Your 24 year-old son comes home one day and shares, “Mom and Dad, I need help getting into treatment for my drug addiction. Oh, I am also gay and HIV positive.” A wave of shock reverberates throughout your body. You are frozen, speechless, and numb. “Is this really happening?” you think to yourself. You may want to turn and flee. But keep those feet as grounded as you can. Your child has just mustered up a tremendous amount of courage in telling you; remember that. Your child is asking you for help. It’s time to show up, as hard as that may be. It may take you some time to get over the disbelief and that is okay. What do you do next? First and foremost, you make sure your son knows you love him no matter what and that you are here to help. You need to support your son and at the same time take care of yourself.
Taking Care of Yourself
Your mind may be saying, “How will I EVER handle this?”, while your heart is drowning in emotions. Don’t condemn yourself for the emotions you feel. You may go through something similar to a grieving process with all the accompanying shock, denial, anger, guilt, and sense of loss. You may feel as if you have lost your child, you haven’t. The only thing you have lost is your image of your son and the understanding you thought you had. That loss can be difficult, but the image can, happily, be replaced with a better understanding of your child. Outside resources can be big help during this time. There are many resources available to family members. For example, the Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFFLAG) is here for you.
Supporting Your Child
It’s up to you to learn how to communicate with him about his needs. One piece of good news is that your son is ready to seek treatment. This is a huge step and should not be minimized. Help him research the different treatment options. There are treatment centers that specialize in helping addicts from the LGBT community. Visit the facilities with him. Ask questions. Be his advocate.
Regarding your son’s sexual orientation, you may find acceptance comes easily or you may be struggling with it. Either way it is important to talk to your son about it. Learn what challenges he has been facing. Chances are he has been the victim of discrimination in one form or another. Being HIV positive, your son needs your support more than ever. You should know that you are not alone. There are numerous local and national organizations that can help with medical, psychological, and physical care. Your family will have to learn to adjust to the physical and emotional circumstances of your son’s possible changing health.
One last but important message to take away. It is possible to emerge from this period with a stronger, closer relationship with your child.