"Becoming means collecting my heartache and wishes and turning them into something good."

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Episode 75 -- December 31, 2020

New Year, New Start: Becoming, in Every Moment of Life

For many of us, this has been a hard year, marked by unexpected events, unsettled feelings, and unprecedented levels of stress and distraction. We may have been disconnected from our friends and families, worried about our health, wearied by the news, and unsure about our employment—yet we still cling to the recovery path we're on: step by step, one day at a time. We know in our bones that the future can be better than the past.

In her new book Just Dandy: Living with Heartache and Wishes, Sandra Swenson writes about leaning into this future with hope and confidence—not that everything will turn out fine, but that, whatever happens, she will act in ways that are true to herself. Drawing from her own story as the mother of an addicted child as well as the narrative of her late-in-life divorce and the new life she is still building, Swenson shares hard-won wisdom and keen insights about the power of persistence, hope, and courage. The new year is an opportunity to keep becoming, keep learning the lessons that come with grief as well as gratitude, and keep living with integrity, grace, and openheartedness.

2020 may be finished, but we are not.

It has been edited for brevity.

I feel. But sometimes I don't feel at all. Or, to be more accurate, I don't allow myself to feel; I eat my feelings instead. And then I feel rather unbecoming. Like when I loop a rubber band around the button and buttonhole on the waist of my jeans for a little extra room when getting dressed in the morning. Or when I add another cute shirt to the growing pile of clothes that no longer fit, hidden away on the top shelf in my closet. Some people might think (judge) I've let myself go (in the midst of letting go of so much). But it's not on purpose—I mean, it's not that I've just given up. Rather, eating has become a friend for me to hang out with in the evenings while watching TV. In place of being held and heard. This is not the healthiest adaptive behavior, I know. But still, little by little, I am becoming.

Becoming, you see, is not perfection. It's not pain-free. And it's not a straight line—it's a back- and-forth, up-and-down process, held together by rubber bands and who-knows-what-else. It is not done and done. It's messy and it's hard work. But it is living.

Becoming means collecting my heartache and wishes and turning them into something good.

Some days, I become overwhelmed with the wrongness of every thing. With not understanding what has happened. Or how or why. Some days, I allow myself to think of all the worst things that have happened and that might still happen. And, I allow myself to think that things will never, ever get better. Some days, I just have to wallow around for a while.

Then, when I'm done being morose, I remember that things will never, ever get better if I don't help them along. I remember that things getting better grows from the inside out. What blooms is what was planted; my tomorrow starts with that.

Some days, I need to work extra hard on my inner serenity—knowing there's such healing power in that. I need to remind myself to keep my heart open to trust and hope and honesty. I remind myself that happy memories, peaceful memories, like flowers in a garden, are beautiful gifts. So I collect those memories and let them gently tickle my mind. And I remind myself to fill my thoughts, my world, with happy things, not sad things; right things, not wrong things.

Whatever is good. I remind myself, daily, to grow that.

—Tending Dandelions, 214

Inside and out, I will be—I am—the mistress of my domain. I alone am responsible for what I say and do (or don't do), how hard I try (or don't try), what I think, and what I do with those thoughts. I alone own my mistakes and whether I learn from them. And I own the consequences of all of that—good or bad. (But I'm not responsible for and cannot control any of that for anyone else, period—even though I sometimes think I am and think I can—which is freeing.) The consequences of someone else's behavior might come knocking, but I alone control the level of love, peace, and positive energy entering my world. Just because something hateful, disturbing, or negative is at the gate doesn't mean I have to let it into my psyche and heart. I need to take care of myself because I deserve to be well taken care of, first and foremost, but also because I'm no good to anyone else if I don't. You can't pour from an empty cup. No one can do my becoming for me. (Just as I can't do the work of becoming for anyone else. Urrgh).

Listening to my instincts and following my principles—living with integrity and as much grace and humor as I can muster—I am up to me.

I've learned a few things about making things better-rather-than-worse over the years. Usually the hard way—either from the mistakes I've made or from crawling my way out of piles of crap into which I've been tossed. Rarely have I learned anything simply because I was told how to do it, and I don't always do what I've learned (or apply what I know)—even though I know I should, for my own sake, for goodness sake. But, I persevere, picking myself up by my bootstraps, and try not to beat myself up when I didn't do what needs doing and need to get started all over again. (Which is often.) And I try not to be afraid.

Negative self-talk (that evil inner whisperer) must be silenced—the one that says I'm not good enough or capable enough. And the negative talk from the powers that wanna be must be silenced, too. I'm the one who knows my strengths, abilities, and limitations best. I'm the one who knows the things I'm good at that also make me feel good. I'm the one who needs to believe in me.

It's okay to be happy, even when I hurt—and even when the people I love hurt, too. It's okay to embrace the things that make me happy, to have fun (without guilt). And it's okay not to be okay—some days finding happiness is just too much work. Feelings of fun and joy ebb and flow, just like feelings of pain and loss ebb and flow, too. It's okay to fake it till you make it—sometimes a smile comes from joy, but sometimes joy can be found in cracking a smile. And sometimes saying "I'm just dandy" helps being just dandy become true. So does talking more about the good things in life than the bad.

Be a voice, not an echo.


Embracing the now—not getting stuck in the past or being consumed by the worries of tomorrow—changes everything. Being one with what is. Acceptance. Acknowledging what I miss while appreciating what I have. Today.

Notes to self, in no particular order: Make goals. Have reasonable expectations. Let go of perfection and practice forgiveness—for myself and for others. And let go of this destructive trio: shame, blame, and guilt. Hug often. Don't get stuck in the weeds; keep the big picture in sight for both sanity and perspective. Be a good friend. Talk and talk and talk isn't a substitute for accept and do. There are no magical solutions. No snarkiness, ever. Getting dressed and brushing my hair every day is essential in avoiding a downward spiral. It's hard enough to change myself—it's impossible to change other people. Maintain healthy boundaries. Being nice doesn't mean being a doormat. Try walking in someone else's shoes at least once a day. Purposeful action (or inaction) is better than reaction; be prepared. Be mindful of mountains and molehills: life is full of chaos and trauma, bad things that just happen—don't be (or be with) someone who makes that sort of stuff happen. And, lastly, every bit of heartache can be turned into something good by helping someone else who's hurting.

By collecting my heartache and wishes and turning them into something good, I am becoming the best me possible. I am becoming from the inside out.

In The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, I've found an inspirational guide. I will put his words into practice, taking care to be impeccable with my word—speaking with integrity, saying what I mean, and using the power of my words for truth and love. I will do my best in all circumstances—considering my capabilities at any particular moment. I will make every effort to not take things personally, letting the opinions and actions of others roll right on by without crushing me, without turning me into a victim. And I will not make assumptions; instead, I will ask questions and communicate clearly in order to avoid drama and trauma.

Such wise and simple rules I will internalize to help keep my becoming on track.

One by one and one after another, different threads have woven their way through my heart and life—all the heartache and wishes, all the things I've learned and all the things I wish I haven't had to learn. Addiction, then divorce, then dementia. And all the good things I've been given, my family when we were a family, and love. So many threads. Woven among the threads that were already there but tucked out of sight was a me I hadn't been totally aware of. A strength I didn't know I had. All the threads, woven together, in and out and up and around over the years, create the fabric of my life, a tapestry. And I am the artist; the best me I can be is in my own hands.

Sometimes people say things like, "It will all turn out fine." Well, no, it very well might not. Sometimes, many times, things are out of my control and it will only turn out fine if I do the work to make it fine inside my own head and heart. And sometimes I hear, "God won't give you more than you can handle." Well, a quick look at the statistics for substance abuse and suicide shows that adage isn't true, either. The threads of pain and suffering are real.

I may still look like the cuddly old mom I once was, but like silk, I'm strong as steel. I've been forged from the fire I thought would kill me.

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