The Trauma a Child Experiences When a Parent Passes Out

This is a video of an increasingly occurring, very heartbreaking scene.

A little girl is tugging on her mother who has passed out in the aisle of a dollar store. The “appropriate authorities” have been called and although those who called are looking on with care and concern, the little toddler is left comfortless, no one is acting on their human response to ease the pain of a child who is clearly in deep distress? So there are many questions here…..

· How could a mother who is responsible for a small child do drugs that have the potential to incapacitate her?

· And why have we mortgaged out our human response to help, to the proper authorities, to the exclusion of reaching out and comforting a child who is in such distress?

· What are we scared of? The answer is, PLENTY.

We are scared of being sued if we touch another human being, which is a legitimate fear in our litigious society.

We are scared of the raw truth of addiction and what it does to people.

Whether or not you believe addiction is a disease or an inability of a person to stop doing what is clearly doing harm, there is little doubt that once addicted, most addicts need help to clean up their lives. They simply cannot reach out from this devastated state and do something to help themselves. And yet, they eventually have to do just that, to take responsibility for the disease that is killing them and traumatizing everyone around them. And make no mistake about it, the shame that is heaped upon the mother (no attempt was made to blur her face) is carried also be the daughter.

Children live in the three feet surrounding their parent; what happens to the parent, happens to the child.

Many have criticized the store employees for filming the incident rather than caring for the child, others have asked if it is right for the police to share this video. But no matter how you slice it, this video, filmed by shocked employees and shared by worn out and desperate law enforcers is horrifying to look at. But we have to look at it in order to see the horror, accept it and do something about it.

The field I work in, the addictions field has spent over a decade sounding an alarm to doctors prescribing pain killers because so many who started out on pain meds wound up as addicts. Until you see what addiction really looks like and the utter heartbreak of watching a desperate, hurting child try to wake up a passed out parent, it is all to easy to turn your head.

But this little child is not uncommon. Those of us who grew up with addicted parents have all done this at one point or another, tried to rouse our passed out parents, cried plaintively and without comfort at a scene that shook us to our core.

This is what addiction looks like whether it’s the cocaine addicted hedge fund guy, the returning soldier self medicating PTSD with drugs, alcohol or pain meds, the mother who has left dinner burning in the oven while she is on pills, alcohol or both, the sibling who has gotten their other sibling to lie for them because he is high on street drugs….this is what addiction looks like in the best of homes and the worst, at fancy stores or local delis. This is what addiction looks like, whether it’s to alcohol, pain meds or street drugs.

So when you are tempted to turn your head, to blame the mother, to grab the child or to wonder why police would put this out, just look at it instead. Because this is what addiction looks like, and the reason everyone wants to criticize someone is because we feel so powerless in the face of it. And we all know at some level, that to blame the mother and call her bad, could make the child suffer even more. But to tell her everything will be fine is equally damaging, because everything certainly isn’t. And telling people not to film it or share it is joining the massive denial around what feels ugly and hopeless and terrifying about this scourge that is getting worse. Because this is what addiction looks like; and to be anywhere near it is to be saddened and just generally freaked out, and to feel that nothing you can do will be the right thing, is part of what anyone struggles with when faced with scenes like this. And this is not just in the toy aisle of the dollar store, it is in all of the homes where addicts are parents. Because this is what addiction looks like.

And the only way out is to see it for what it is and try, in any small way, to understand.

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