Recently a video went viral 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 mother’s face is visible; the child’s is obscured, although there is clearly no real attempt at anonymity. One of the reasons that AA was created as an anonymous organization that only used first names and swore an oath not to repeat what was heard “in the rooms” was because of the powerful shame attached to addiction. 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. 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 and 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 cause 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, and to tell her everything will be fine, is a sort of a wild guess because everything certainly isn’t. And that 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. 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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