Anyone who has done anything repeatedly has the advantage of being able to identify and recognize patterns. Having done hundreds of interventions, one pattern I’ve come to recognize is something I call the greenhouse effect.
In short, it’s when the family members I’m working with are not only confronting a difficult problem, but do so without sleep, eating, or taking an occasional break from the intense emotional environment an intervention can become.
In many cases this happens before I’ve arrived. During the first meeting with the family I’ll see a mother or father who is haggard, unrested, hasn’t eaten and as a result has low blood sugar, and who hasn’t stop thinking about the problem he or she is facing for a single second. This can apply to anyone.
I understand better than most that an intervention can make the difference between living the life of an addict or alcoholic, or giving the person you love a real chance at recovery. By the same token however, in order to accomplish this your team needs to be functioning as well as possible.
For someone who tends to have more dramatic emotions when he or she has low blood sugar, I can’t tell you how helpful having a meal can be. Or for someone who is more reactive when he has had little or no sleep, an afternoon siesta for key players may be just what the intervention needs. I’ll even take it one step further. In the midst of all the drama, the explosions and body parts flying everywhere as an addict tries to stop the intervention by bellowing his disagreements, making threats and otherwise creating an enormous crisis, it can be very helpful to go see a movie, or to the theater, or better yet a comedy club.
Take a break occasionally. Go do something.
I don’t recommend doing things like fishing because you’ll just sit there and ruminate (fly fishing might be the exception). I recommend doing something that is going to take your mind off of things for a couple of hours.
I’m also not talking about breaking up the group in anger and saying, “We need to take a break [from each other],” and leaving each other in an angry huff. In other words, don’t weaponize my advice and use it as a way to blow-off the intervention. I’m simply talking about taking an occasional break, having a meal or getting some rest.
The fact is that these simple, very basic things can help you operate more effectively in an intervention.
If you see a family member who suffering from this kind of – over immersion – and you try and bring it to his or her attention, one thing you may run into is that he or she will refuse to take a break. Some people will act like a martyr because they feel they deserve to be. certain individuals may feel responsible for the condition the person you are trying to help is in, and may have the viewpoint that by taking a break for their own benefit is like turning their back on what needs to be done. This is ironic because taking a break might be the thing that refreshes the person’s perspective and raises his or her ability to operate effectively enough to get the job done, so don’t be afraid to insist.
The best analogy I can think of is the short speech flight attendants give before take-off: “Put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to help others.” It’s good advice, not only because it’s logical but because it works.
If you can’t operate well, you’ll be of little use to the group or to the person you are trying to help. It may even work against you when you need to keep your cool but your low blood sugar has different plans for how you’ll react.
If you want to rescue someone, don’t drown in the process.