from your story?
Addiction is a disease, not a disgrace. It is not an issue for moral judgment.

Addiction begins where dalliance becomes disease, and it can happen to anyone who has taken a sip or puff or snort (which our culture entices every young person to do), or even a pill prescribed for pain.

As a parent I made a lot of mistakes, but causing my son to be an addict is not one of them. If imperfect parenting caused addiction, then everyone would be an addict. The reason someone starts to drink or use drugs is not the same reason why someone cannot stop.

The only thing we have control over is our own reactions. We cannot make our addict embrace recovery but we can stop the spread of the disease. We can stop the toxic corrosion of addiction eating away at our family and our soul. Recovery begins with us.

Recovery can happen even if it does not happen within our addict. It is not selfish for parents to take care of themselves. Be the example you wish to see.

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


17 thoughts on “☼ The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story Of Her Son’s Addiction — An Interview

  1. Debby Garrett

    I just recently saw & heard your interview on YouTube through serendipity (much too happy a word for the subject, don’t you think?) I live near Ft Worth, but just returned from spending a week in Austin, where our family lived for 25 yrs and where our “Joey”, now 40, came of age.

    I ordered your book the day I heard your story on YouTube. It was in the mail when I stopped by the post office on my way home. I’ve only made it through Verse Two, but I had to stop &
    write to you. Our stories are so similar, I
    feel both sickened and understood at
    the same time. I can’t read anymore just now. It’s too painful. I will finish it in small doses over the next few days. I’m certain it will be helpful to us and others I may be able to help, going forward. God, how I want to just run away and pretend I’m no longer affected by this. I hope to speak to you in person one day. If you are speaking anywhere I can come anytime soon, I will be there.

    Thank you for sharing your strength, pain &
    experience in this book. You are a wonderful writer.

  2. Jackie

    I cried through the entire interview. A few days ago I finally made a few decisions and reading this interview has really given me hope. I feel like I’m doing the right thing. Keeping a warm space in my heart not the addict.

  3. Sandy

    I lost my son to a herion overdose dose a month ago, I watched him suffer for years he didn’t want to be a addict but he didn’t know how to get out. I completely understand what this mother says about putting the truth out there, I put in my son’s obituary the truth, bc I think if more ppl would do that it might bring more awareness to this problem. I am not ashamed of my son, and never had been he was the love of my life! This is definitely a disease and if more ppl would recognize this like this mother said there would be more awareness, I did everything I could for my son, but the addiction still won.

    1. Susan

      I read your story. I never knew that we as the parents have to withdrawl from not having my son’s true love. I really connected with your story. loved him, we enabled him, now we

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  7. JoAnn Donahue

    I am a mother of an addict. Joey is his name and he will be 33 in 9 days. He has been using alcohol and drugs for all of his adult life, in and out of jail, fines, loss jobs, relationships, the list goes on and on.
    It’s a been a long and winding road-so many up’s ,downs twist & turns and I am responsilble for the length of this journey as much as the addict is.
    The Road has lead me here to this interview actually it lead me to this post I Will Not Help The Addict To Kill My Son and then I went pointing and clicking wanting to read more of MY story! 🙁
    Now I understand by not demonstrating tough love towards my son I am loving the addict more! WOW WOW WOW!
    This cold hard truth has set me somewhat free today. I think I am ready to start a new.
    Thank you for the courage and MORE importantly YOUR love for humanity.

  8. Loretta

    My son is an addict not currently using. He and his wife lost their children to dcf. I had no idea about the use until dcf came into our lives. I asked a question to dcf, ” what are the signs I should look for to know when they are using” and that question was my death sentence. Im not allowed to see my grandchikdren because dcf twisted my words by saying i did not know how to tell when they are high. And that I support my son and his wife which makes me unstable. As for the grand father he yelled at someone once so he has anger issues. I called so many people in tbis state of vermont for help only to be turned down by everyone. Nobody cares. Im so sad, we are currently in the court process for dcf to terminate parental rights, although my son and his wife have been clean for 2 years now and have done dcf’s laundry list.

  9. Pam

    WOW, I really, really wish I could afford to get this book. Not only do I have a son like Joey, I have 2 plus their 4 sisters 🙁 How can one deal and live with this many???

    1. Tammy

      I have a 21 year old son he is an addict he lost job in trouble with law blames me for everything I have a 24 year old son who is an alcholic he just went through a divorce lost everything due to her cheating I have 27 year old daughter who conpulsive liar causes so much drama in the family I dont know what I did wrong I wasstrict with them I was a yyoung mother there father wasnt in there life they struggle with that but the father didnt want to be once we got a divorce the youngest son went treatment and the counselor told me I was an enabler ; ( they were right I been so lost I sat up all night one night looking for something to tell me how to deal with my children problem s. I found the Joey song and it made me realize its not fault I have to let go ; ( hardest thing I have EVER done its so hard

  10. Jimmy Washington

    Sandy, I admire you for being brave and strong in spite of all the struggles you face. I can’t imagine how you handled it and remain a good mother to your addicted son. You never give up and lose hope with your son. I’ll be praying for you and your family, Stay positive and strong for your son’s recovery. I can feel your love towards your son and how sad you are without him around.Continue to inspire people through your writings.

  11. Susan

    I wanted to tell you that I found your book to be the most powerful and truthful memoir I’ve read about a mother’s journey with an addicted child. Sadly, your journey was similar to mine with my 22 year old son. Although he is in recovery, I wish I could say all is well, but it’s not. I battle the fears from our past and find myself guarded for our future as mother and son. I would say that I’m recovering from post traumatic stress. Fortunately, my Al Anon program and parent support group continue to help me find and maintain some serenity. And reading your book reinforced my recovery program and gave me strength to stay the course. I strongly recommend your book to not just parents of addicts/alcoholics, but believe it to be the best book in the market that will enable friends and family members to understand what a mother’s life looks and feels like when living a life with an addicted child. Your sharing of your experiences with such descriptive language was both insightful and clear for those who have no experience or understanding of this disease and it’s effects. Thank you for writing this memoir.

  12. Cindy Kage

    Wow…..that is all I can muster to say at the moment. God intervened one day, on the beach, in Florida, while I was serving with a missions group. A friend of mine and began talking and the subject of my now 21 year old son came up. The struggles, the pain, the anger, the frustration. I was introduced to your book. A week later it was in my hands, given to me by a friend who had just received it from Sandy. I finished the book today. Reading it brought back so many memories of love that once was and is now lost. Five years ago our world crashed like a helicopter in war. I have three sons, my husband and I have been married for 23 years and we have been through so much of the same things that you have been through. Some circumstances are different but the feelings the same. I have not spoken to my oldest for almost a year now. Each day I struggle with fear. Fear that kills my soul, fear that I will do something to make my younger boys go the same path that their brother took. I cried during the book a lot!! Relating to so many things. Sandy thank you for sharing this story. I can barely bring myself to think of what has happened much less write a book about it. From a mother to a mother, your strength, love and courage are amazing and inspirational. Keep strong. Know that you have touched my soul, and given a hopeless soul, HOPE. My sons are still grieving from our situation but one day I will share the book with them so they can understand that they are not alone but there is always hope for a good future. God’s blessing on you and your entire family!!

  13. Alyssa Tucker

    Wow!!! A friend of mine sent me this article. The bond that she and I share is one that most parents wouldn’t want to admit they share, but our children are addicts. The met each other trying to do the recovery thing. I can’t tell you how much I loved reading this article because it’s right where I am…….finally and fortunately. I’ve gone through all the stages of grief and loss and manipulation and conditional love to realize that all I can do is to simply love my daughter. I’m so grateful that with lots of love and support and Al-Anon that I’ve gotten to where I am today, peaceful and content. And as long as I can still take a breath, I will hold on to hope that maybe one day I’ll have my daughter back. And if I don’t, I know she knows that I love her. That’s all. Looking forward to reading The Joey Song.


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