Simple Wisdom: It is What it is

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It is what it is.  

What a simple, yet infuriating statement. It expresses the obvious—of course something is what it is; how could it be anything else? —and also attempts to boil down even the most complicated situation into a five-word mantra. 

I’m pretty sure my dislike of the phrase began during my son’s active addiction. My son was a drug addict. How was I supposed to understand that, let alone accept it? It is what it is? Well, just what is it, please? Can someone explain what it is to me because I can’t, for the life of me, figure it out.  

I had absolutely no frame of reference on addiction. I’d never even smoked a cigarette in my youth, let alone tried anything harder. To hear “It is what it is” applied to my son’s addiction was utterly maddening. It couldn’t be that simple. This beast that had taken over everything I held dear had to be a more complex monster, something it would take a gargantuan effort to defeat.  

And it was, but it also wasn’t. Because no matter how much effort it took to help my son, no matter how many sleepless nights, how many doctors, therapists, rehabs and years of struggle, it all came down to this: My son was an addict. 

Hard things feel like they should have complex explanations, perhaps because a simple truth is often much more difficult to accept than a complicated lie. But until we look the stark, simple truth squarely in the face, we will never, ever come close to conquering the challenge it brings. 

Addiction is what it is—a sickness that destroys lives, takes loved ones and breaks even the strongest among us. And if your loved one is struggling with addiction, the sooner you look that simple, ugly truth in the face, the sooner you’ll be able to uncover a path towards coping, finding help, and managing the beast, in whatever way is possible for you.  

Truth can be hard, but false security is always harder; it extracts a much bigger price. Better to strip away the excuses, illusions and whatever you’re hanging on to in denial of the facts. If you must, say the words out loud—My child is an addict. Say them until you accept them, because you already know them to be true.   

You can’t defeat an enemy until you acknowledge you’re fighting one. And though addiction may be a many-headed monster, at the end of the day, you are dealing with an addict, regardless of how, why, or when it happened. It is what it is. 

Five little words. See them, accept them, own them. Then, you’ll be ready to take on the fight to tackle addiction.  

Mary Fran Bontempo is a 2x TEDx speaker, author and humorist. Visit her at

Her latest book, “The 15 Minute Master—How to Make Everything Better 15 Minutes at a Time,” can be found on Amazon.