[Disclaimer: I recommend hiring an interventionist over experimenting on your own. Unless you believe you have a very high chance of success, my advice is not to take unnecessary risks with those you love. Hire a professional. Bringing in an outsider can be unnerving for most families, but an experienced, professional interventionist can also raise your chances for success by many times, and the costs associated with hiring someone is often far less compared with the losses you may incur by experimenting on your own, not all of them financial.]
One of the core responsibilities an interventionist takes on when he is hired is to handle the objections of the addict. Objections come in various forms. Very rarely does the addict simply say no.
There is the infamous, “What about you??” objection, where the addict turns the offer of help into pointing fingers at other family members, calling them out on their own shortcomings, habits or addictions.
There is the, “I can’t go because I have things to do.” objection, where an addict whose life is spent procuring or using drugs or alcohol but who, when the subject of going to treatment is brought up, suddenly has a schedule he needs to keep.
There is the, “If you’d approached me differently I might have gone, but now you’ve betrayed my trust” objection, where the addict makes the intervention the reason he’s not going to the program.
There is the common, “You guys are making a way bigger deal out of this than it needs to be” objection, where the addict minimizes his problem while invalidating the intervention as buffoonery.
There is the, “Why are you guys doing this to me???” objection, often combined with other objections, where the addict sees himself as a victim of the intervention as well as the misguided family members who are torturing him with it.
There are objections presented as threats such as, “If you make me go I’ll kill myself; burn the house down; leave; never speak to you again” …ad nauseum, which I will cover in more detail in a later post.
Most objections however, will settle into an effort on the part of the addict to negotiate a lesser deal. I consider this to be one of the most dangerous positions a family can find themselves in, mainly because I see so many fall prey to it. I call it the bait-and-switch. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts but let me explain.
The “bait” is that the addict finally agrees that, yes he has a problem and things do need to change. By doing this the addict is giving the family something they want, which is for their loved one to acknowledge that he has a problem, or to its severity. The family will then make a very common mistake which is to soften up and be all ears as the addict lays out a lesser deal. The worst kind is the contract offer.
A contract offer is where the addict offers to agree to a contract. This usually consists of agreeing to stop using drugs or drinking, getting a job or going back to school, and if these conditions are not met, he will go to treatment without a fight. The problem of course is that it never plays out that way. Not ever.
The fact is that if the addict were able to stop using and get a job or go back to school it would have already happened. Agreeing to it simply because the addict is desperate for you to is not a good reason. But, most addicts are good at what they do. They are pros at manipulating their families, especially parents. They will look at you with tears welling in their eyes, promise earnestly and sincerely that this time it will be different, that the intervention has made them realize that things really do need to change, that they hadn’t realized how bad things had gotten, and that first thing in the morning they’re going to get that resume together, hit the street, get a job and get the traction again in their life that the family so desperately wants them to have. If the family pushes back on this the addict will become indignant, accusing his family of not trusting him (which is the real problem in his mind), that all he needs is for the family to believe in him and just give him another chance.
I have one piece of advice. Don’t do it.
If the addict were in a condition to just go out and get a job and start living life responsibly, than he already would have. Desperation to want to change is great. Actually doing it is something else entirely.
Lack of sincerity on the part of the addict isn’t actually the problem. He’s probably going to be very sincere in making these promises and in his intention to follow through. But the fact most families need to come to terms with is that the person’s drug use isn’t the actual problem, nor is his lack of employment. The problem is much more far-reaching and the person is much more entrenched then he himself believes. Without going into every detail; drugs, alcohol, dishonesty, lack of follow-through, immorality, being unethical, living without honor, integrity or any true sense of identity are part and parcel to the problem of addiction and alcoholism. Promising to stop using or drinking and get a job is not a solution. It is a hallucination, an oasis of fresh water in the middle of a desert. It is the promise of a solution that the mind creates and which the heart wants to believe.
The easiest solution when this comes up is the most simple. Don’t agree to it. Without making the addict wrong, simply don’t agree to it. You can validate the addict and his sincerity without agreeing to his contract offer. This is of course, easier said than done, but that’s the basic idea.
And this basic idea applies to most objections. Whether the addict is accusing you of something, making you and the family wrong for doing the intervention in the first place, threatening to make you suffer if he’s made to go to treatment, or whatever, the best solution is the most simple. Leave the original offer on the table as the only offer. Don’t invalidate the addict or make him wrong or try to beat him into submission. Simply make the original offer the only offer that’s on the table.
The other important step to handling objections is to take into account valid objections on the part of the addict and have solutions ready for them. I’ll use my own situation as an example.
When I went to treatment I had a 6 foot lizard and two kittens. During the intervention my family had planned, I brought up the subject of my pets. What would happen to them? In response, my father said I needed to get rid of them. This was absolutely not what I needed to hear at that time. What I needed was a solution. I was in fact asking my family to help me solve the problem of where my pets for going to live, but instead of having planned for this beforehand, they were unprepared and allowed the remark my father made to hang in the air. In my fathers mind he was not wrong. I was using drugs. I had nowhere to stay. I was struggling with suicidal depression, and here I was asking where my six-foot lizard could live while I went to treatment. To my father the question was preposterous. I had other problems to worry about and so did they. But to me, my kittens and my lizard were my best friends. They may have been my only friends. So when my father said this to me, the intervention, as far as I was concerned, was over.
About 10 days later I drove myself to the treatment center. I had been evicted from the apartment where I was living, but my pets were still the issue for me. I sat down with the intake counselor and told her that if there was no solution for my pets that I wouldn’t even stay for dinner, and I meant it. She did what my family should’ve done in the first place. She solved the problem for me. She recognized it as are very real problem for me. It wasn’t something I was making up. There I was at the treatment center, willing to start, but my pets were in the car, waiting for me in case a solution wasn’t offered. She got on the phone and literally spent two hours working out accommodations for my lizard and my two cats. She finally came back and said my brother was going to take my lizard and have his friend build a habitat for her, and that my mother would take the two cats. With that solved I agreed to stay, and I did stay for the duration of the program.
As I write this 15 years later, one of the cats is still living quite happily at my mothers house. So there is a lot to be said for offering real solutions to real problems that the addict may have. My point is to be very careful about shooting down objections the addict has as being invalid simply because he’s an addict. Of course there will be objections that are simply a smokescreen or a way of delaying the inevitable, but these must be distinguished for objections that the addict actually needs help handling.