Cowritten by Joe Schrank, the founder of Loft 107, New York City’s first sober living facility, and co-founder of Rebound Brooklyn, an innovative outpatient treatment program. Determined to give the 23 million Americans with addiction a voice in the media, he co-founded the recovery website The Fix.com. He’s in long-term recovery from alcoholism, with 17 years of continuous sobriety. A licensed clinical social worker, Joe is a long-time promoter of alcohol and drug recovery. He is also a board member of the National Youth Recovery Foundation. Twitter: @ReboundBrooklyn
The video of a young mother believed to be in a “heroin nod” on a Philadelphia bus while her daughter tries to wake her up went viral after it was posted on Facebook. It’s gotten lots of attention and hundreds of thousands of views on You Tube, Huffington Post and right here at TheBlaze. If you haven’t seen it, go ahead and watch it now. Warning: it’s not pretty.
What are your first thoughts? Shock? Anger? Pity? Sadness?
While the video itself has elicited plenty of outrage, what people seem to be more angry about is the fact that NO ONE on that bus did anything. John Warren, the man who filmed the incident and posted it on Facebook, claims he told the driver about the situation, but that the little girl pulled her mother off the bus when it arrived at their stop.
Not a single call was made to 911.
The good news is that the girl has been removed from the home and the Philadelphia Police Department Special Victims Unit and Department of Human Services are both investigating the incident. The mother - identified as 26-year-old Kathleen “Katye” Stacey - has reportedly entered rehab, which is exactly where she needs to be. So far, she hasn't been charged with anything.
Ask yourself the following - and be honest: If you’d been on that bus, would you have done anything? Would you have been too scared? Or not known what to do? Or would you have shaken your head, tsk-tsking, saying to yourself “Damn druggies.”
It’s the bystander effect - and we’re seeing it on full display, perhaps because, the woman was high on drugs.
[sharequote align="center"]We are in an epidemic and we simply cannot afford to turn our heads away.[/sharequote]
Of all the discourse about drug policy, most of it dedicated to unrealistic ideals about incarceration, little is mentioned about the often silent victim of the collateral damage of addiction: the child living with it. Eleven million children under the age of 18 in America live with a parent in need of treatment.
A childhood spent in this circumstance is all-too-often where addiction incubates - coming to fruition in adolescence and early adulthood. Science and medicine inform us that there is a strong genetic component that goes into the “stew” that makes one an alcoholic or drug addict. It’s a fact that children of addicts are two to four times more likely than other children to become addicted themselves. It’s also true that addiction is much too complicated to be contained within a simple inherited process.
Some addicts are born, others are made, but most are some of both. Few things will fuel addictive behaviors like uncertainty and shame.
From this video, we can easily see that the child is the true victim of her mother’s likely addiction. And while she’s too young to identify it, she may be filled with shame about the family secret that's put on display for everyone on the bus - and the internet - to see.
There is also the role reversal where she - the child - is forced to care for the impaired parent, a responsibility that not only is she ill-equipped to execute but also one that is not hers. Role reversal has long-term negative effects on the development and emotional construction of a child, making them vulnerable to becoming - if not likely to become - impaired users themselves.
Most people find it very difficult to intervene in a situation like this, perhaps thinking, “Well, this is terrible but it’s certainly not my business. Family issues are private.”
What they don’t know is that what they saw on the bus that day was severe child abuse. It may not have been a physical beating, but the scars from an incident like this can be just as damaging, if not more. This woman is hurting her child and that makes it easy to vilify her.
Most people who don’t have a connection to addiction or don’t understand that it’s a disease (characterized as such by the American Medical Association in 1956) likely see this woman as a pathetic loser, a stain on society, a person not worthy of having a child.
And while this is certainly understandable, it bears closer examination. Her behavior is not excusable, but it is explainable. It is important to keep in mind that addiction isn't the fault of the addicted - which may seem anathema to most people - but it is certainly the responsibility of the addicted.
Few things will help someone take responsibility and address their addiction like honesty and accountability. The sad video holds this woman accountable - perhaps this is the event that will break her denial and thrust her into recovery. We know that she has entered a rehabilitation facility. What we don’t know is how long she will stay and if she will choose a long-term path of recovery once she’s out. We have no idea if she will become a more present and stable mother, if and when she sees her daughter again.
While it’s easy to take a “How could she?” tone when speaking of these situations, it isn't characterological. It isn't an indictment of inept parenting but more of a comment on the power of addiction, which can trump even the instinct of motherhood. And it’s not just happening in working-class situations.
While John Warren was taking the video of Kathleen Stacey on his smartphone, there were countless other mothers all around the country driving their children - to and from to school, to soccer practice, to play rehearsal, to dinner - in an impaired state. It doesn’t have to be heroin - a simple bottle of wine or a few Xanax tablets will do.
We are in an epidemic and we simply cannot afford to turn our heads away.
It is true that recovery is no guarantee of becoming an effective parent - or person - for that matter. What is certain is that this child and millions of others are in physical danger and emotional peril, not knowing what the day will bring and living with the chaos of yet another broken promise.
Those of us active in the recovery community see this video as an opportunity to open an important, life-saving dialogue about addiction and the ripple effects it has on the family unit, the community and most certainly, the country. Addiction to alcohol, drugs and tobacco costs this country hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Illicit drug use alone accounts for $181 billion in health care costs, lost wages, lost productivity, crime, incarceration and drug enforcement.
It is hard to quantify the damage the disease causes. It affects every American family in one way or another. If we are in fact a pro-family nation, this epidemic must be addressed, and now. Few things are as corrosive to our society as addiction. Families cannot function under the weight of active addiction, communities cannot afford to.
While we look at the people on the bus that day in Philadelphia and think "How can they just sit there and do nothing?- perhaps we can pose the same question to us as a nation?
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