Joan Swenson's Recovery Journey

"Collectively we have the power to change a life."

I can think of any better quote to describe my life in (holy…LONG TERM) recovery from any mood altering substance. In all my wildest dreams I never thought that I would be able to say that. When I was “pushed” into the very beginning of this new life I have today, I had no idea what I was signing myself up for. I really only wanted to stop drinking. I had run out of options, no longer able to hide the drinking and if I am honest, I was no longer able to hide from myself. Something gave on the morning of December 19, 2007, I told the truth.

When I tell my story today, I rarely touch on those last emotionally raw months before I got sober. Partly because I do not really remember much of that time due to my heavy drinking but I bigger part is that part of my story is so not unique to so many other people stories about finding themselves at the fork in the road.

Truth be told, my life today is so radically different, I have trouble putting it on paper. It is the only thing I have been given in my whole existence that continues to amaze me throughout the days, months, years. Those moments when you realize it is so much bigger than yourself. To watch others grow around me. Pick themselves up, brush themselves off, grab your hand and join you. Even if it’s only for that moment. The knowledge in your mind, the stirring in your soul that you don't know what just happened, but it did indeed happen. And that it is so ok that you don't know. That it will figure itself out. You don't need to do anything. Just stand there and be at peace with it. That is my life today. Sometimes I feel like I am supposed to convince people that this is the easier way. The better, less lonely way.

When really I just have to be a shoulder to lean on, warm smile and a voice. It's ok, I know you're completely freaked out right now, but that is ok. We all were. And let that grace that still moves me to tears shine through all of us. We are amazing miracles of grace. And collectively we have the power to change a life. Until they see that grace for themselves. I love that. I hope you feel that today where you are. If you don't, read these words again and know it’s there.

When I first got into recovery, a man told me that this recovery life needed to come first. That many of us die from this disease and that the gift I had been given would be the greatest gift I had ever received. I believe that to be true. It is the gift that I must give to others to keep. There is hope in that. We do recover.

I have been involved with Face It TOGETHER since the very first town hall meeting. Much like my own life in recovery, I have had the opportunity to watch it grow and change through the years. I am fortunate enough to work in the place where the first seeds of recovery were planted in my own life. It is through my work at Tallgrass Recovery that I was able to join forces this last September for Recovery Month with to major community events.

Kicking off the month, a couple of my daughters, me and about 400 of our closest friends “Marched into the Light” through downtown Sioux Falls. That experience was a first for me. To stand shoulder to shoulder with people trying to change the way the nation thinks of the disease was one of the most humbling experiences to date, for me. Our next adventure was to create the first ever, Recovery Art Show. As an artist, myself, I wanted to have a community based art show that celebrated recovery by telling the story in a visual media. Tallgrass and Face It Together Sioux Falls, along with some other providers in the city hosted the one night art opening in downtown Sioux Falls. With over 50 artists summiting pieces surrounding either theirs or someone they loved, recovery. Over 300 people attended the three hour show.

I have been blessed with so many things in this life. Had I known back in the beginning the just how cool this life would be, I would have never believed it. A walking, talking miracle. Not bad for a chick who just wanted to stop drinking.