“There is a lot of misery in the world. There is also a lot of overcoming it.” ~ Helen Keller
Four days ago I came to Paradise, California, a little hamlet in the Sierra-Nevada foothills. I was hired by the well-to-do parents of a 32-year old addict who would fly into a rage every time they mentioned he needed to go to a treatment program.
His father was a well-respected emergency room doctor, his mother was a homemaker. Both were devout Christians. Despite being well-educated, sympathetic, affluent and having provided a good home, their beloved and only child was slowly killing himself, shooting black-tar heroin and Oxycontin.
Even though he continually rebuffed them, they refused to stop trying to help their son, Andy. They had called me in a state of panic after finding him slumped over the toilet, a hypodermic needle still in his arm. Today Andy and I are on our way to Narconon.
Four days earlier…
The day I arrived the air was clean and cool, bellying the storm I came here to help the family face. Andy had “stolen” his mother’s car and had been MIA for two days. An intervention isn’t much good without an addict to intervene upon, and Andy with a car spelled trouble.
Peter, Andy’s father and I drove around all night, searching every haunt, street corner and drug den Andy might be at. Luckily, Paradise is a relatively small town and after a few hours, we found the minivan we were looking for parked next to a small, blue mobile home where one of Andy’s known connections lived — an ex-con whom Peter said was currently on parole. Peter stuck in the extra key he’d brought with him and peeled out of the driveway in the dark of night.
When it comes to addicts with cars, my opinion is – it’s more important to safeguard mankind and you might have to place the intervention second. You do not want the addict crashing the car, and harming himself or anyone else. Sometimes, though, the two things– safety and strategy– can be accomplished at the same time. Luckily, this was one of those cases.
Andy was using heroin and Oxycontin and his parents had no idea what else. Whenever he needed food or clothing, he would rage into his parent’s home, grab what he needed and then curse his parents or to bellow his numerous complaints, keeping his parents on pins and needles. He supplemented his verbal abuses via text every chance he got.
His mother showed me a few of his texts and they were abusive and nasty. She was beside herself, unable to understand why he treated her so hatefully.
His tirades were directed especially toward her and this is often the case. As the addict spirals downward, it is the mother who receives the brunt of his rage and hostility.
This may be a way for the addict to get his loved ones to treat him the way he feels he deserves to be treated. In any case it is almost always true that the person who is closest to the addict receives the worst treatment. And, this much I know, both as an interventionist and a former addict: it is not hate, even though it looks like it. It is more a manifestation of self-loathing projected upon another. So, if you’re the person on the receiving end, don’t misunderstand it. One day when your loved one is back to himself again he will say his apologies for his treatment of you, as I did with my family.
At one point Andy’s parents became totally fed up with Andy’s seemingly endless condition, so much so that they almost closed the file on the possibility of an intervention. But, the faint light of hope still flickered in their hearts and, together, we made some headway.
Only two hours away, my own family was about to sit down to a Christmas Eve Luau and I could think of many delicious reasons to be there instead of in a motel room, listening to the rain, eating re-heated chicken and rice. But one glaring fact confronted me; Andy, the person I was here to help, was withdrawing – quite miserably I was sure – in a house that was not his, without any family, with no gifts to open, no lighted tree, no car to drive (not anymore!), no money, no job, and no apparent way out of the enormous mess that was his life. Having lived it myself for two decades, I know addiction – both the love affair with drugs and the complete destruction which accompanies it. If I could wrench Andy out of this mess I knew in my heart he might actually become a formidable force for good. But he had to get back to living life again.
What Andy was doing with all the hostility directed toward his mother and father was nothing new; actively-using addicts and alcoholics consciously but more often subconsciously, attempt to destroy interventions by creating feelings of hopelessness in those around them, especially in those closest to them. It is a simple yet powerful mechanism, not difficult to observe, and Andy was no exception. At any mention of treatment, he would blast back,
“I’ll NEVER go to treatment!!!”
“I’m going to KILL myself if you make me go!!”
“I can do it on MY OWN!”
“I have THINGS TO DO!!!”
“I would have gone but now you’ve messed it up by making my life HELL by making it all about this STUPID program!”
“If you make me go I’ll just leave once I get there!!” …ad nauseum.
Every one of these statements and it’s manner of delivery had a dual purpose: to avoid going to treatment, and to make those who are trying to help him go away or give up — to create hopelessness.
The entrenched addict wants to make his family feel wrong for trying to help. Word by word, crisis by crisis, explosion by explosion, the practicing addict makes his loved ones feel wrong. Wrong. WRONG for having the audacity–the nerve–of having any hope at all.
The tyranny of hopelessness is tough to overcome and because of it, many families give up. But if the family gives up, it cannot succeed. The addict “wins” and then, dies in some way. He falls away from life until he is gone completely. But he can be rescued. These are the only two possibilities and the choice is clear.
An experienced interventionist can help guide your family through the chaos of addiction and see that you can make it all the way through. What you need to do is to recognize chaos and hostility for what they are: control mechanisms. Nothing more. A way the addict keeps those who love him paralyzed in fear and hopelessness.
If this applies to your family or to an addict you know, you must detach yourself from it and look in on it from the outside. If you were to see an addict treat his family in a hostile and abusive way, what would you think? You would know you were seeing a person controlling those around him with hostility, driving them into apathy and hopelessness.
Addicts do this to stop efforts to help them. If your purpose is to help the addict in your life, see the hostility for what it is. Keep moving forward with the intervention despite his efforts to the contrary. In all my years of doing interventions, perseverance despite whatever is taking place is the most important ingredient to success.
“If you think hiring a professional is expensive, just wait until you hire an amateur.”
A lot of families ask me, “if we can’t get our loved one to go to treatment, why should we believe a stranger would do any better?”
It’s a valid question, and it represents one of the great ironies about addiction and alcoholism.
The fact is, most family members do poorly because they are family members. The minefields of emotional history, the family secrets, the destructive habits families have developed over the years, in many cases, can all add up to disaster. The irony of course is that you love the person. You want to help him. You’ve loved him all your life, and now the time is come when he needs help, but your emotional history, not only with the addict but with other family members, gets in the way. Bringing in a seasoned professional solves this problem. Having an objective observer and somebody everyone can bounce ideas off of can help avoid a lot of the emotional charge family members have with each other.
The other major aspect I bring to the table as an interventionist is the fact that I was an addict for many years. My struggles with drugs, alcohol, depression and with my family enable me to share a certain reality with the addict. And while there may be family members who have a similar history and may even be in recovery, the fact that they are family members puts them at a disadvantage. The fact that they’re in recovery may actually be an affront to the addict.
One simple way to gauge whether or not you need to hire a professional is to ask yourself one question; what do you believe your chances are of succeeding on your own? If you’re honest with yourself and you find yourself fumbling with numbers like 20 to 50%, hiring a professional interventionist can factually raise your chances to about 90%. So why gamble with your loved ones life? Why experiment on your own when you can have somebody working with you in person who has successfully gotten unwilling addicts to arrive at treatment literally hundreds of times?
If you’re strongly considering hiring a professional, I would not recommend trying things on your own first if you’ve already tried and failed. Interventionists work best when they have a full deck of cards to play, when they don’t have to clean up a huge mess made by the family just prior to their arrival on scene.
If you need help, get help. You can even call and ask for me.
An intervention is one of the most loving things a family can do, but it may require calculated deception in order to get the job done.
As an example, I need to get an addict to agree to go to treatment but telling him I am an interventionist up front is not advisable, so I’m introduced as someone the family came across over the course of researching programs. I tell the addict I’m there as a friend, a “negotiator” just to help facilitate things. If the addict asks me if I’m an interventionist, I’ll tell him I’ve been involved in a few interventions and his family offered to throw me a little something and cover my expenses to come out and help get things going.
It may seem like a fine point but it’s important that the addict doesn’t feel threatened. By putting myself on the back burner and not coming off as the person in charge, the addict perceives the ultimatums and the force behind the intervention as coming from the family, not from me. The addict can still feel safe talking to me and the treatment center can be made to seem like a refuge, not a prison.
While the use of deception may be justifiable when it comes to strategy, you do need to be careful about being dishonest in describing the program. It’s alright to exaggerate a little in terms of the amenities: If you can make the satellite TV sounds like a good place to hang out or watch football on the weekends, go ahead. If you want to make the facility’s gym sound like the perfect place for the addict to get his health back, fine. You could probably even make the whole time there sound like a vacation for him from the family. Do not, however, tell your loved one that there is a lake if there isn’t one or that they have a hot tub if they don’t. That’s playing “bad pool.” When your loved one goes there and discovers these lies, he might reject the program on sight, get paranoid about you and the facility, and wonder when the other shoe is going to drop.
In conclusion, be careful how you use deception. Don’t be afraid of it – just be smart about it. And don’t ever use deception out of anger or as a reaction; only use it if you know it will help your cause.
Many believe that if an addict does not admit to having a problem, he does not know he has a problem. We are taught to see this as a lack of self-awareness on the part of the addict. I can assure you, it is not. It’s simpler than that.
For example, if your loved one told you he went to the library last night when really, he was at a bar drinking, does that mean he isn’t aware he was at a bar drinking? Of course not–he’s lying.
People talk about addicts as being “in denial,” as if it’s some sort of box or mental condition of self-inflicted blindness. Denial is not complex psychology. In actuality, it’s more two-dimensional: on one side is the truth, on the other is a lie, or many.
Denial is lying plain and simple, either because the person doesn’t want to get caught, expose himself or is ashamed, angry, guilt-ridden or distrustful. Admitting one is powerless over drugs or alcohol, for example, is, for many, a necessary first step to recovery, but nowhere is admitting this to one’s family necessary, except in some literature and discussions about interventions where the idea is, in my opinion, misinterpreted and misplaced.
Simply because your addict doesn’t admit it to you does not mean he isn’t aware he has a problem. Just because he tells you he does not want help, does not mean he does not want help.
In other words, if your addict is in denial when he arrives at Narconon, fine. This is part and parcel to the overall condition the person is in, and part of what any quality program like Narconon is designed to address. If he tells you he’s willing to address his opiate addiction but plans to smoke pot for the rest of his life, fine. Again, this is something Narconon will address. If he tells you that you’re the one with the problem and the only reason he’s going to Narconon is to make you happy, smile and tell him, fine. Great, as long as he goes.
The purpose of any good treatment program is at some point, to move the addict from seeing himself as a victim, to a condition of responsibility. As long as he makes it to a program where he can begin this process and come back to life, make new friends and have some wins, nothing else matters. The only thing that matters is to get your addict to arrive, and to start!
Do not make the mistake of trying to resolve the condition itself during an intervention.
For example, I got a young man into treatment after months of his bellowing against it. All the way to the program he denied his condition was as bad as his family said it was and certainly not bad enough to justify treatment. He insisted his family was wrong and said the only reason he agreed to try was because he had nowhere else to go. Upon arrival, he called home and cursed his family, swearing never to speak to them again and predicting someday they would see just how wrong they were. Two weeks later, after going through withdrawal from several years of opiate use, he told his detox supervisor he was happy to finally be on the road to recovery and forever grateful for whatever his family did to get him there.
This is not an exceptional case. It happened to me and it happens all the time.
In the world of recovery, some of the best success stories come from very unlikely beginnings.
Big picture realizations can and will occur after your addict is at the Narconon program, once he’s off the drugs and alcohol and beginning to get control of his life again. The important thing is that the addict eventually realizes these things for himself, not that he confesses them to his family.
No matter what the drug–when I took it, bought it, prepared it or used it–I knew what I was doing was inherently wrong. But, that didn’t stop me. I preferred to believe it wasn’t as bad as my family made it out to be, or that I could control it and that the obstacles I faced were somehow not my fault (or were all my fault).
I would ruminate, “If people would only believe in me,” or, “I just need this one thing paid for.” But getting clean was something I put off because I was sure that my being stoned wasn’t the problem. The way I looked at it, getting high made my problems more bearable.
I had no idea what was wrong with me, but I believed that if I only had a job or my rent paid, I could regain my footing and live the way I knew I could and should. I would think, “Right after this bag of meth, this bottle of vodka, this bag of pot, that’s when I’m going to get my life together.” But, that day never came: This is the cage most addicts and alcoholics live in.
Families sometimes think the solution is to move their loved one a thousand miles away. Invariably however, his problems follow. Prison inmates, for example, are sometimes clean for years and yet, once freed, they return to their addictions. This is because the underlying reasons for the addiction are not actually confronted or repaired, so the condition continues.
Over time, the addict or alcoholic becomes further conflicted with himself and retreats more and more into the comfort of a chemical embrace. He begins to perceive himself as a victim, blaming others for his problems. At a certain point, the drugs or alcohol are merely a retreat from the worst of it and, while they may soften an addict’s perception of his decline, at the same time they worsen it. Ironically, the self-serving addict ends up with less and less until he has nothing left at all, another example of why addiction is a prison, a black hole which evolves beyond his control, a rip-tide drowning him.
Luckily, many addicts have loving families who reject our invitations for self-annihilation and seek ways to rescue us instead.
The real solution is to get the person back to being his true self again, unburdened from his past transgressions and able to make decisions based on conscience with the potential to live a purposeful life. The fact that you are reading this shows that you believe it can be done. And you’re right, it can.
A good intervention is simply the first step, albeit an important one.
While helpful guidelines exist, no formula fits every situation. Even after reading every book on the subject, including this one, you won’t have every answer you need. My hope is to instill in you a sense of navigation so that when unique situations arise you can face them effectively.
I can point you in the right direction, but the story of your intervention is a path you must walk yourself. In any case, I hope you find perspective here, learn to have patience and how best to take action and, most of all, to persevere.
Families often ask me, “What if we fail?” But the better question is, “What if you succeed?”