My friend, Kristin, has two blind sons. Both boys were born blind due to a rare genetic defect.
Kristin often tells the story of how she always dreamed of becoming a mother. While she was expecting her first child, she allowed herself to dream of what her baby might become. When her son, Michael, was born, Kristin envisioned what his future would be. She saw him becoming a star athlete, his class valedictorian—she even imagined him driving his first car.
Then, when Michael was only four months old, all of Kristin’s dreams for what her son would become came crashing down around her as a doctor in an exam room at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia told her that her beautiful boy was blind. Three years later, she would receive the same diagnosis about her second son, Mitchell.
Every parent has dreams for their child. No parent dreams that their child will be born blind. Or that they will become a drug addict. Yet in this far from perfect world, such things happen. And we have little choice but to learn how to cope, if there is no solution we can control.
Kristin had to learn to let go of what she hoped for her boys to become. While hard for her, ultimately, it allowed them to pursue their own dreams, becoming the people they wanted to become, and achieving in ways Kristin hadn’t even imagined.
As a mother dealing with my son’s addiction, I also had to let go of the future I thought my son would have. At the height of David’s active addiction, he was no more capable of fulfilling my dreams for him than he was of flapping his arms and flying. It was so painful to watch my smart, capable son be sucked into the whirlpool of substance abuse, watching his once bright future move farther and farther out of reach.
Yet I never stopped to think back then of how painful it must also have been for David. He knew that not only wasn’t he living up to his potential, he was fast becoming a “loser” in the minds of those he loved.
Addiction makes us lower the bar—significantly—in terms of achievement for those we love. And perhaps that’s okay, at least temporarily, because the only thing that’s really important is survival. Surviving the scourge of substance abuse takes strength, will power, commitment and endless amounts of energy. As those who care about others suffering from addiction, we should put aside our ideas of what the addict’s life should look like, instead concentrating on what it is, so the focus can be entirely on healing for as long as is necessary.
The dreams we have for our children don’t need to disappear entirely. David is now sober for over eight years, a married father of three with a career helping others in the substance abuse industry. Is it the future I would have chosen for my son? No. But he is here. He is doing good every day. And he was able to create that future for himself when I turned my eyes away from my dreams and focused on the reality that my son was sick and needed help more than a reminder of what he was not. Once he was well, it was his dreams that became reality, not mine.
I can live with that. Honestly, it wouldn’t matter to me what he “achieved.” He’s here, and that’s the greatest accomplishment of all.
Mary Fran Bontempo is a 2x TEDx speaker, author and humorist. Visit her at www.maryfranbontempo.com. Her latest book, “The 15 Minute Master—How to Make Everything Better 15 Minutes at a Time,” can be found on Amazon.