"My son's addiction has made me a better person."
Wait, what?? Did I just say that???
Actually, no. I just typed that. But I did say it yesterday during a discussion with the headmaster of my younger son's school. And it was the first time I had ever said it to anyone. Including myself. It just came out.
And you know what? It's true.
First of all, let me be crystal clear: As I've said before, being the parent of an addict is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. It's not something you ever think about when you have kids.
My hopes and dreams for my older son were definitely in another "bucket." That bucket contained academic and athletic excellence, graduating from high school, going to college, graduating from college, etc., etc., etc. I imagine my dreams for him were the same dreams almost every parent has for their children.
But someone up above had other plans for my son...and for my wife and me.
When I first learned that addiction had overtaken my child, it was pretty much a nightmare. I thought it was a curse. The reason? Because I used to be one of "those people" who believed the stigma that is so frequently associated with addiction. I thought heroin addicts couldn't possibly come from a decent, middle-class, suburban family. I thought that a heroin addict wasn't a worthy member of society.
Boy, was I wrong. And I got educated in a hurry.
I will never say that my son's heroin addiction was a blessing. That would be a ridiculous statement. Certainly I would rather be living a more "normal" life, with memories of my son's high school and college graduations locked away in my mind instead of memories of dishonesty, stealing, heroin withdrawal, rehabs, and the like. That said, though, my son's addiction has turned out--to this point, anyway--to be far less of a curse than I initially thought it would be.
Being the parent of an addict has made me a more cognizant, sympathetic, empathetic, forgiving, caring, understanding, grateful person. It's made me appreciate the little things in life and made me more aware that I should live in the moment instead of worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. (One day at a time, right?)
This might sound kind of twisted to some people, but being the father of an addict has made the current me much kinder and gentler than the me that existed before my son's addiction. Not only am I more willing to help people, I want to help people. I want people who are going through experiences similar to those I went through to know that things can work out. There is no guarantee, of course. But there is hope.
I have also become passionate about working to help break the stigma associated with addiction and depression. I blog about it. I post on Facebook about it. I Tweet about it. I talk to people about it. Addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone.
People I know frequently tell me that they can't imagine how my wife and I have made it through all the stuff we've been through over the last several years. Well, if you would've told me eight years ago what was in store for me and my family, I probably would've said "Uncle" and told you I wouldn't be able to handle it. "No thanks. Give that to someone else, please."
But as I look back today, I was able to handle it. So was my wife. We were able to handle it together. As a team. And I believe that we are both better people because of it. I also believe our relationship with each other and with our children is stronger because of it. It took a while, for sure; but never giving up on our son--or on each other--has paid off.
We may have a few more gray hairs and be much poorer financially because of our son's addiction. But we are emotionally richer because of it. And that's not such a bad thing.
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." --Friedrich Nietzsche