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That’s My Kid in There!

Father, mother and daughter standing in front of classic craftsman home, portrait

The paradigm shift for parents with teens in drug and alcohol treatment.

By Heather R. Hayes

Keeping vigil in a hospital room with a family whose child has recently had a near fatal overdose never gets easier. Ashen-faced parents with trembling hands keep watch, almost too afraid to blink. They sit for hours, even days, cloaked in a quiet resolve to hold that space for their child.

I watch family and friends fill the room. Many bring food and gifts for comfort, often because it is easier than knowing what to say. When someone needs to leave the room even for a minute, they make sure that someone else remains, as if it were a changing of the guard.

Because that’s what we do.

That is the ideal model when someone we love is sick, hurting or in crisis. You show up. You stay. You support your loved ones through their darkest hours. That’s family. That’s friendship. That’s love.

Then, when the imminent threat passes and their child gets physically strong enough to enter treatment, the family starts to prepare. They spend hours on the phone arranging details, emptying accounts to pay for treatment, packing, booking flights and sometimes driving hundreds of miles – only to sit in another room with more forms and questions while their child waits to be admitted.

Because that’s what we do.

Then, the treatment center staff break the news:

“I’m sorry, you can’t talk to your child for seven days, or three weeks or two months. But we’ll update you weekly.”

They frantically wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake.

I am her parent! That’s my kid in there! How dare you tell me I can’t see or talk to her? We visited every day while she was in the hospital. We love her. We support her.

This is where addiction treatment professionals have historically failed the parents of the teens we help.

The point at which parents bring their children to treatment has been preceded by a series of events that have placed life-saving decisions in their hands. This creates a relationship of complete dependence upon family for survival. Then, when they arrive at treatment, parents are told, without justification, to readily abandon the hard-wired model of loving parents standing by their child.

If it is thoroughly explained on the front end (which is rare), it is assumed that they now have an understanding of addiction and will be able to shelve all of the visceral reactions they have and function in a new way. To add insult to injury, these anxious parents are sometimes labeled by treatment professionals as needy, enabling or sick.

To that I say an emphatic, no. That is not fair. That is not right. This should not continue.

It is analogous to someone performing CPR on a person in heart failure. Their adrenaline causes extra amounts of blood to be pumped to the part of the brain that takes over in crisis, and the sole focus is on saving this life in front of you. When the paramedics arrive on the scene, even though the responders are better equipped to help, they often have to pull the individual who is performing CPR off the victim in order to get them to stop. Then, imagine the paramedics telling the person per-forming the CPR until they arrived that their efforts were needy or sick.

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