As the mom of a teen who nearly lost his life to drug addiction, I observe the world’s response to the Coronavirus with a different perspective than most. We hear incessantly about the challenges of WFH, social distancing, homeschooling, and disrupted prom plans – but to me those are easy, even welcomed annoyances in contrast to living life with a child who has substance use disorder.
The global population is now experiencing what is the daily reality for the parents of kids addicted to prescription or illegal drugs. Fear, isolation, anxiety, sadness, panic. Emotions dialed up to paralyzing levels now amidst another life-threatening disease.
The similarities between Coronavirus and the opioid epidemic are striking – COVID-19 kills quickly, inhibiting the person’s ability to breathe. It doesn’t discriminate on race, gender, geography, education or socioeconomic level. It’s killing medical professionals, students, factory workers, teachers, lawyers. What doesn’t come with COVID-19 is the stigma that you’re a weak person if you have it. That you’re a sub-par mom if your daughter is affected. If these labels applied to Coronavirus sufferers how many more would be dying alone, at home?
When COVID-19 crept up in the U.S. in early March, I felt the collective tightening of chests and clenching of jaws of the parent whose child smokes Percocet in their dorm room, who just flew to rehab or who is highly vulnerable in their early days of sober living.
These parents’ anxiety level immediately heightens when a new disaster or crisis emerges. We dread the fear that envelopes our child who may not yet have healthy coping skills to ride this out without returning to deadly substances.
A fellow parent (wishing to remain anonymous) who already worries daily about his son, just 1 week in sober living after 60 days in rehab (for the second time) is off the charts anxious with thoughts his son will return to emotion-numbing tools like fentanyl, OxyContin, Percocet or Xanax.
“He’s not able to work or attend support group meetings and has way too much time on his hands. He’s bored and feels useless – not an ideal situation.”
For parents wondering how their kids are going to navigate even more instability in their already wobbly lives, I want to offer this:
3 Tips for parents fighting the COVID-19 pandemic AND the Opioid epidemic
1. TELL YOURSELF, “THIS IS SCARY”
Psychologists and founders of the Center for Motivation and Change in New York offer this comforting advice, “First, acknowledge to yourself that this is stressful, even scary, and you’re being asked to manage the current crisis in addition to the concerns you already carry for your child. Allow yourself to be human, give yourself permission to experience these feelings – it may help you sit with the imperfections that come along with learning to navigate these challenging days (remember, no-one has had a course in managing these circumstances).
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need help, an excellent and FREE resource is The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids parent support helpline that connects you with a trained parent who’s been in your shoes via phone, text or Facebook Messenger. Mustering these resources shows the strength you need to stay healthy and be emotionally present for your child – it’s not a weakness.
2. WORK WITH THEIR TREATMENT PROGRAM
“Really lean into your child’s treatment provider. Trust that they care about your son or daughter and want to keep them safe. Ask the program and if possible, your child for increased communication. Trust that programs follow specific guidelines and will probably be more impactful and forceful than you could be as the parent. It’s in our best interest to make sure all our clients are safe.” advises Derek Bowles, Founder and lead therapist at Crossroads Academy, a Utah-based treatment center for teen and young adult men.
And remember, kids easily pick up on your emotional state, even over the phone or video, so consider your frame of mind and ability to stay calm when communicating during these uncertain days.
3. TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM
If your child is battling addiction you’ve probably been living in a state of flight, fight or freeze for a while now. With the added emotional fear Coronavirus brings, your sympathetic nervous system is reasonably in boss-mode. Counteracting that stress-response with meditation, controlled breathing, walking in nature (properly distanced), listening to music you love, moving with yoga or stretching is vitally important to re-balance your mind and body.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not appeased that millions of people are now experiencing what becomes normal to the parents of kids in addiction. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy because it takes a part of you that you never get back.
But the reality is, even when we’re finally able to eat in a restaurant, grocery shop sans-mask, worship in our churches or kiss a grandparent, we will all carry with us emotional breadcrumbs of how a silent, ruthless killer can sneak into ANY life and the importance of coming together, not dividing when it hits our city, our neighbor, or our child.