Where Love and Addiction Meet

by Sandy Swenson
July 20, 2020

When a child is born, so is a parent. Full of love and good intentions, we do our best (and hope for the best), believing that things will somehow turn out okay. We teach our children right from wrong and prepare them to manage life on their own one day, which is the whole purpose of our job. But when addiction grabs a child, everything changes. The lines between letting go and hanging on, and between helping and hurting, become blurred. And hope starts to hurt.

Suddenly, we’re facing a disease that not even the professionals have completely figured out yet, but we’re trying to figure it out while in a blind panic, running through the fires of hell with fears and dreams and parental instincts tripping us up.

This is the place where love and addiction meet. A place where our child and his worst enemy share the same body. A place where it’s no longer clear how we’re supposed to do our most important job.

Addiction looks different when viewed from the other side of the looking glass. Now that we’re living it up close and personal—now that we’re living in a funhouse mirror (that’s not so fun)—shallow, old judgments and assumptions about how addicts and the people who love them behave seem callous and naive. Because we now know that when addiction invades the place where love meets life, reality becomes distorted—which is why everything that everyone does looks crazy: for a while, at least, it actually is. Addiction confuses and abuses our natural instincts. Perspective, rational thought, and clarity become warped in this horrible new dimension.

When addiction appears, we’re often unaware of the scary new world we’ve been thrust into and know nothing about—it’s easy not to see what we don’t want to see. When we are blinded by confusion, denial, trust, and lies, it’s easy for something so horrible to hide right before our eyes. When addiction appears, so does a stranger (or two . . . our own words and behaviors become so contorted that we also become strangers, to others and to ourselves). We’re often not sure if we’re talking to our child or The Addict. We’re not sure which one we’re helping (or hurting). And we’re not sure whose eyes we’re looking into or whose are looking back. Actually, we’re not sure of anything at all, but we’re especially not sure if anything we’re doing, or not doing, is right. When addiction appears, things aren’t what they appear to be from the outside looking in—or even the inside looking in.

The place where love and addiction meet is confusing, terrifying, and exhausting. And the heartache is crushing.

Addiction breaks hearts and bonds and all the rules. An extraordinarily cruel disease—and unlike any other—addiction relentlessly breaks promises, shatters dreams, and tarnishes memories. Addiction destroys relationships and families, pitting everyone against everyone else and manipulating and twisting love into knots. Addiction does whatever it takes to survive.

The Addict pushes us away, so we don’t get to sit with our sick child, giving comfort while battling his deadly disease together. We’re no longer able to do the things that we used to do to show our love. Instead, we’re left to wallow alone in our unearned guilt, feeling badly for being unable to fix or protect him. And, since addiction is too often looked upon as a choice or a crime, there’s not much comfort to be found.

Too many people see The Addict as bad, as a criminal or loser—not as our child, who still exists within. Not as someone who is sick and needs help (or whose family needs help). Rarely do people ask how our child is doing or mention his name, because, with all the stigma and trauma and drama, they’re more comfortable that way. But we act strong for the sake of anyone who might happen to notice and for our own sake, too.

When a child is born, so is a parent. Full of love and good intentions, we do our best (and hope for the best), believing that things will somehow turn out okay. We teach our children right from wrong and prepare them to manage life on their own one day, which is the whole purpose of our job. But when addiction grabs a child, everything changes. Suddenly, we must figure out how to be the parent of an addict—we must figure out how to love our children without helping to hurt them, how to grieve the loss of our children (who are still alive), and how to trade shame and blame for strength.

This is the place where love and addiction meet . . . but we’re not alone.

And together we are stronger.

Dandelion STRONG

“We may often feel fragile, but we are strong. And we are many.
We have the power to overpower the destruction that addiction spreads.”

Sandra Swenson is the author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction (Central Recovery Press 2014), Tending Dandelions: Honest Meditations for Mothers with Addicted Children (Hazelden 2017), the Readings for Moms of Addicts app (Hazelden 2018), and her blog.

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Sandy Swenson

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    • Powerful words! It’s almost like you read my journals. 14 years of dealing with on and off addiction between my two youngest Son’s has been life changing. It’s changed my relationship with my two oldest Son’s. They’ll never accept that it’s not a choice! We used to argue about it.. I’ve tried to educate them.. finally I just gave up! They’ll never get it.. why bother?!?!

  1. That is perfectly stated. It feels as though there is no one who can understand. No one who can relate to my situation. I appreciate the candor of what you write. It helps to know that there are other people who can relate. It also is sad at the same time. I have no more hope for my daughter. That is a very sad place to be but also a realistic reality. Where there is hope there is also hurt and I’m tired of hurting.
    Thank you for hearing what I have to say.
    Hold the ones you have close.!!

    • Chris, it’s such a difficult journey, but truly, together we are stronger. Thank you for reaching out. Sending hugs and hope to you.

  2. Oh my – game changer and tears but yet so powerful with feeling to aspire and incorperate the reality of stay close. I have always stayed close to my oldest son in his addiction- again the one hiding and lurking inside. He is now awaiting possible prison time for 4-5 years with Dui’s and stuck in jail until final sentencing . I answer every collect call to bring him some type of comfort knowing I care and love him dearly.

  3. So well written – perfectly stated. You hit every point. I’ve come a long way over our ten year journey with substance abuse, however my life as a mother would have been more manageable had I had knowledge and understanding of this insidious disease. Thank you for your writings!

    • Thank you for reaching out…Sending hugs and hope to you, Nancy!

  4. This is the most truthful thing I have read since we started this heart wrenching journey. Thank you for putting these feelings into words.

    • Sending love and hugs and hope to you, Robin!

  5. So well stated and something I will go back to again and again. Love the person as he is.

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