The chaos in the life of the addict 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 an intervention. What does that mean? Disaster? Redemption? Neither? Your deepest fears are staring you in the face, including the fear that by confronting the addict 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 sense.
You haven’t been sleeping. You haven’t exercised. You might even have a prescription or two in the cabinet you did not have 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 emotion 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,”then we’ll close in on them from the west.”
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 unabated.
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.