FROM ONE MOTHER TO ANOTHER
“If a mother’s love could fix addiction, it would, long ago, have been eradicated—too many people don’t understand this. So, I will tell my story. My love story. With my words, I will open a door and let in some light.” ~Sandy Swenson
Sandy lives where love and addiction meet—a place where help enables and hope hurts. When addiction steals her son, Sandy fights for his survival, trying to stay on the right side of an invisible line beteen helping him to live and helping him to die. By age 20, Joey overdoses, attempts suicide, quits college, survives a near-fatal car accident, does time behind bars, and is kicked out of rehab more than once. Increasingly manipulative, delusional, and hateful, the sweet Joey from childhood is lost to the addict wearing his face. Working with an interventionist, a judge, and tracking Joey’s movements online, Sandy does what she can to save Joey from himself until it hurts more to hang on than it hurts to let go. Through Family Programs, Al-Anon, reading, and learning from her mistakes, Sandy discovers that sometimes love means doing nothing, and that Letting Go is not the same thing as giving up. She also learns that she needs to work on surviving her son’s addiction while coming to terms with the fact that he may not.
Years pass. Friends and family no longer ask about Joey; they no longer know what to say. Joey is not in recovery, but Sandy works on hers, trying to keep the poison that is consuming Joey from destroying the rest of her family and her life. There is a place in her life that is exactly his size. One she hopes he will someday want to fill.
When Joey was a toddler, I would sing to him the only song to which I knew all the words: I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart; I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay. He called it the Joey Song. Well, Joey is down in my heart to stay — no matter what happens. And, I’ve learned the importance of keeping joy down in my heart — no matter what happens — too.
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.
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 in my book, collected as a set of meditations, reflect those stages.
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 Tending Dandelions—the thoughts laid bare for you to think about—will help you achieve that.
A collection of reflections, dedicated to the parents living in the place where love and addiction meet—a place where help enables and hope hurts.
As moms with addicted children, we may often feel fragile, but we are strong. And we are many.
To every mother living with the complex reality of loving a child with an addiction, Sandra Swenson has been where you are today. As a follow-up to her beloved meditation book Tending Dandelions, Sandy has written brand new honest readings for mothers living in the place where love and addiction meet. With the Readings for Moms of Addicts app, you can carry these new meaningful readings with you wherever you go. Sandy honestly addresses codependency, shame, grief, stigma, and how she came to realize that letting go is not the same as giving up. Wherever you and your child are in your unique recovery journeys, these readings will remind you that you are not alone.
This app contains 146 new readings that are different from, yet complementary to, the readings in the book Tending Dandelions published by Hazelden Publishing. This convenient and searchable app format provides the perfect tool for use in support groups–such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon Family Groups, or Families Anonymous–or at any time you need connection and motivation.
• Automatically view a new reading each day you open the app
• Search for a keyword that you want to read about today
• Browse all readings by title and by the stage you are in your journey
• Press the heart to mark a reading as a favorite, and quickly return to it when you need it most
• Receive a daily notification to remind you to view a reading
• Share your favorite readings with other moms through text or email
No one ever said it was going to be easy, but no one ever said it would be this hard, either. And even if they had, I would never have believed them. It being life, with all its unexpected heartache piled atop crumpled dreams and wishes.
As the mom of a now-adult child who battles addiction, I know the devastating toll of this disease—the love and lies, fears and hopes, twisting the mystical umbilical connection into knots. Addiction is ruthless, breaking hearts and bonds and all the rules. Oh, how I wish there were a way to go back in time and nudge the direction of our path over a smidge, just enough to lead us anywhere but here, this place where love and addiction meet. However, as much as I wish my family could have avoided all the pain, trauma, and drama, the truth is I’m a better person now than I was even aware I could be. I have had to dig deep, feel big, see truth, and be real. Because of that, I’ve discovered a deeper level of patience, acceptance, kindness, and understanding of what really matters. For that, I’m grateful. I’m also grateful, of course, for all the wonderful mamas I’ve met along the way. The brave, strong, hurt, terrified, confused, open-armed and open-hearted sisterhood that would otherwise not have blessed my life.
For many years, I was consumed with my son’s addiction, thinking I could fix it, change him, or somehow manage his life and disease for him. Over time, I came to realize the only thing I can change or control is me—but that has real power. Through my words and actions, I can help shed the shame and stigma, changing the way addiction is perceived within my community and within my son himself. And, through my books, blog, and MomPower website, in trying to help other moms on the same path, I have found healing. But I’m also tired. My sixty-year-old self would like to take a rest, but being the mom of an addicted child is a continuous uphill journey of learning and adapting, while carrying an unrelenting grief for what is, for what should have been, and in anticipation of what might be coming next—in addition to everything else we juggle as mothers, wives, daughters, caregivers, worker bees, and friends. Life is not one-dimensional. There’s a lot of other tough stuff piling up, too—day after day, year after year, one after another on top of another.
But, as moms with addicted children, we are strong—my goodness, we continue to endure the unimaginable every single day!—and we have learned more ways to cope than we may even be aware of. Ways to think and see and respond to all the other tough stuff we’re faced with, too. We may not be able to make every situation better, but we can behave in ways that make them not worse. We really can find our way to being just dandy (and mean it).
Several years ago, at a museum with my dad, I was drawn to a glass case displaying a partially completed piece of handwoven lace, with the dozens of delicate threads being used in this creation laid out like sunbeams from the center. Attached to the end of each thread was a wooden bobbin, giving, I assume, the weaver something of substance to hold on to while also helping to keep the multitude of threads laid out in some sort of manageable arrangement. I told my dad that the piece-of-lace-in-the-works looks like what it feels like to write a book—keeping all the individual thought-threads separate and untangled, and keeping track of which one goes where and how to find my way back to pick up at the place I left off.
That piece of bobbin lace also looks the same way my life feels: nothing happens in a straight line—neither around me nor within me; sometimes it looks impossible to figure out; it is still incomplete; and it won’t look the same at the end as it did at the beginning—but I believe that even life’s most chaotic jumble of threads can be woven into something beautiful.
We have the power to thrive, even while living with heartache and wishes.
Hugs and hope,