These are troubled yet hopeful times. Under guidance and ultimate trust, we have acted to protect lives from being taken by an invisible vicious villain. In important ways we find ourselves being together yet being apart. The economic costs defy comprehension. All lives are precious and there is vulnerability among the elderly and those with underlying health problems. The villain appears to spare the children. Not so fast. There are some major concerns. School closings, disruption of education, less nutrition provision for many and less social, physical, and healthy activities. There is another major concern. No school means Isolation with small family units. New family dynamics and burdens are challenging. There are opportunities for many good things to happen. However, reports are beginning to show increases in domestic violence and alcohol consumption. Both a threat to all but especially young children.
I became acquainted with the Hazelden Betty Ford Children’s Program and Director Jerry Moe early in my own recovery. It focuses on children 7—12. When the program came to Denver, I got involved and stayed involved over the years. Jerry is a friend from whom I’ve learned a great deal. He has said, “Addiction is often seen as a ‘grown-up’ issue, but it impacts children in ways that aren’t always visible. Having a parent battling addiction can be one of the most isolating and stressful situations young children and their families face.” The villain has turned everything upside down for young children. However, there is help and hope. HazeldenBettyFordChildren’s Program.org
“Sesame Street” introduced the topic of addiction to young viewers with the bright green muppet character Karli. Jerry Moe helped develop the workshop and craft the Karli segments and resources. Six-year-old Karli talks to her friends about her mom’s “problem” The series is designed to help children from tough circumstances deal with the stigma surrounding their difficult upbringings. During a scene in which Elmo and Karli are playing together, Karli opens up about her mother’s addiction problem. Karli tells Elmo that her mom “was away for a while because she had a grown-up problem.” Elmo reassures her that her mother’s condition isn’t her fault and that she shouldn’t feel responsible. A 10-year-old girl named Salia befriends Karli and reassures kids of parents that are suffering from addiction that they’re not alone. She has had the lived experience they and Karli are going through. A very young peer with a powerful story.
In a statement, Sesame Workshop said that there are currently about 5.7 million children in the U.S. under the age of 11 that live in households with a parent that has a substance use disorder. According to Sesame Workshop, Karli’s story shares the “words children need to hear most: You are not alone. You will be taken care of. Addiction is a sickness, and, as with any sickness, people need help to get better. And most importantly: It’s not your fault.” With the need for at home learning and entertainment, at the end of each online segment, viewers are referred to free online resources in both English and Spanish that include videos, storybooks, digital interactives, and games to help better understand the subject matter. There is significant home schooling.
Nothing is a substitute for school for children and their parents. Most grownups are dealing with a myriad of issues—too many to name. data drives us daffy. Twain suggested our problem is not what we know but what we know that just ain’t so. The President needs practice in the art of the hope deal. The media doesn’t deal in hope. There is hope if you know where to look. Through the internet, those in recovery can find virtual meetings 24 hours a day. Parents can find parenting tips, Learning in a variety of ways is available. Learning while being in recovery allows meaningful dealing with the today that is.
We are crazily and phasely, moving toward the new normal but dragging some old normal mental health issues and some new ones with us. The recovery movement brings help and hope with an all-in attitude. We want the dignity of work while living in the dignity of recovery. One last thought. Don’t Drink—and Thrive.
Merlyn Karst —Recovery Ambassador