What Can I Expect? The Million Dollar Question for a Parent of an Addict

As a father of addicted children, I think I’ve asked that question more often than I’ve asked my wife how her day was. I’ve asked it to cops, judges, lawyers, counselors, God, and anyone else who would listen to me.

I remember how all the significant changes in their lives brought about a whole new set of expectations. Times like first days of school, getting their driver’s licenses, and first dates would present a new set of challenges that sent me scrambling to adjust my expectations based on their new stations in life.

It took me a long time to realize as a father, that no matter what expectations I set for myself and my children, the vast majority of them had a very limited shelf life. I spent a lot of years struggling with balancing my expectations with actual outcomes in order to fill my basic human need for certainty.

We all need a reasonable amount of certainty to survive. Otherwise our entire lives would be spent in unimaginable chaos and fear. I know because I lived that way for a long time as both an addict and a parent of one.

Certainty comes from knowing that if I do XYZ I can reasonably expect a certain outcome. This works pretty well when the expectations are reliant upon my actions and decisions. The problems arise when I base those same expectations on the actions of others. It doesn’t matter whether that’s a complete stranger or my addicted children. The only difference is it hurts a hell of a lot more when it’s someone I love who I’ve been assigned to protect.

I was attending a spiritual retreat in the Berkshires of Massachusetts when a man named Kyle Cease spoke some very profound words to me. He said:

No one can ever break your heart…only your expectations.

This was just another of those many times when someone uttered words of wisdom that seemed so obvious and simple to me if I had only taken a few seconds to consider them before…DUH!!

After that, I began cross referencing my expectations with the serenity prayer to see how they stood up to the acid test. I soon realized that the expectations that were causing me to suffer were the ones that were unrealistic because they were based on someone else’s work (my child). I also realized that the amount of time I spent on them left me no time to focus on my expectations of myself as a father.

It was a double edged sword that was slicing into me and my child.

My constant need to know what to expect as a consequence for my child’s actions prevented me from seeing the consequences of my own inaction. Not only was I creating more pain and suffering for myself but I wasn’t modeling the type of success that my child may need one day if and when they got sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Despite knowing that, I still have that need to know what to expect the next time my child falls so I created some expectations that seem to work better than any others I’ve tried. If you can relate as a parent, maybe they’ll help you too.

  1.     You can expect that whatever it is, it will likely f**king hurt but you will survive it as you always have.
    2. You can expect that it won’t jive with the expectations you had before you considered this could happen to your child.
    3. You can expect that you won’t be able to go this alone and you will have to step out of your comfort zone and allow others to help you.
    4. You can expect them to add a rap sheet to their resume which will either be a gift or a curse based on how they choose to use it later in life.
    5. You can expect that you will become a more loving, forgiving, compassionate person from this experience.
    6. You can expect to live a life more true to yourself as you begin to care less and less about how others judge you.
    7. You can expect a greater chance for your child’s recovery if you get out of their way.
    8. You can expect that whatever you’re going through, someone else has been there who is eager to help you.
    9. You can expect to come out the other side as a transformed person. What that transformation looks like is contingent upon the actions you take today.
    10. You can expect that if you do nothing to change yourself, nothing will change for you regardless of what your child does.

I’ve heard it said that it’s better to expect the worst and hope for the best. In my mind, that sounds like spending my life, feeling miserable and afraid while grasping for something just beyond my reach.

I prefer long periods of serenity mixed with moments of disappointment over the alternative. But that’s just me.

After all, I’m a dad…what do you expect?

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