My Struggle

My baby grew up to be an addict. There was a time when I believed a mother’s love could fix anything, but it can’t fix this.

For too many years I thought I was helping Joey.  I thought I was doing my job by keeping him out of trouble and getting him out of trouble and believing his lies. I snooped and stalked and tried to out-manipulate his manipulations. I did everything and anything to make things right. I tried to keep my child from suffering, because that’s what a mother’s love does.

I loaned Joey money when times were tough, but not wanting to make times any tougher didn’t ask him to pay the money back. I made excuses for Joey’s new self-centered meanness and I pretended not to hurt when he missed my birthday or when his place at our Thanksgiving table remained empty. I believed Joey’s explanations for his sunken eyes and shaking hands and I believed his convoluted denials of drug overdoses and emergency room DOA revivals. (Well, sort of.) When Joey was arrested — the times I knew about — I showed up in court as a reminder that he was loved and had reason to head in another direction; I even stayed when he bared his teeth at me and hissed. I wrote letters to the judge (damage control) pleading for Joey to be sentenced to rehab not jail. And then I listened as Joey blamed everyone he could think of for why he did end up in jail; the only person not to blame was the one looking at me from the other side of the smudgy glass.

Three times Joey was convinced or cornered into going into addiction treatment. And three times Joey played it and everyone around him like a game and then walked away. I connived. I wheedled. I cried. I begged. And, I continued to aid and abet and enable like a champ.

I did everything I could to protect Joey from himself until finally I realized it wasn’t him that I was protecting. I was protecting the addict. Making it easy for the addict. Giving the addict one more day to further consume my son’s body and mind.

I was helping the addict to kill the son I was trying to save.

My motherly love would need to be contorted and redefined.

There’s nothing about this kind of love that feels good. But I’m not doing it for me. It’s not called Tough Love because it’s mean. It’s called Tough Love because it is tough to do.

I will do nothing, ever again, to help the addict. Because, if I do, I have no hope of ever seeing my son. I love Joey. And it is because I love him that I am done.

We never had a chance.

In so many ways, Joey’s addiction has taken away so much—in so many ways, the birth of my son keeps on dying—but of all of the breaths of the thousands of little deaths, the saddest loss may be that I no longer know what it means to be my son’s mom.

Oh, I’ve learned how to navigate our now-adult relationship with arms-length respect and mile-wide boundaries, but that’s the sticks and the bricks of it. Sticks and bricks do not make a Mom. Like a teddy bear without any stuffing, this is all wrong.

Addiction has pummeled my family. Beating it back has been one long, hard fight. These mother’s hands of mine, these nubby, bloodied claws, have seen battle—the battle between Hanging On and Letting Go; the battle between Barely Hanging On and Hanging in There; the battle to Survive the Unexpected; and the battle Just to Survive. Battered and bruised I may be, but I’m stronger and wiser.

I finally understand there’s nothing more I can do to help my son other than give him moral support in a quest to help himself. Still, I carry around the very maternal and human need to do something. And I need to do something with this need to do something.

And so, I share my story of love and loss and learning–and surviving my son’s addiction while coming to terms with the fact that he may not.

Written from the place where I live, the place where love and addiction meet.

This post was written by Sandra Swenson, author of THE JOEY SONG: A Mother's Story of Her Son's Addiction

This post was written by Sandra Swenson, author of THE JOEY SONG: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction

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Publishers Weekly reviews WEIGHTLESS!

Gregg McBride, Weightless: My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped, Central Recovery, (Consortium, dist) $17.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-937612-69-6 After a lifetime of binge eating and morbid pw logoobesity, L.A. writer and producer McBride (Just Stop Eating So Much!) began to take responsibility for his own weight, and ceased blaming it on his unhappy childhood. In this funny and candid memoir, McBride reveals without shame the psyche of the fat person who learns to “eat his problems away,” beginning as a small child sneaking money out of his Air Force officer father’s wallet for afternoon binges of candy. As an army brat, moving around constantly as a child including stints in Singapore and Germany, McBride (along with his younger sister, Lori) became acutely aware of his father’s drinking problem, his mother’s promiscuity, and the fissures in their marriage. Indeed, his mother enlisted him in her romantic entanglements by making him foil her phone calls, and when he grew embarrassingly fat, passed him off as an adopted son with a health problem. Brazen about lying to other people and stealing money for binge eating (“in the world of junk food, I was safe, warm, and loved”), McBride grew huge, taking on the clown characters in drama productions, learning to surround himself with beautiful people and act “foxy for a fat kid.” But the moment of truth had to come, and there were many: when he blossomed to 464 pounds and watched his doctor cry; when a child in the store asked loudly why he had “boobs”; and when the therapist ceased buying his excuses. McBride unrolls an excruciatingly honest tale of becoming thin. (Sept.)

This post was written  about the new book WEIGHTLESS. Click here to buy the book

This post was written about the new book WEIGHTLESS. Click here to buy the book

Posted in Addiction & Recovery, Author News, Blog, Child Obesity, Eating Disorder Recovery, Emotional Eating, Emotional Eating in Children, Personal Development | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Man Rules™ & The Water

Has it ever felt to you like you were following some set of unwritten rules on how to be a man? Men can do this but can’t do that. These are the Man Rules I refer to throughout my new book, A Man’s Way through Relationships: Learning to Love and Be Loved and discuss at length in Chapter 1. They are unwritten yet very real, and they guide our lives from an early age, telling us how to be boys and men. We follow these Rules to let the world know that we are “real” boys and “real” men. When we don’t follow them we run the risk of being viewed by others and viewing ourselves as being less than real boys or men. Where did the Rules come from? The answer is that they come from many different sources, some personal and some societal. The Rules come from both of our parents and other caregivers, from other family members, from coaches and teachers, from the kids on the playground, and from the media based on the images of “real” men presented on television, in movies, and in print and broadcast advertising. Adolescence can be a particularly brutal period of indoctrination to the Man Rules.

There is a story of two fish swimming in the ocean when a third fish swims up to them and says, “Hello, gents. How’s the water?” and he swims away. The two fish look at each other and say, “What the hell is water?” In this way, the Water becomes a metaphor for those built-in aspects of our experience we take for granted to such an extent that we don’t even notice them. That is how the Man Rules show up in so many of our lives. We have no awareness of them; we do not see them because we are so used to them being there as a natural part of our experience. We react to them as if they are the only version of reality—the one truth. However, they have been created by other men and women and passed on for years, decades, and centuries – even millenia.

It starts as soon as we are born – research shows that we hold baby boys less, sooth them less, and give them less space to express their emotions. That can be likened to putting a baby in a dixie-cup and pouring water over his head. As the process continues we don’t stop pouring water – we simply change the receptacle – from the little cup to a small fish bowl and then a large aquarium. By the time we are adolescents we have been thrown into a local pond. And then a lake. Until we are adults and are basically fish swimming in the ocean without any idea of the water.

The truth is most of us were never given a choice about the Rules or what kind of men we wanted to be. Nobody sat us down, reviewed the Rules with us, and asked us which ones we wanted to follow and which ones didn’t fit for us. Our fathers didn’t tell us about how the way they were living by the Rules was killing them – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Many men simply don’t realize that they have a choice.  In all likelihood we became immersed in The Man Rules early in our lives when we were incapable of thinking about them critically. We never had the opportunity to consider whether the Rules made sense for who we were and who we wanted to become.

But the truth is we do have a choice – we always have.  We get to decide how we want the Rules to fit into our lives. The Rules are not bad – they simply limit us and our lives when we do not wear them  as a loose garment. Which are the ones that fit for me? Which don’t fit for me? That is what my work – both professional and personal – has been: figuring out how to not let the Rules, rule me. That is why I wrote A  Man’s Way through Relationships: Learning to Love and Be Loved. I hope you find what fits for you and live into that to be the best man that you can be.

This post was written by Dan Griffin, MA, author of A Man's Way Through Relationships

This post was written by Dan Griffin, MA, author of A Man’s Way Through Relationships




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THE JOEY SONG and The Addict’s Mom on CNN

I’m a proud member of the ‘Addict’s Mom’, the group featured in the recent CNN report by Kelly Wallace. Proud, because, like other moms in the group, I’ve acknowledged that my son’s addiction is a tragic disease –not a disgrace– and so will no longer keep it a secret.

Over 20,000 members strong, we are just a drop in the bucket. I’ve heard it said that for every addict, another four lives are affected. That means there’s a lot of suffering going on. And, for too many people, stigma and shame have them suffering in silence.

When addiction grabs a child, it chokes a parent. I know the life-draining squeeze of its grip. I’ve never felt so incapable and helpless, so sad, so lonely. Such fear. My child has been stolen from me—stolen from himself—and I mourn Joey’s loss and suffering from a very lonely place. There is no broad community empathy or support for the families of addicts. There is no rallying cry of solidarity, no pretty ribbon brigade, and none of the comfort that so often gets baked into meatloaves and muffins. Instead there are closed doors and mouths and minds and hearts.

I want addiction to be understood, not misrepresented, misjudged, and mishandled. Not hushed up or hidden away. Nasty things grow most freely in dark corners; the scourge of addiction needs to be dragged out into the light.

When addiction is understood as a disease, it will be treated like a disease ― but this is an understanding that will happen only when those of us who love an addict stop hiding addiction as though it’s a disgrace.

So, I share my story, The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction. A story of love and loss and learning. And surviving my son’s addiction while coming to terms with the fact that he may not.

No more shame. No more silence.

Click here to buy the book

This blog was written by Sandra Swenson, author of THE JOEY SONG

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Blog, Family & Addiction, Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

When Trying To Fool Others, Are We Actually Just Fooling Ourselves?

These days when I think back to some of the misadventures that I lived through when weighing over 450 pounds, I often chuckle to myself — while also admiring my stamina for not only getting through that time in my life, but also eventually winning my battle of the bulge by taking off over 250 pounds of excess weight.

But during the time I weighed 450-plus pounds, it was a different story entirely. Not only was I trying to hide what I was going through from the rest of the world, I was also trying to hide my exploits (and the fact that I was the reason I was so heavy) from myself.

Case in point? When I would make my daily treks to fast food restaurants to order multiple entrees to then take home for lunch or dinner. I didn’t want anyone in public — even at the fast food joints — to know I was ordering all that food for just myself. Thus, I came up with what I thought was an ingenious plan. I used to scribble everything I wanted onto a piece of paper and, when arriving at the counter to place my order, would read off of it — as if I was ordering for a group of people. Add to that, I would order several more drinks than I needed (and a variety of drinks at that) to further cement my Broadway-caliber performance of “ordering for a small group.”

Even if I utilized a drive-through to place my order, I would have a list in hand and “pretend” to read off it (as if I were a great voiceover actor) — just for the entertainment of whoever was at the other side of the ordering microphone. And when I would finally reach the drive-through window, I would often hand the employee my list and ask them to throw it away — as if “visual proof” was a crescendo (of sorts) to my great performance.

Of course, looking back, I can see that the only person I was “fooling” was myself. I imagine that most employees of the restaurants I frequented couldn’t have cared less about what I was ordering — much less whom it was for. And if they did care, so what? And yet I kept this “lying game” up for years.

Back then, I never imagined that I would share this “deep, dark secret” with anyone — much less write about it publicly on the Central Recovery Press website or share this and another tales in my book Weightless: My Life As A Fat Man And How I Escaped. But I’ve learned that sharing tidbits like the one above not only helps others realize they’re not alone in their mental and physical struggles to take off the pounds (or conquer any addiction), but also to help myself accept my past and stay committed to never returning to that kind of mental game-playing again.

Have you ever played out a similar “game” to fool others and/or yourself? What were the results? Our confessions to one another only serve to bond us — not to mention help us (and others) . . . proving that old adage to be true: What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. Or, at the very least, gives us a good chuckle.

This post was written by Gregg McBride, author of WEIGHTLESS. Click here to buy the book

This post was written by Gregg McBride, author of WEIGHTLESS. Click here to buy the book

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A Library Journal Review of THE JOEY SONG

Swenson, SandraThe Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s AddictionCentral Recovery. Sept. 2014. 200p., ISBN 9781937612719. pap. $15.95;  ebk. ISBN 9781937612726.PSYCH

lj logoSwenson relates an honest, courageous story of her many years of struggle with her defiant, delusional, and addicted son. Instead of yet another personal memoir from a recovering addict, Swenson displays a valuable focus on how the toxic corrosion of addiction affects relationships with family and friends. She also shares how writing her story helped to release some of the pain, ventilate her anxieties, and allowed her to better manage the never-ending worries about her son’s problems and his shaky future, even as he failed to realize that only he had the power to change his life. Swenson candidly admits that her son’s addiction remains active and explains how she learned to refocus her efforts on other parents of loved ones suffering from substance abuse who might need help finding a path to recovery. This heart­breaking tale of a hurting family is the flip side of the usual heartwarming recovery story shared in most addicts’ memoirs. Coming to grips with the reality that it hurts more to hang on than to let go is a water­shed moment in the lives of most parents struggling with an addicted child. ­VERDICTSwenson’s cathartic account reveals her complex feelings about her troubled son that will connect with readers going through similar experiences in their families.—Dale Farris, Groves, TX

Click here to buy the book

Click here to buy the book

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David McMillian discusses WISDOM FROM THE COUCH in the Shreveport Times

It’s hard for me to believe, but today’s is column No. 500 in The Times. I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t begin it by saying thank you for your interesting and insightful questions, for your comments and, of course for reading. A very special thank you also goes to Times General Manager and Executive Editor Alan English, who almost 10 years ago, after being a guest on the radio program, encouraged me when I timidly asked to begin writing some of what we were talking about on “Strategies for Living.” I remember thinking that it might be fun to write a newspaper column for a year or two, figuring maybe 50 or 100 columns, but I guess I’m not finished learning whatever it is I need to learn, and that’s the point isn’t it? Are we ever through? I don’t think so. How can it be that perfectly intelligent people like you and me at times do obviously counterproductive things? Why do we do the things we know we shouldn’t do, and why do we fail to do the things we know we should do? The mind is certainly fascinating.

mcmillianI’ve written in previous columns about M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled” (1978, Touchstone Books) and its impact upon me when I read and then reread those inspired pages, underlining and making notes until the pages were both worn and tattered, and something had changed inside of me, too. I actually “blame” that book for turning things upside down in my life, and I’m not sure I would have become a therapist if not for its exceptional wisdom and information. One of the things that most attracted me to that book was the merging between spirituality and psychology. Recently I’ve discovered what I think may be a modern day version of that now classic work, “Wisdom From the Couch” by Jennifer L. Kunst, Ph.D. (2014, Central Recovery Press). Like Peck, Kunst is specially trained in the unconscious mind, which may well hold the answers to the important questions above. I had the opportunity to visit with psychoanalyst Kunst and you can listen to our conversation here.

Kunst’s chapter titles themselves reveal a depth and freshness not only from her training and work, but also from her own life and experience, which she readily shares. Some of the chapters include:

• What You See is Not What You Get, which deals with the unconscious life of the mind.

• If You’re Not Moving Forward, You’re Moving Backward, which is all about growing throughout our lives and facing ourselves as we truly are, with all our limitations, anxieties, unconscious maneuvers, hopes and capabilities.

• Life is Not an Entitlement; It is a Gift. The more we practice thankfulness, the more we grow spiritually.

• Because Thinking Makes It So. Real thinking doesn’t come naturally, even though we’re all preprogrammed to learn how to do it. It takes training and discipline.

• Can’t Live With ’Em Can’t Live Without ’Em. Wise mind is the ability to reflect on our feelings and learn from them.

• It’s Always Broken, So We Always Have to Fix It. This chapter deals with love, guilt and reparation. Life always has and always will involve conflict, work, struggle and death. These are natural and value-neutral aspects of life.

• Love is the Name of the Game. When we are able to make peace with our lives as they are, we are more and more able to see the good that is there.

Kunst contends that when we develop a clear understanding of how our minds operate, we’re able to make the kind of change that impacts us at the core. That’s change that lasts. This is great stuff. If you can’t listen on Sunday, catch the conversation with Kunst under Featured Podcasts at

This article first appeared in The Shreveport Times

This article first appeared in The Shreveport Times


This blog is written about Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog is written about Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

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A Starred Review for WEIGHTLESS in the latest issue of The Library Journal

lj logo(starred review) McBride, Gregg. Weightless: My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped. Central Recovery. 2014. 297p. ISBN 9789376126965. pap. $17.95. HEALTH

Film and TV producer/writer McBride (Just Stop Eating So Much!) relates his lifelong battle with weight, from 175 pounds at age eight to 464 at age 22, and now, back to 175 today. The author survived an abusive childhood by bingeing on sweets and snacks, eating until the physical pain from his full stomach overwhelmed any other emotion. As an adult he tried many diet programs without success, finally shedding the weight through exercise and proper nutrition, without gastric bypass. McBride is brutally honest about his struggles as he details his problems with self-esteem, shopping for clothes, dating, and the loose skin that remained after his weight loss. He eventually had surgery to remove the skin, and bluntly describes the pain and scarring associated with his recovery. The story is ultimately one of triumph, as ­McBride has maintained his current size for more than ten years. The last section includes his tips for losing fat, a few recipes, and a fascinating list of observations of the behaviors of slender vs. overweight people. VERDICT Anyone who has lived with excess weight will appreciate this book. Teenagers and young adults in particular may identify with and benefit from McBride’s story.—­Rachel Owens, Daytona State Coll. Lib., FL

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If You Meet the Buddha, Say Hello

Once in a while you can get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.
~ Robert Hunter, Scarlet Begonias, Grateful Dead

Often, things are more (sometimes much more) than they seem at first glance. Embedded in ordinary every day experiences we can find windows to the extraordinary, gifting us with glimpses into the deep richness and beauty of life. However, access to such gateways requires an expansion of conscious awareness that awakens mind and spirit, along with an openness to heretofore unseen possibilities.

Some years ago, I went backpacking in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe. My hiking partner and I stopped at a grocery store in South Lake Tahoe to pick up some last minute supplies. After gathering what we needed, per my standard operating procedure, I identified the shortest checkout line and assumed the position. After a few moments, I started to become aware that several lines away the cashier seemed to be engaged, and engaging everyone who came through his line, in having an absolutely great time—on the checkout line at Safeway!

The scene was simultaneously bizarre and compelling. I found myself instantly drawn to this cashier and the quality of his interactions with customers. He was short, bald, rotund to the point of being obese, and wore thick old-style black horn-rimmed eyeglasses. He didn’t just greet his customers; he embraced them—each and every one—in a verbal/emotional bear-hug of warm, welcoming, it’s-wonderful-to-see-you-again-my-old-friend energy.

His manner was boisterous to the point of standing out, yet neither obnoxious nor intrusive. It was congruent rather than contrived, as genuine and natural as the Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Fir trees dotting the landscape around Tahoe. I was mesmerized. Although I wasn’t entirely certain what was going on, I knew that it was exceedingly rare.

Somehow, in the midst of one of the more mundane, often frustrating environments on the planet, this grocery store cashier seemed to be operating in a state of unadulterated joy that allowed him to appear to float ever so slightly above the ground that constrained the rest of us. There was a certain music and magic to this person and how he related to others and to the world. Whatever it was that he had, I wanted to experience it up close.

I then did something I have never done in my entire life, either before or since. I actually switched lines to one with a noticeably longer wait, just so I would have the opportunity to be in personal contact with this phenomenon, whatever it was.

I waited in his checkout line with curiosity, anticipation, and unusual patience, noticing more carefully how the customers, without exception reacted to his unexpected and enthusiastic grace with bemused grins and a sense of wonder. When it was my turn, he greeted me with equal élan and a Cheshire cat smile that consumed most of my field of vision. I made direct eye contact and returned his greeting, adding “It’s great to see someone who really seems to know how to enjoy life.” He leaned toward me, lowered his voice slightly and chuckled, “And you know, it doesn’t cost anything extra,” at which point he gave me a knowing wink.

As his sense of present-centered joy washed over me, for a few brief seconds that felt much longer, it was as if everything else faded away, and in that moment, I knew everything that I would ever truly need to know—though I would quickly forget it. It would only occur to me years later, viewed through the perspective of recovery and an enhanced sense of spirituality that this effervescent generosity of spirit stood on a foundation of loving-kindness—simple, pure, and abundant.

As perfect as that moment was, of course it couldn’t last. Perfection only visits us every once in a great while, and it never stays very long. Such transcendent experiences are always temporary. Whenever we try to keep them as if they are possessions, we invariably set ourselves up for disappointment. The most healthy and spiritual thing we can do is to recognize and appreciate such moments for what they are, as opposed to focusing on what they are not and can never be.

Two of the fundamental tenets of Buddhist psychology are that all things are impermanent and constantly changing yet we tend to relate to them as though they were static and permanent, and all things are interconnected yet we relate to them (and ourselves) as though they were independent. These discrepancies are among the root causes of discontent and suffering. As a result, growth and healing come from experiences that move us toward the acceptance of impermanence, as well as conscious connection with others and the world around us.

As Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has been instrumental in bringing Buddhism and mindfulness practices to the West has put it: “Spiritual practice is not just sitting and meditating. Practice is looking, thinking, touching, drinking, eating, and talking. Every act, every breath, every step can be practice and help us to become more ourselves.”

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

Posted in Addiction & Recovery, Author News, Blog, Chronic Pain, Mindfulness, Pain Recovery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Man’s Way Through Relationships

The most important word in the title of my book, A Man’s Way through Relationships: Learning to Love and Be Loved is learning. This means it is a process. I think it is a never-ending process. I did not write the book because I have any answers but more because I am deeply invested in the question of how do we men learn how to love and be loved.


Bobby, one of the men I interviewed for this book, said it well: “Life is meaningful only within the context of the connections we have with the friends and family around us.” I have always cared about the relationships in my life. My guess is that you have, too. I did not always know how to show it, or have the courage to show it, and I would often act in ways that sent the message I didn’t care. Relationships are complicated and challenging territory for everyone, but particularly for men. Even today, relationships can sometimes leave me wishing I lived on a deserted island, just as they did when I was stuck in my active addiction. I still don’t always know, or have the courage to show, how much I care about the relationships in my life. I certainly do not do it perfectly.


The assumption that underlies this book is that all men care about relationships. We want to be good sons, partners/spouses, fathers, and friends, but we need help. We are shaped by these “Man Rules” that tell us asking for help is not okay. We may follow these Rules, but they belie what is in our hearts. I have worked with, sat with, cried with, and even physically held far too many men to ever believe that deep inside of most men’s hearts is not a real desire to connect, to love, and to be loved. Yet, an incredible force inside of them pushes them to separate, disconnect, push away, and pretend otherwise. This seeming contradiction is at the heart of this book and the conversation in which I want to engage you.

If this conversation interests you I encourage you to continue reading these entries over the coming months and join the conversation! I would love to hear what you have found to be helpful and the challenges you have been able to overcome in your own journey of learning how to love and be loved.

This post was written by Dan Griffin, MA, author of A Man's Way Through Relationships

This post was written by Dan Griffin, MA, author of A Man’s Way Through Relationships

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