"This Thanksgiving is about as close to being with family as being without family can be."

Other titles you may like.

Tending Dandelions

The Joey Song

Visit Recovery Road to view and listen to all the episodes.

Episode 65 -- November 25, 2020

Just Dandy: Being With Family While Being Without Family

At any given time, we are all dealing with people in our lives who we've considered family. Sometimes, for those of us in recovery, it's a fraught relationship. Sometimes, it's wonderful. Relationships are always in progress. And never are they perfect.

Sandra Swenson, in her new book Just Dandy: Living with Heartache and Wishes, writes about the holidays and family from the perspective of a mother whose son struggles with addiction—and also as a person who also manages the other aspects of her life that can be just as hope-filled and heartbreaking. She reflects on her own self-care and recovery in this excerpt that speaks to dreams, abiding love, and what family can be when family isn't available. All of us are multi-faceted people. Our lives are complicated, sometimes wishful and sometimes leaving us wanting. How do we do it? How can we be "just dandy" and mean it?

It has been edited for brevity.

The floodgates have opened. My tears and my sadness flow forth unrestrained. A deluge. A release. All the feelings I've been holding in for six weeks (rolled up with all the feelings I've been holding in for months and years) are coming out, riding on waves of sheer exhaustion. The unrelenting need to try making sense of what makes no sense at all—in so many ways, with so many people—has worn me to a nub. Sprawled on my stomach across my bed, I ache for a comforting hand on my shoulder, or to be wrapped in the arms of someone who feels what I feel, who cares what I feel, and whose love would absorb some of the pain. My aloneness adds to the sadness already filling me up to the brim. A spontaneous cleansing, this happens every once in a while—my body, brain, and heart team up to say it's time to shed some of the sad to make room for some happy. For a tomorrow, a soul, filled with more strength than tears. And so, I don't hold back.

Back home now from my roots in Golden Valley, I'm grieving the loss of the house I grew up in, the loss of my parents as parents, and the loss of their golden years dream. I'm grieving the loss of yet another belief in the man I once thought I knew—the essence of the man to whom I was married—and the ongoing loss of my son, Joey, to The Addict who consumes him. I'm grieving the loss of my family—both families: the one I was born into and the one I made—and the loss of life's most important and everlasting connections, which have been lost with these losses. And I'm grieving the loss of my sense of security and of life as I knew it (again), and so the loss of a whole bunch more dreams, too.

So, in crying, I'm working through quite a backlog of material. Unrealized dreams. This cry will take some time.

Dreams. So lofty and pie in the sky. Like clouds. Yet solid enough to hang your hat on. So, for something that never actually happened, unrealized dreams are a heavy load. Like a dowager's hump, the weight has me emotionally stooped. The pain is crippling.

My dreams—for my children, for my family, for me—had no boundary. Some dreams were big and lofty, like happiness and personal successes, while other dreams were more low-key, like for everyone to be all snug-as-a-bug. I dreamed of togetherness at family trips, holidays, days at the beach, or celebrating life's great events—or being together for life's not-so-great events, too. Some dreams were as simple as chatty phone calls, sharing jokes, or checking in on what's up. My dreams had no boundary, and so there's no boundary to my agony now that those dreams are gone. I mourn the dreams that aren't to be.

I mourn the dreams that should have been, the dreams that could have been, and even the silly little daydreams and long-shot pipe dreams. Carried away, like a towering tree in a storm, things that once seemed solid, secure, and certain are gone.

Where do dreams go when they die?

Tending Dandelions, 123

A few nights later, all dried up and dried off—my composure put back together and my feelings put back in the place where I store them—I reach out to some friends, ready now for the comfort of their presence, love, and support. Tonight there's a supermoon, a full moon that is bigger and brighter than usual, so we gather around the fire pit in my neighbor's backyard, talking about life and hurt and healing, and we watch as the moon slowly rises and shines in the darkness—as does my spirit. There's great power in friendships.

Gazing up at the moon, I suddenly feel the quiet presence of Joey—I feel he is close even though he is far away, and I haven't seen or heard from him in over a year. I bask in this feeling, believing he might be feeling the same connection, gazing up at this same moon, too.

You, my child, are far, far, away—I think you'd be far, far away even if you lived nearby.

We no longer share the same house or same dreams, holidays, or interests. We rarely even share a pleasant conversation. But that doesn't mean we're not connected. Whether you feel it or not, I'm with you every moment of every day. And wherever you are, we will always share the same moon.

When I miss you (which is always), and when I ache for some time with the son that addiction has stolen away, I step outside and sit down in the quiet night air, waiting for the moon to rise. I look up at this thing that is so far, far away—just like you are to me (and I am to you). But I know that you, too, can see it. Touch it with your eyes. And I feel your presence.

Tonight I will look up at the moon—the same moon hanging in the sky above you—and I will find peace in that connection. Maybe you will be looking up at the same time, at the same moon, too.

Tending Dandelions, 186

With the weather still summerlike here in Texas, I spend some time working in the backyard, my haven, wanting things to look nice when Rick arrives for Thanksgiving. I fill the bird feeders with seed for my little bird friends, and, chuckling to myself, I follow the muddy-but-cute armadillo footprints tracked across my patio into the garden beds, trying to discover where the little critters are sneaking in under the fence—they like to dig around in the dirt, uprooting my flowers with their snouts, so I'd like to block their entrance and keep them out.

This year, my other son, Rick, and I join my friend Cindy and her family for Thanksgiving dinner. The whole big clan. We haven't established our own tradition, not since our own family fell apart— Thanksgiving isn't a holiday meant for just two people; it needs a crowd and a hubbub of activity and lots of dishes full of side dishes—but each year we've tried something new, and each year has been lovely in its own unique way. Early in the day, I get a turkey roasting in the oven and bake some apple-sage stuffing and an upside-down apple-pecan pie, filling the house with the aromas of the holiday, before Rick and I and a small cadre of helpers carry our contributions across the street to add to the epic feast: a smorgasbord of deliciousness, it includes both a smoked and a deep-fried turkey, too, to round out our turkey trifecta. Cindy's crew is lively and warmhearted, and Rick knows most of them from living in India and from previous visits, so this Thanksgiving is about as close to being with family as being without family can be.

About the Author:
Sandra Swenson is the mother of two sons—one of whom struggles with addiction. Author of the books The Joey Song: A Mother's Story of Her Son's Addiction and Tending Dandelions: Honest Meditations for Mothers with Addicted Children and the Readings for Moms of Addicts app, Sandra lives in the place where love and addiction meet—a place where help enables and hope hurts. Sandra is a voice for parents of children suffering with the disease of addiction, putting their thoughts and feeling into words. Her latest project is MomPower.org, an easy-to-navigate hub connecting moms who have children with addictions to a world of help, hope, perspective, sanity, and empowerment.

© 2020 by Sandra Swenson
All rights reserved