Staging an Intervention

noun: intervention; plural noun: interventions
an occasion on which a person with an addiction or other behavioral problem is confronted by a group of friends or family members in an attempt to persuade them to address the issue.
“as her health worsened, her daughters considered staging an intervention“
I get a lot of calls from all over the country from families of addicted loved ones and often times the addicted ones themselves, inquiring about the intervention process.

And trust me, although the definition above kinda sorta sums it up, if I just used this definition above to describe it I would no longer have a job. It is so much bigger and dynamic than just some Meriam Webster’s Definition.


First of all, there typically needs to be an event- some kind of catalyst which triggers a family to reach out in the first place. We call these events “bottoms”. And the reason for this to be needed is usually because the concerned loved ones are conditioned to their special persons life style. They have been exposed and normalized to it for quite some time now. So a blotto fall down night, or checking their loved one’s breathing, or them not coming home for days has actually become part of their routines. And this is why I always say that the families usually feel the bottom long before the addict does. because the families usually don’t turn to chemicals to escape the wreckage and so they see it long before the bottoms occur, and the addict will use the very chemical causing the wreckage to numb the wreckage away. And so they just kind of stay stuck there for a while. And round and round they go. Until something bad happens which shocks them enough to seek outside help. These events include, but are not limited to: A DUI/ Arrest of some kind, Overdose, Domestic Violence incident, Health Scare, Children being taken away, Auto Accident, etc… For some reason, families will hold on and hold on until something tragic happens, and then they’ll turn to drastic measures. But addiction is a matter of life and death, so why not take the drastic measures right away?

I believe the answer to that last question can be answered a couple different ways- 1, family instincts, which usually actually get in the way; “No one can help my person like I can, I know them the best, I’m Mom/Dad/Brother”. But Families tend to be more reactive than proactive, and are prone to responding to a crisis or incident after the fact. Then they scramble for a band aid to a broken leg, the crisis smooths out after a few days, and then we fall right back into the same system with no long lasting effects. And it doesn’t help that when families jump into action in a reactive way, they just jump on Google and bang out the first few numbers- which are paid for click campaigns and usually lead you to an overwhelmed treatment center which is full, with a wait list; manned by someone who doesn’t really give a fuck about you- all they wanna know is what kind of insurance you have etc. so the Mom/Dad/Caller isn’t offered any type of connection or hope to find a solution. Then they get hit with the “Well I gave it a shot” feeling and are once again back slid right back to where they came from. Another reason families don’t jump to drastic measures right away is #2, terminal uniqueness. “Not my boy/daughter/mom/dad” They’re not that bad, it’s just a phase, He’s too strong willed and special for this. He will come around. Simple as that. #3 on the list is a big one: SHAME. From the parents especially. It is often expressed to me “How hard it is to make this call, Herb.” “I am so ashamed…” I can’t imagine how hard it is, and I don’t want to ever make that call. But that’s one of the first things I try to do when I connect with Families- encourage them and break that shame right away- this is not your fault and you have not failed. You’re not guilty of anything but loving them the best you could. Addiction is not a moral or parental failing. it’s something that happens and affects more people than we will ever know. We have tons of stats out there that say things like 1/8 families, blah blah blah, but I think it’s way more than that and you know why? Because people lie because they’re ASHAMED to tell the truth about what’s going on behind closed doors so they lie on surveys and medical questions which skews the numbers.They’re afraid to open up their special secret places, especially to a stranger that states he just wants to help and has been there himself before. #4 and rounding out the list, I think, at least for now is this one: Family Dynamics. The interpersonal “Isms” of each family individually. They say that we become the average of the five people we hang around most. And what they mean by this, is the more we surround ourselves with the same regulars the more we talk like them, think like them, act like them, and the more we get to know each other. We learn how to push each others buttons, appease, please, anger, hurt, suck up to, pander,etc. We teach other people how to treat us, and vice versa. So yet again, it kinda falls under that whole “normal” umbrella. But this one is a little deeper than just the typical status quo of a day to day life. This is where the addiction really thrives I believe. Where it really dominates. This is where I see the most “One step forward and ten steps back” part of the addiction and it’s cycles. Because inside these dynamics and systems is where the manipulation lies. And manipulation is the beast of it all. And by the way, Manipulation I believe is a term which describes using someone’s love against them to achieve a desired outcome. We addicts, we humans are very evolutionary animals. We learn on the fly how to survive, how to thrive, and how to flip just about anything to accommodate our livelihoods. The more we chase it, the longer it lasts, the better we become at it, and the harder it is to overcome. We addicts/alcoholics get so used to our patterns and deception as a way to continue our life styles, that the very manipulation and tactics we use actually cross a line from Intentional to Instinct. I never once had it in my mind while flipping a manipulation back at someone that “haha, I bet this one will work- insert diabolical laugh”. No. because it was as natural to me as breathing air. I was conditioned to doing it for so long that it became my way of life and living. And it also became my family’s ways too. Everything became so convoluted that no one knew what to believe any more. It was all just word and emotional vomit. It was exhausting. To everyone. And this is why I tell families that if they’re up against an active addict one on one, sadly they don’t stand a chance. And I think that they believe they know it when I tell them, that’s why they called. See, Families of addicted loved ones have “Intervened” in some form or fashion hundreds, if not thousands of times. You have begged, threatened, bargained with, screamed at, cried to, punished, and prayed with your special person on numerous occasions, sometimes concurrently- to thwart your loved one’s drinking or using. But typically those attempts were mostly fruitless and short lived. Most of the time, in my experience, When an addict is confronted by family or concerned loved ones the concerned party is hit with one of, or any combination of the 4 key Manipulations: HOPE, FEAR, GUILT, and SYMPATHY.

HOPE: “You know what? You’re right, I’ve been thinking about this too. And I’ll only drink on the weekends/holidays. I have been talking to my sponsor again and I’m gonna start going back to meetings. I have a job interview this week and I think that’s really gonna help! I met this knew boyfriend/Girlfriend and They’re really helping me with this. I’m actually going back to church now and I think that’s what I really needed. I’m gonna do better, I promise!

FEAR: You, know what!? Fine! Fuck you! you’re so perfect and special, I’m outta here, I’m just gonna leave and go OD or drink myself to death. I’ll get out of your life forever.

GUILT: I know, Mom, it’s just, ever since the divorce with you and dad- It’s been real hard for me. I’m trying okay? I hate you! This is your fault, if you guys didn’t work so much maybe I wouldn’t have turned out like this! All I wanted was some attention. What do you mean I have a problem? You told me yourself how you used to smoke Pot in the 70’s God you’re a hypocrite!

SYMPATHY: Damn! Get off my back will ya? You think it’s easy being this piece of shit drug addict? I’m trying okay? I know no one loves me, you don’t have to make me feel like shit, I thought I could always count on you. I’m a bum okay? I already hate myself enough as it is, leave me alone okay?

And these are just a few instances of the flips that we will use against you when you attempt to intervene on your own, and these are the ones we tend to use the most because the work the best. Because they hit your heart. You believe me when I throw these at you because you want to or have to. I’m a special person to you, You love me, and where love lies, so does the ability to be manipulated. And so we often times stay in this “Dance” For years to come. And nothing ever changes long term.

I use. A bottom occurs. Reactions. Obstacles. Manipulations. One step forward. Ten steps back. But the thing that’s particularly scary is the trajectory of all this, it’s kind of like a failing stock market ticker. Slowly over time, down, down, down. The bottoms get deeper, the consequences get more and more severe. We all lose our minds and peace, and then something truly tragic happens. Liver Failure. DUI/DEATH, Over dose, Prison, trauma to children, children removed. Divorce, etc… And then we feel the need to audit our life in retrospect and think to ourselves, ” I see it now, I wish I would have done something here_________.” But by then it’s too late.

So, Herb, I get it now. You have outlined the problems and obstacles, what’s the solution and how does this whole thing actually work?

Well, in a nutshell, it works because we’re not you. It works because we have been there and can speak the language. Even the wordless language of Empathy speaks volumes. See, we addicts have this Air about us. Ego maybe? But I used to eat my counselors alive when I would have to go to “classes” ordered by a judge. They would sit there with their stats and College Education and I would immediately identify that this dude doesn’t know shit about addiction. What can this dude or lady tell me about smoking crack behind a dumpster or shooting dope with toilet water if they’ve never even smoked a joint. But there’s a mutual respect when the message comes from a fellow survivor. At least in my experience. Then, Couple that with the aforementioned tactics and dynamics that you’ve all been used to, and when Mom and Dad confront Me about using, it just kind of sounds like Charlie Brown’s Teachers, it’s just another convoluted word soup. I could write down some of my go to “word Daggers” That I used when I’m talking to addicts and families about getting help- and give them to you to read to your struggling person, but because it’s coming FROM MOM/DAD it is not going to have the same effect, and the opposite is true. You could GIVE ME a script to read to your person, and because it’s coming from a fellow addict/recovered addict/interventionist, it is just going to have a much more profound impact. It’s a fact that cannot be ignored.

Okay, Ladies, think about this one: You’re married. You’re getting ready for work and your husband says, “Dang babe you look really pretty today.” What’s your reaction going to be? Most likely a very every day, casual, “Thanks babe.” And on you go. But if you’re walking into work, and some guy you don’t know walks by and says something like, “Damn Girl, You look so Hot!” It’s naturally going to have a different effect, because you’re not used to hearing it that way, from that person. It’s just human connection 101.
A trained and experienced interventionist is a families Mediator, spokesperson, and referee when it comes to the actual process. And by the way, you have all been reading just a small portion of the even larger component of an Intervention: The Family Education Component which takes place for about 8 hours the day prior to the actual intervention itself. This is when we really dive deep into family systems, forms of denial, manipulation, etc. This paper here is but a small taste of the educational component. But it’s deep. I truly believe that education is the best crime fighter and an educated, empowered and informed family is the Addict’s/Alcoholic’s best chances of long term recovery. IF THE FAMILY DOESN’T CHANGE, THE ADDICT NEVER WILL. Why would we? We’ve got it made right here in our little bubble using and drinking our asses off while you pick up the pieces and endure my bottoms and make everything okay.

But the Intervention Day itself is a beautiful day. This is when we get to bring everything to the surface and have an honest, candid open dialogue with the struggling person. This is when we “Bring their bottom up” To meet them where they’re at, as opposed to waiting for another crisis to unfold and then react yet again. This is when we lay out in the open our plan of action on your behalf. What our expectations are moving forward. What we will put up with and help with, and what we will not. We also will be reading these to you in the form of a firm and boundary filled “love letter”. And the Letters are a tactic often used by interventionists because it eliminates back talk, it is a one way “conversation” that forces the struggling person to sit down, shut up, and feel what we’ve been experiencing for many years now. This is also our chance To unify a divided family in solidarity and eliminate any Cracks in the Dam. Addicts are master manipulators in words and deeds, and one of the Word and Deed manipulations we will employ is the Divide and Conquer ritual, in which we use mom against Dad, Dad against mom, and hope that my lies don’t get too close to each other for fear of being exposed.
Which is exactly what one of the remedies to a life long battle with addiction really is: EXPOSURE. Secrets die in the light of exposure and the healing begins when we address the problem. If all of my enablers, all of my cracks in the dam so to speak are sitting her in the same room with an interventionist who is hell bent on saving me, and all of my options are gone, all of my enabling is done, all of my resources are tapped, my family is finally at a breaking point, I am totally exposed. The mirror is being held in front of me showing my life through their eyes, and all of their pains are being shown to me, This triggers Vulnerability- Feelings. Which is what I have been running from all along. Feeling anything other than optimal. Increasing pleasure and decreasing pain. Whatever I have to do to not feel this ‘Ick”.

And when we trigger that vulnerability, the squirm starts, the exposure is there. And it’s all driven with love, dignity, respect, and concern. And Boom. We connect. I may not have done what you’ve done or been where you’ve been, but at one point or another I have felt what you’ve felt. God, I get goosebumps just writing this. I wish that I could “Download” My experiences to you, and let you witness it first hand. You wanna see God? Do a heartfelt and desperate intervention on someone who hates themself as a result of their life choices, has terrible self esteem and just wants to OD and die and doesn’t know why, And WATCH THE LOVE, HOPE, and SURRENDER wash over their face and return to their eyes when they hear the most heartfelt and amazing words that they’ve been longing to hear. Watch them FEEL LOVE for the first time in a long time. Hear a Grown man cry to his baby boy about getting help and all the mistakes he FEELS he has made. Watch a family do a huddle style group hug and love each other more than have in years, after a decade plus of resentment and guilt. Have a mother send a picture of her son to you, 3 years clean, after he was on life support from his most recent OD. That’s God. That’s Standing in the Gap for someone else. That’s connecting. That’s what intervention is and how it works. I don’t think I’ll ever do anything else as long as I live. I truly believe that this is God’s calling for my life and Why I went through my addiction and made it out- So I can reach my hand back/down and help the next one who is struggling like I once did.

You’re not alone. Do not be ashamed. Do not be afraid. You’re not the first. You wont be the last. Take action, get vulnerable. Put yourself out there.

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