Mother Tells the Story of Letting Go of Her Son … Without Giving Up
The “three Cs” are an important piece of advice for anybody with a family member struggling with addiction: you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. It can be explained very easily, but actually taking the message on board is far from simple. As a parent, you’re inclined to think that you made some sort of mistake in raising your child, or that if you just restrict his or her freedom enough or find the “right” method, you could help your child get better.
Sadly, many parents have to learn the three Cs the hard way. Sandy Swenson’s son struggles with addiction, but after a long time trying to fix the problem for him, she came to realize that sometimes — as hard as it may be — the right thing to do is to let go, without giving up.
The Joey Song – A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction
Sandy says her son Joey was an “easy baby,” and as he grew up he rose through the ranks of the Boy Scouts, becoming a gentle and polite young man. She says, “He was the boy the neighbors and friends would say, ‘Oh, your son is so wonderful.’ ” But he soon developed a problem with addiction that has lasted 12 years. Sandy would stay awake night after night worrying about her son. After hearing about the problem, a friend suggested that she keep a journal in order to get the thoughts that kept her awake down on paper. This eventually led to Sandy writing The Joey Song, a book she says she wishes she’d been able to read herself years ago. She says, “There just comes a point where not only do I have to let go for myself to survive, I have to let go for the rest of my family to survive.”
Sandy had a realization that turned things around for her, and she began to wonder, “Who am I actually helping when I’m hanging on and trying to fix all these things for him? … Am I helping my son, or am I helping the addict?”
Now she thinks of him as that gentle, polite young boy she once knew. “He’s still in there somewhere,” she says. “And, I’m keeping his place for him. I mean that I believe someday, he’ll find recovery. Even though I have let go, I haven’t given up.”
Connecting With Other Parents
In mid-October, Sandy gave a talk at the Charlotte Hall library as part of a meeting of the Parents Affected by Addiction, with the aim of helping other parents struggling with the same problem speak out and get help. Another member of the southern Maryland-based group, Kerrie Grant, said, “When I found out my son was experimenting using drugs, I was embarrassed. There was a lot of shame involved.” She wondered where she went wrong as a parent, but as she met more parents in the same situation, she realized they weren’t neglectful or incompetent. In fact, they’d done everything in their power to help their children, but the kids still used drugs. In short, Kerrie realized she wasn’t alone in how she was feeling. Talking with others about the problem helps to counteract the stigma that still exists about addiction and mental health.
A Hopeful Yet Realistic Message for Parents
The sad truth is that Sandy Swenson and others like her may never get back the sweet, gentle children they remember. It’s definitely not the sort of thing you want to hear, but it’s the sort of thing you do need to accept as a possibility. No matter how much you try to cure or control your child’s issues, you simply can’t do it. No matter how much you feel at fault, you really aren’t responsible for his or her choices. It’s OK to let go. But like Sandy, you can’t give up. Offer support where you can without expecting to solve the problem, and encourage your child to enter treatment without assuming you’ll get what you want out of it. Through all of this, you should also get yourself the support you need to cope with what’s happening, and groups like Al-Anon exist for that exact purpose. There are people who can help you; you really aren’t alone.
If your son or daughter does go into treatment, and if he or she does complete the program, there is a definite chance you’ll get the son or daughter you remember back. You should be hopeful, but that hope needs to be tempered with a rational view of what you can realistically do to help, and it needs to take into account the ever-present possibility that it won’t go the way you want it to.