July 26, 2016
The question of whether or not to hire a professional can be easily answered. Simply ask yourself what chance you believe you have to succeed on your own.
Most families just end up creating an enormous mess which the interventionist then needs to come in and clean up. From a strategic point of view it’s wiser to hire the interventionist before any attempt at an intervention is made so that he or she can run the game starting with a full, clean deck of cards.
Having been an interventionist for as long as I have, I’ve seen a thing or two. There are interventionists whose work I respect a great deal, while others have left gargantuan messes which I’ve had to clean up, others seem more intent on their fee than a successful outcome. But I’m not writing this article to make you paranoid. Hiring a pro is often a necessary step. Arguably an intervention is much more well-managed and has a much higher chance of success if it can be conducted and controlled by an objective, seasoned professional. There are plenty of good ones out there but it’s important know what to look for.
I remember doing an intervention in Washington where the addict wouldn’t agree to talk to me initially. Believe it or not this is a fairly uncommon problem for me to run into. I came to find out that the family had just tried what they thought was an intervention by trying to strong arm the guy into a car. Of course he didn’t want to meet with me. I did eventually find a way to pull it off but cleaning up the mess the family had made meant that the intervention took longer, and began as a massive uphill battle.
My point is that if you can hire an interventionist don’t experiment first. As someone who has worked on the front lines of addiction for many years, experimenting in that field of battle with the life of your loved one hanging in the balance is not something you want to do without guidance, and I mean real guidance, not by the emotionally charged opinions of somebody you met an Al-Anon meeting, or friend of a friend who helped with an intervention or two. I’m talking about somebody who has done 100 or 200 or more interventions, and who has a proven track record of success. Believe me when I tell you you’re not going to save any money by shopping from the bargain shelf when it comes to hiring an interventionist.
I’ll keep this simple. First, when it comes to the kind of background you’re looking for, experience trumps education any day of the week. I have very little formal education but I spent 25 years addicted to just about everything you could possibly name, and went through treatment six times. On top of this real life experience, I’ve done close to 400 interventions and consistently succeed somewhere between 80 and 90% of the time. My success rate tends to be higher if the family I’m working with follows my instructions to the letter but sometimes it’s too much to hope for.
Don’t trust anyone who tells you they have a 100% success rate because it doesn’t happen. Not in the real world. You hire an interventionist just as you would a doctor or lawyer. You want to hire the best doctor you can but he’s not going to guarantee you 100%. When you hire an attorney he doesn’t guarantee what the results will be but he can spell out what’s likely going to happen. If he’s experienced and has a good track record, then the likelihood of your success will be high. This is another good analogy for not trying to do things on your own. You wouldn’t try operating on someone before taking them to the doctor, or showing up in court without an attorney and “giving it a go” before deciding to go to a lawyer.
Do your homework and call references the interventionist has worked with. Find out how he or she operated, how the addict was communicated with and what happened when there was a crisis. There is always a crisis, at least one. How did the interventionist handle it? Did he or she give up after two days and tell the family “He just isn’t ready.” In my book that can be a cop out. Interventions don’t last weeks but if the addict isn’t in treatment after day two I stay until I KNOW it’s impossible. This can be up to a week or even longer. Sure, I get the occasional “easy money” where the intervention takes an hour or a day, but generally it’s not just the addict who’s stuck when I start my work. Often the family is all over the map, things aren’t always agreed upon, family secrets rear their head. My average job lasts between three and five days, including the adventure of transporting the addict in. A few last one, some up to a week or longer. My goal is always the same; get the addict into the program and whatever happens along the way, deal with it.
Don’t go it alone. Find someone you feel can commit to getting a result, and make the call before things get any worse.
July 19, 2016
The chaos in the life of the person you’re trying to help has has left a wake of emotional and financial wreckage. The events that led you to decide to do an intervention have also left you in a state of panic. Now, you’re confronted with actually doing the intervention. Your deepest fears are staring you in the face, including the fear that by confronting the person and giving him or her an ultimatum, you may make the situation worse and push the person you love even further away.
On top of your own fears, family members are debating about what the right thing to do may be, sometimes furiously. People you love may be pushing opinions at you with force, scenarios that are frightening, some of which – in your mind – do not make any sense.
You haven’t been sleeping because of this. You haven’t exercised. You might even have a prescription or two in the cabinet you did not before, things to help you “cope.”
Your efforts in analyzing the situation and possible solutions makes you feel more paralyzed, like walking into a casino where the life of the person you love is the currency on the roulette table. Red and black are high-risk bets in a wheel of numbers that spin in your mind. Emotionally, it’s overwhelming, exhausting and deeply painful. You know it has to stop. But how?
How do you sort through the suggestions, opinions and experiences of others, adding to that your own thoughts and feelings and come out with a solution that makes sense, a solution that people will adhere to and work toward as a team?
This is often the state of mind people are in when they call me for help.
Now, imagine a rescue mission. Take for example the Coast Guard. Their territory is a raging ocean, torrential storms and unpredictable risk. Yet, they manage to pull people out to safety. How do they do it?
There are 100 different things that factor into a successful rescue, but there are just a few basic denominators that must always be there, one of which is an ability to stay calm in the face of crisis, and to take risks that make the most sense as opposed to allowing their emotions to steer the ship.
I’m not saying that staying calm is easy. It isn’t. In fact I’ve never seen my job as making things easier for people. I’m hired to win the game. I simplify things and help put order in. One of my main goals is not to let panic control any aspect of the process. I imagine it’s a lot like going to war.
In a war room one imagines generals in deep contemplation of a map of the battlefield. Models of troops, tanks, airships and deep-sea destroyers slide across the map as the generals blow cigar smoke and as they point, grumble words ending in, “flank,” or,”we’ll close in on them from here.”
Now imagine the actual battlefield: explosions, screams, buildings falling into clouds of dust. The chink-chink-chink of soldiers running from cover to cover, enemy bullets whizzing past their heads, an occasional mortar blowing one of their comrades away in a flash of fire and a cloud of smoke. Yet, they fight on. And what is it that determines the winning side? How does one come out of that chaos having overcome the evil they have confronted?
I’m betting the same is true for generals as it is for interventionists and the people they are trying to lead into battle.
The first element is planning, meticulous, thorough and well rehearsed. The second is the ability to stay calm in the face of danger. For those who cannot or will not do this, the fate of their efforts is sealed. Like they say, luck favors the prepared.
While you or someone else may be in a panic, it’s important to understand that overcoming panic itself is part of the challenge you face.
As an ex-addict I can assure you that a lot of the panic you’re feeling is not by accident, but the result of an effort on the part of the addict to throw you off guard so that his or her agenda – using drugs or drinking – can continue.
I’m going to reiterate here that it is not malicious. Creating panic in others is something addicts and alcoholics do on a fairly regular basis, but it is a survival response. It’s like a child who wants something or wants to avoid something. The child will burst into tears, make loud demands, maybe even accuse you of things, all of which is designed to accomplish one goal; to either avoid something or to get something. In the case of an intervention it is definitely to avoid something.
Understanding this simple fact can mean the difference between succeeding in getting the person you care about to go to a treatment program, or having to walk away believing that you have failed. I use the word “belief” because in most cases family members are convinced they have failed when in fact it is their own state of panic and fear that has paralyzed them and left them feeling hopeless. Had it not been for their own state of panic and confusion they could have worked through things with logic, just like the general standing in a circle around that map, or the Coast Guard team that worked out the logistics before they ever took off in a helicopter. Had they gone into battle or to a rescue in a state of confused panic, defeat would be all but assured. That is the difference between a well-done intervention and one that is doomed to fail.
The family that stays calm, continues to work as a team regardless as to what they are confronted with, regroups and continues to plan meticulously even when their previous plans seemed to have fallen apart is the family that will come out a winner. By winning I mean a family that has gotten the person they care about into a good treatment center successfully.
The first step in overcoming your own panic is recognizing that it’s not going to work in your favor. Being in a panicked state may seem like the right response, and on many levels it is, but in terms of winning the battle you must set those feelings aside long enough to think through the scenarios and situations you’re confronted with with some degree of logic.
It’s like playing a game of chess. Your opponents pieces are the elements of the addiction, what it’s doing to the person you love and what it’s causing him or her to do. Your pieces are your family, friends and the various elements both financial and emotional that can influence the person you are trying to help.
How does a chess player win his game? Aside from strategy, at the core of his success is the ability to stay calm even when circumstances are puling his emotions apart.
I cannot tell you exactly how to stay calm because I don’t know you. All I can tell you is that this is what you have to keep your eye on. This is what you need to accomplish in order to win. It may be enough to know this is what you need to do.
Panic will never help you. It will always work against you.
Imagine yourself at the funeral of the person you’re trying to help and imagine what it is you will regret not having done. You must sober up, calm down and plan as if you are going into a war you must win if the person you care about is to survive.
Panic is your enemy, in yourself or others.
I can give you a couple pieces of advice:
If you find yourself in a panic, stop what you’re doing, get away from the situation or regroup if you’re working with your team.
If you see someone else in a panic, especially during meetings where you are face-to-face with the addict or alcoholic you’re trying to help, intervene without invalidating either the addict or the person you’re trying to pull out of the situation. Just pull them out as quietly as possible.
I’m not suggesting that if someone is crying or emotional during an intervention that you have to stop everything unless the emotions become the driving force as opposed to the plan you should already have in place. What I am saying is that if somebody is freaking out, especially if they are in danger of making deals with the addict based on pure emotion, you have to stop what’s going on and get everybody to regroup. The addict and his or her problems will be there to come back to.
The best way to avoid panic is to realize that it’s going to work against you in the first place. If you need some rest, go rest. If you need to eat, go eat. If you need to work through some of your fears then start dumping them out with your core team or a trusted confidant and work through them. Take the time you need to take in order to gather yourself for battle.
An intervention may be the most important battle you can ever win. The day the person you love walks up to you, holds you and tells you he is sorry for everything he did and glad for whatever it was you did to get him into the treatment program, and how ready he is to begin living his new life, you’ll know the true reward of winning that battle. But don’t ever lose sight of the fact that every day you procrastinate or remain paralyzed in a state of panic, is a day the person you love remains lost, a liability to himself and everyone else, a day closer to a funeral, a court hearing, a psychiatric incarceration, or at the least a life of regret for everyone.
As much as panic maybe justified, the right thing to do is to keep calm. In an intervention, winning is not optional. It’s all that matters.
July 19, 2016
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.
July 13, 2016
- Without hope [a hopeless prisoner] 2. Causing one to lose hope; discouraging [a hopeless situation].
Practicing addicts attempt to destroy interventions by creating feelings of hopelessness in those around them, especially in their parents, spouses – those closest to them. It is a simple yet powerful mechanism, and not difficult to observe if you look for it.
If you can observe it, you can plan for it. If you can plan for it, you can stay ahead of it. If you’re ahead of it then you will have a much greater level of overall control.
Here are some examples of how an addict creates hopelessness:
“I’ll NEVER go to treatment no matter what you do.”
“I’m going to KILL myself if you make me go!!”
“I can do it on my own.” (making you feel as though you’re invalidating the ability of addict by offering him help).
“I have THINGS TO DO!!”
“I would have considered going to treatment but this intervention has messed that up now!! (sees himself as a victim of the intervention)
“If you make me go I’ll just leave once I get there!!” (making you think, “Why try?”)
Every single one of these statements and the way they are delivered has one clear motive; creating hopelessness and fear in those who are trying to help him in order to get them to give up.
The entrenched addict makes his family wrong for trying to help, word by word, crisis by crisis, explosion by explosion, the using addict makes his loved one’s WRONG, WRONG, WRONG for having the nerve to have any hope at all.
The ideal solution is to have an experienced interventionist guide the family through the chaos. Next best is to see it for what it is, as a mechanism of control.
Mind you it is NOT malicious. In other words, the addict is not thinking to himself, “I’m going to make my family hopeless.” It’s more of an automatic response to a perceived threat. I say this in case you have the idea of confronting the addict on what he’s doing with the notion that you’ll “bust” him on it. You won’t. Don’t ever try to. Making the addict wrong will work against you in a big way. In fact, if you do you’ll just pay the price of vehement resistance amplified exponentially.
Very little can be accomplished by making the addict wrong. He’s already wrong in just about everything he’s been doing. This is why addict’s are often suicidal. I’m simply bringing your attention to something that will most likely take place, so that when it does you can look at it and say to yourself, “I’m looking at the condition he’s in, the ‘make things into a crisis in order to make all of this go away’ part.” By being able to identify it you won’t be effected by it nearly as much. Hopefully, by being able to see the addict’s reactions for what they are, you can work even with the addict blaring in your face without letting his reactions drive you into a state of apathy, or control you. If you can do this, you will have an enormous advantage.
The most fundamental part of the solution is to recognize it for what it is; an automatic, non-malicious response to a perceived threat. Of course you’re thinking, “How is an offer of help a threat?” The fact is it isn’t, that is, unless of course you are the addict. The absence of logic is irrelevant.
A lot of families will tell me that they gave up because the situation was hopeless. I find it’s more often the case that they became hopeless and then gave up. In other words, the addict made his family hopeless, intentionally. Or, he made one key person hopeless, and that key person’s feelings and conclusions easily infected everyone else. Instead of persevering, the family gave in to the addiction without even realizing it, and the addiction went on surviving just as it wanted to, destroying the addict and his life. The irony is that the addict may actually want the help, and if you’re doing an intervention he definitely needs it.
So how do I succeed in the face of vehement resistance? It’s actually quite simple, albeit difficult to do; first, I expect it. I plan for it beforehand. Probably 30% of my time spent with a family before making an offer of help to the addict is prepping them for the addict’s reactions, for explosions, for the addict to attempt to go after family members emotionally in order to make them feel hopeless and drive them into a state of apathy.
Let me reiterate that these efforts on the part of the addict are not malicious. They are an effort at control, nothing more. Accusations of betrayal, threats of suicide, of violence, threats to leave and never come back, threats to leave treatment, are all geared toward doing one single thing; to make you hopeless and to make you give up. My advice? Don’t give up. There are a few very simple reasons I have such a high success rate in getting people into treatment and one is that I persevere.
Another vital component when these reactions are taking place and the person you’re trying to help is bellowing his objections in your face, is not to give into the temptation to fight back, or to make the addict wrong. I’m not saying the addict isn’t wrong, I’m saying that by telling him he’s wrong you’re just going to have a bigger fight on your hands. The only goal you should have in mind is to get the person you love physically to the treatment center with enough willingness to try. The key of course is in the program you’ve chosen. If it’s worth it’s salt then the staff will be experienced in dealing with rebellious addicts. In fact, if it’s a good program it’s something they’ll be dealing with every day. The other thing to keep in mind is that the objections and the way they are delivered is often exclusive to just a few family members the addict feels are key to controlling whether or not he goes to treatment. I’ve brought plenty of addicts to the front doors of treatment who, when they talk to their mother or father are much more violent in their communication than with anyone else.
I’ve gotten plenty of addicts into treatment who fought violently against the idea before they went but were fine once they got there. In fact, this happens much more often than people realize. Families make the mistake of thinking that the addict needs to be willing to go and admit he has a problem in order for treatment to be effective. This is categorically false. I cover this subject in other places in my blog and I’ll cover it again and again; an addict who goes into treatment in complete denial has an equal if not better chance of success than a person who goes on with bells on his feet and who can’t wait for the first morning meditation.
I speak from personal experience, not only my observations from doing hundreds of interventions. I went into treatment six times perfectly willingly, I even begged for it a couple of times. All six times I relapsed shortly after the program. My seventh program was the result of a two-week intervention on the part of my family who had also hired a professional. I was barely willing to be at the program when I arrived, but in spite of all of that I completed the program successfully and stayed clean for 15 years.
The best advice I can give you is not to give in to “conventional wisdom,” that an addict has to admit he has a problem and be willing to go to a program if that program is to be effective. I’m not saying you can handcuff the guy and put a black hood over his head and get him in at gunpoint (a suggestion I actually had a client make to me one time), but everything short of that. Do what you need to do to get the person to go, whatever that may be, and in whatever state of mind he may arrive in.
Don’t make him wrong. Sell treatment as an island in the sun as much as possible. Focus on the amenities, not on the therapy. And when you find yourself or others around you becoming hopeless, regroup and remind yourself of why you’re there.
Most importantly; keep calm and carry on.