"Even when things seem like they might not be figure-out-able, I'm slowly figuring them out."

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Episode 101 -- April 1, 2021

Becoming Independent: Learning to Live Alone

Sandra Swenson, in her book Just Dandy: Living with Heartache and Wishes, shares her pain and struggles, strength and determination, as a series of crises continue to unravel her world in unexpected ways. After coming to terms with her adult son Joey's continuing fight with addiction, Sandra was blindsided by the end of her long-term marriage and the fallout of the divorce, including the need to find a new home and restart her career at age sixty while also caring for her aging parents. Whether we are in recovery or not, beginning a new chapter in our lives can be terrifying, especially in our older age. This excerpt is a refreshingly honest account of one woman's experience with heartache, acceptance, and rediscovery as she learns to navigate life on her own and finds new strengths and resiliency.

This excerpt has been edited for brevity.

I snore.

I know this because I've woken myself up a few times when no one else is around; no one toward whom I can point a no-you-did-it finger. Maybe I've always snored but was out-snored by Josh and our assorted dogs, but I think this is new. And it's things like this, along with the relentless invasion of pounds and wrinkles, that have me convinced I will never want to date. I can't imagine introducing this whole package to someone new. All at once. Instead of gradually, over the years, as marriage intended.

It's also hard to imagine introducing some unsuspecting soul to all of my family baggage over a get-to-know-you dinner. There's a lot of stigmatized material here for someone to grapple with—it's a struggle for even for my family and friends to understand things sometimes. It's hard to imagine some unsuspecting soul being happy that I was the one he chose to call for a date. Or getting a second call back.

At a friend's insistence, I did tiptoe into one of the dating websites for about five minutes. But it seemed to me there was an abundance of shirtless guys with names like Adonis, flexing their muscles while sitting on motorcycles—and so I skedaddled my way back out of there very fast. That world holds absolutely no interest for me. Basically, it's like trying on complete strangers ordered from a picture in a catalog and hoping for a fit. No thanks. I know how that process makes me feel with a mere swimsuit. So I know I don't have the stomach for that.

The last time I went on a date, I was in my twenties; I need to take care as I take time to rediscover who I am as me minus the us.

At this point in my life, Josh and I should have been rediscovering ourselves as empty nesters moving to life's next phase—I never expected that I'd be having to discover who I am on my own. For twenty-eight years, I was dancing in the dark, and I will not make that mistake again. I will take all the time I need to see what's really real and to see what I want and need. And as of right now, several years after our divorce, my heart is telling me that I had my family; I only want one. Even if that means being lonely. Right now, all I want is to be a mom, a daughter, a friend, a sister, and an author. (And, someday, a grandma. But I'm the only one who is ready for that yet.) I may or may not ever be ready to date.

But I am, more or less, doing just dandy on my own.

Even when things seem like they might not be figure-out-able, I'm slowly figuring them out. I've figured out how to install a screen door, mow the grass, take care of a rattlesnake situation in my backyard, and set stone blocks into cement to make a border around the garden at the front of my house. A friend of mine says I have grit. I guess I do. I guess I acquired some grit in the trauma of being the mom of an addicted child. But it didn't feel like grit then. It feels like grit now that I'm alone.

The last time my son Rick was here for a visit, I mentioned-hinted-suggested that he consider moving to Texas so we could be closer. Not a new conversation—he'd heard this before over the phone a few times. But I mentioned-hinted-suggested this again after we'd had a nice day at the movies and a dinner out—I like having him around. My twenty-six-year-old son replied, looking a little horrified, "Mom, do you know how hard it would be for me to move back home with you?" To which I replied, probably also looking a little horrified, "No, I'm not inviting you to live in my house, just in my state!" The truth is, while I'd love to have Rick live nearby, I don't need him to live nearby. And there's a big difference between the two. It may not always be easy, but I can take care of myself, and I don't want him to think that I can't.

Finally, I'm no longer just dangling up in the air. The rug that keeps getting pulled out from under me is coming in for a landing.

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. An advocate for acceptance, education, healing, and recovery, Swenson can frequently be found sharing her story at events nationwide.

© 2020 by Sandra Swenson
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