April 12, 2018
Even as a professional interventionist with a long-standing track record of success with other people’s families, when it came to intervening on one of my own family members, I found myself in the same position you might be in, trying to wrench other family members around to my viewpoint which I was certain was the correct one – lol.
Different people have different viewpoints, different personal truths about how they see reality. What I try to do is find some common ground for everyone. For example, not everyone may agree that Johnny has a heroin addiction, or they may not agree that it’s as bad as you say it is, or that it warrants treatment, but any family member of Johnny’s would be hard pressed to disagree with the fact that overall, if you took a big slice of Johnny’s life and looked at it, that Johnny has lost his way. Drug addiction or not, does Johnny live a life of purpose? Is he happy? Does he operate well? Is he ethical? Is he a man of integrity? Can he be trusted?
This argument is not that difficult to make when it comes to a program like Narconon. The program doesn’t actually address any specific drug, it addresses the person; an honest man who has integrity will not use drugs, so educating a dishonest man about the evils of drugs won’t solve anything, but if you can get the person’s responsibility level to come up, and then get him to look at some very basic questions about his own identity, like who and what he really is, and then educate him on the basics of ethics and integrity, honor and responsibility, and then give him the means to achieve those things, what you have on the other side is a person who will make better choices, not using drugs being among them.
The last thing I’ll say on this is directed entirely at you, the reader; don’t let someone else talk to you in a compromising your own integrity. Simply because you respect someone doesn’t mean they’re able to confront the problem. Parents often have difficulty seeing what’s right in front of them because admitting their child is off the rails means their parenting was inadequate, or that they failed in some way. So whoever it is you’re trying to help, don’t fail them.
“Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.” ~From the movie, Vanilla Sky.
April 12, 2018
If drugs or alcohol were an addict’s fundamental problem, recovery would be easy. Simply detox the person and you’re done!
But – that isn’t how it works.
The fact is, addiction is a set of low conditions which cut across multiple aspects of a person’s life, which becomes more and more degraded as he turns to self-medication as a solution. Excessive drinking and drug use in turn, worsen his situation, leading to the false conclusion that they are the cause of his problems.
The real demon is not what is in the bottle, the baggy, the needle, or the pipe. If it were, anyone who could detox could stop using or drinking permanently. But ask anyone like me who’s been down that road–that isn’t what happens.
I wish every family could understand what it’s like to be an addict. Seeing things from that viewpoint can help you create solutions for the addict in your life. That’s why I wrote this book. As a professional interventionist, my most powerful tool is my ability to see things from the addict’s point of view.
I don’t try to scare addicts out of using or drinking by citing statistics about how life-threatening it is, or how he might end up in jail. If you’ve tried this approach, you know these warnings fall on deaf ears.
When I facilitate an intervention, I look at it as a real-life game, but I don’t see the addict as my opponent. When I see an addict, I see someone in a prison, and it’s that prison I am playing against.
The fact that the addict’s life is in my hands motivates me to challenge and outmaneuver the mechanisms that are shackling him.
How does one win a game of Texas Hold ’em? By knowing when to bluff, fold or play. How does one win in an intervention? The same way–by thinking ahead several moves at a time and keeping your eyes on the prize.
The prospect of doing an intervention is intimidating, and effective tactics are not always easy to come up with. Mulling over what might happen can be enough to make you want to curl up in a ball and stay in bed, and, not only because of your fears about what the addict might do, but because of how the family may or may not work together.
Even if you get your loved one to go to treatment, what will happen once he’s there? If he’s in denial, is it a waste of money? Is it selfish not to try? Will your life be in greater ruins because of the intervention? These questions plague families and cause them to remain paralyzed.
Excuses for putting off doing an intervention are easy to come up with: doctors’ appointments, court dates, weddings, vacations and everything in between. Ironically, the same thing is happening to the addict. If he were to go to a good program, he could get his life back in order and be happy again, if only he would just get up, pack his stuff and start. But he has a list of things he must do before treatment can even be considered. This cycle of promises, efforts and failures on the part of the addict and his family can continue for years.
April 12, 2018
An intervention is any action or actions which result in an addict arriving at a well-chosen program. I include, “well-chosen,” because, without a program that has a good chance of success in place, an intervention is of little or no value.
Contrary to what many believe, an intervention is not necessarily a meeting with the addict’s family or loved ones, where he is confronted, given a loving ultimatum and a packed suitcase combined with prayers for a positive outcome, although this is what is often imagined when the term, “intervention” is used.
Anything short of an addict being willing at the outset could be considered an intervention. You reading this blog may be the start of your doing one. This might be the first step. Anything that follows, if it results in either the person arriving safely at a program like Narconon, or if it results – at the very least – in knowing beyond any doubt that you have done anything and everything you possibly can, could be considered the intervention.
An intervention can take hours, days and sometimes weeks (weeks is unusual and should be avoided if possible). The only thing of any importance is whether the person arrives at the program with enough willingness to start. That is the hallmark of a well-done intervention.
The most common reason interventions “fail” is because families give up too soon, not because the addict is impossible to handle – although he may convince you otherwise. Families often believe that if the addict does not go into treatment immediately, the intervention has failed. This is often simply not true. Part of any, solid intervention is a willingness of the family to persevere. The ability to persevere is made easier if the family recognizes, not only what they will do but what the addict will do in response.
For example, if the family is going to ask the addict to seek help, the addict may pull Mom’s sheets on her drinking, or the brother for his use of “medical” marijuana. Family members often make the mistake of having no plan when these very predictable responses occur, so they falter and end up with a big mess on their hands, left feeling as though the situation is impossible to handle when all they needed to do was to create a plan beforehand, to script out and rehearse responses to potential objections. You’ll never regret taking time to plan, script, and rehearse. And, before you engage with the addict, do it again.
August 23, 2016
~ Life As An Addict
The most powerful tool in my arsenal -easily -is my ability to see things from an addict’s point of view, and to work from that.
Had I not experienced the mental, emotional and physical effects of drug and alcohol addiction I could not accomplish what I do now. My experiences are what enable me to succeed.
It is something I wish every family could be. The only way to acquire that particular ability however is to experience addiction firsthand so ironically, it is those same experiences I would never wish on anyone. But I want to try and give my readers a real sense of what its like to be an addict. It might be the most important tool in my own arsenal and the fundamental reason for my success in the field.
Addicts are not happy people, although they may tell you otherwise. When I used drugs and drank I remember having “happy times,” but in truth, the more I used the emptier I felt and the more depressed I became.
No matter what the drug, when I take it, buy it, prepare it or use it, I know that what I am doing is inherently wrong. This is true with excessive drinking as well.
I know that it is damaging me even though I keep doing it.
I don’t try and scare addicts out of using or drinking with statistics about how life-threatening it is or how he or she might end up in jail. If you’ve tried this approach then you know what I’m talking about. These kinds of warnings fall on deaf ears.
I preferred to believe that it isn’t as bad as my family made it out to be, that I can control it, and that the obstacles I faced were the result of problematic circumstances.
If I got my car fixed for example, I could get a job. The job would lead to money for clothes and then my own apartment. This would lead to the girlfriend, which would lead to sex, children, marriage and a “real” life…
If I could just get my car fixed.
That was my loop for twenty-five years. I had no idea what was wrong with me but I often believed I was simply a victim of unfavorable circumstances. If I only had a different job or my rent paid I could regain my footing and live the way I knew I could and should. If people would just believe in me, then I could be something. I would think – right after this bag of meth, bottle of vodka, bag of pot, that’s when I’m going to get my life together-.”
This cycle of self delusion is what is behind every addict who insists he can “do it on his own.” He believes this because he has been planning to “do it on his own” and change for the better.
An addict will express a desire to change, to do better, to use or drink less, to stop allowing his drinking or drug use to ruin his life. Eventually though, addiction turns these promises into lies, hopes into regret. This in turn increases the desire to self medicate as a way of relieving the pain. This vicious cycle is what makes addiction a prison, a carousel one cannot get off of easily.
The addict goes back on his word, lies, and manipulates those around him to serve his own needs and wants, but in his mind he is simply trying to survive. Ironically, the self-serving addict ends up with less and less until he has nothing at all. This is yet another example of why addiction can be a never ending and unforgiving prison.
The addict continually seeks comfort in drugs and alcohol, and in so doing has become something he hates. This causes him to want to use even more. Addiction becomes a black hole which may have been a choice at one point, but it evolves into something beyond his control, a rip-tide, drowning him.
Addiction defies reason. It leaves a wake of moral wreckage; families in ruins, finances sucked dry with nothing to show. In the mind of the addict however, what he is doing boils down to survival.
Like an opponent in a game, the addict will hold his position as long as he can. He will do his best to survive. For him, survival means continuing doing what he knows, what makes him feel better, and avoiding what he fears.
When I’m hired to do an intervention, I look at it as though my client is inviting me into a game. It’s a real-life game but he game nonetheless. I don’t look at my opponent as the addict himself. When I see the addict I see someone in a prison, and it is that prison which becomes the thing I’m playing to win against. The fact that his life is in my hands motivates me to outmaneuver the mechanisms that are shackling him and to win.
How does one win a game of Texas Hold’em? By knowing when to bluff, fold or play. How does one win at Chess? – by anticipating what your opponent will do and thinking ahead several moves at a time. Why does one person at get a lower price on a car than another person? It all boils down to tactics. It’s anticipating what your opponent will do and then outmaneuvering him.
I didn’t learn this by becoming a good interventionist. I became a good interventionist by having lived as an addict. When I was trying to get away with using drug and acquire the money to buy them, tactics for me meant survival. Now, I am able help families because I’ve been down that road. I know the way an addict thinks and operates. I’ve helped literally hundreds of families overcome the challenges of helping someone who doesn’t want help, which is my silver lining from having gone to treatment.
Do what you need to do to help the person you love because you never know what his silver lining may turn out to be.
July 28, 2016
Brute, Emotional Force
“He who angers you conquers you.” ~ Elizabeth Kenny
When I see an addict ripping into his mother in response to an offer of help, I see an addict trying to control the outcome of the argument using brute, emotional force. I see someone who doesn’t want to do something, improvising ways to get out of it and, if the other person allows it to affect him or her, the addict may succeed. By driving his family into a state of apathy, panic or hopelessness, the addict hopes to force them to give up.
Interventions are difficult, emotional events. The addict will try to capitalize on this, pitting family members against each other, lashing out, screaming bloody murder or quietly, yet convincingly, tell you he’ll never go to treatment.
If you find this taking place, it’s important you recognize it for what it is: an effort at control, an effort at making you wrong, making the offer wrong, making the program wrong and ultimately, avoiding going.
The addict may go to extremes with threats of suicide or promises to never speak to anyone again, to commit crimes or otherwise try to force his family to believe that continuing with the intervention is more dangerous than not. You may become exhausted and frazzled. You may want to give up. You may want to fall into a dark hole and forget about all of it. Remember–this is how addicts keep themselves and their families imprisoned.
Knowing what I’m telling you is one thing, but keep in mind that you will get nowhere if you begin accusing the addict of using crisis as a means of control. First, it is more of an automatic response than something premeditated, and second, the only result of being confrontational about it will be a fight. So absorb what I’m telling you so you can see the addict’s behavior for what it is, but do not throw it in the addict’s face. That will not get you anywhere.
Destruction of Property
During times of emotional upheaval, the addict may engage in the destruction of property. This can range anywhere from throwing a plate across the room, to punching a hole in the wall, to driving a car into the fence. I’ve had all of these things happen on multiple occasions.
Like yelling and screaming, destroying property is another effort at control, only at a higher magnitude. It is one of the ways an addict who has his back up against a wall, tries to throw people off balance.
It’s ironic if you think about it. This kind of behavior is exactly why the person needs to go to treatment in the first place
Whether the destruction of property is a regular occurrence or the addict is engaging in it for the very first time, the same rules apply when it comes to doing an intervention. Some may even say it’s an advantage to be dealing with someone who acts out a lot because you have something to shut down.
Do not tolerate destruction of property. You cannot and must not allow it to continue. I’m talking close to zero tolerance. By shutting down the behavior, you transmit a very clear message to the addict that it’s not business as usual.
If the person punches a hole in the wall and then calms down and wants to talk about going to the program–then fine, you probably don’t need to call the police. If however he punches a hole in the wall, slams the door, kicks a window out and makes no indication that he’s going to stop, dial 9-1-1. Shut it down.
I can’t promise anything but, in most cases, the police will not want to take anyone to jail if the disturbance can be worked out. Destruction of property is illegal, but in most cases it’s up to the property owner to press charges. The exception would be a person who already has a warrant out for his arrest but, even in that case, you still need to follow through if the addict is using that as a way of arguing you out of calling the police. “If you call the police, I’ll get arrested.” And then he’s back to punching holes in walls. This is being held hostage to violence and, for those of you who have lived with this for a time, I sympathize with how difficult it can be to take this step even though logic tells you it’s the right thing to do.
If you have a friend who tells you someone he loves is using drugs or drinking, and, in addition to the addiction, is throwing fits of violence and destroying property, making threats, what would you tell your friend to do? Would you advise him to allow all of this to continue simply because he’s afraid? Or would you tell him he can’t go on allowing the person he loves to control the relationship with violence?
Ask yourself, who are you in this story? The one who allows the addict to continue, or the one who gets him to stop and puts an end to it? It’s up to you to create your storyline.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a crisis as:
- A paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function. b. An emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life.
- An unstable or crucial time or state-of-affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome. b. A situation that has reached a critical phase.
It can be difficult for a family member, especially a non-addict, to understand why crises are such a regular occurrence in an addict’s life.
The purpose of this chapter is to help family members understand that crises and turmoil in an addict’s life are his means of controlling and manipulating those around him. It’s important to realize that crisis is a way of life for an addict, not something directed at you personally, so don’t panic when things erupt!
Because crisis is such an integral part of his life and he is such a slave to it, manipulating situations through chaos becomes his normal way to survive. An addict’s family is often estranged, and he may have no job, no home, no support system.
To him, there is a reality behind each crisis:
How am I going to pay for my next bag (or bottle)?
What excuse am I going to use for missing work?
How long have I been up/asleep?
How am I going to explain having missed Thanksgiving, Christmas or a birthday, etc.?
What am I going to do about the rent, car payment, phone bill, student loan?
The way addicts operate can make their brand of chaos seem premeditated and disturbingly well thought out, but this is not usually the case. In fact, an addict’s life is in such disarray that he must constantly figure his way around the next obstacle.
Families often see each crisis as a new problem to deal with when, in fact, the individual problems are simply the continuation of addiction as it worsens. When you step back and look at the addict’s history, you will see a steady decline in the person’s life, each major crisis a flagstone in a downward-spiraling path. It’s actually something you can take comfort in because what you’re seeing is the progression of the condition, the same condition that, to a greater or lesser degree, every addict or alcoholic is in. It’s not unique to your loved one, and it is not a question of degraded moral fiber which is why your addict is in such conflict with himself and the world. Take hope in the fact that without real moral fiber and ethics, your loved one would not be in any conflict at all. So, in this sense, severe personal conflict is a good sign.
However, when the intervention is perceived to be out of control, family members are much more likely to throw in the towel and give up, and that is precisely why addicts spend such inordinate amounts of energy generating out-of-control scenarios.
Effective interventions are the result of people staying calm and keeping the game moving, regardless of what occurs.
When you panic, you lose control of the situation. When you panic, the situation controls you.
When a crisis hits, the key is to stay calm and remind yourself that the crisis is part of the condition you are there to solve.
It may be the most important piece of advice in this book: Do not allow yourself to fall into panic due to the dramatic unwillingness of the addict.
- Without hope [a hopeless prisoner].
- Causing one to lose hope; discouraging [a hopeless situation].
Practicing addicts try to destroy interventions by creating feelings of hopelessness in those around them–parents, spouses and others close to them. It is a simple yet powerful mechanism that is not difficult to observe if you look for it. If you see it, you can plan for it. If you plan for it, you can stay ahead of it. If you can stay ahead of it, you will have a greater level of control.
Here are some examples of how an addict creates hopelessness:
“No matter WHAT you say or do, 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 this intervention sure changed that!!”
“If you make me go, I’ll just leave once I get there!!”
Every one of these statements and the way they are delivered have but one clear purpose: to create hopelessness and fear in those who are trying to help, thereby getting them to give up or change direction.
The entrenched addict makes his family wrong for trying to help.
Word by word, crisis by crisis, explosion by explosion, the using and stuck addict makes you WRONG, WRONG, WRONG for having the nerve to have any hope at all.
This is not malicious. The addict is not thinking, “I’m going to make my family feel hopeless.” What he’s doing is more of an automatic response to a perceived threat. The reason he responds the way he does is because it has worked for him in the past. If creating a crisis throws people off guard, makes them second-guess what they’re doing and instills doubt, then what would you expect an addict to do during an intervention? As I said, the best response is to expect it, stay calm and keep the offer and ultimatums moving. In other words, don’t let a little fire stop the train.
The intensity of an addict’s crises will increase in proportion to how threatened he feels. During the intervention, for example, he is forced to face something he does not want to do, something that is incredibly difficult, so he will play whatever card he believes will make things go his way. No big mystery here.
So how do you succeed in the face of vehement resistance?
Expect it. Plan for it.
You should expect and plan for a crisis to occur, if not volley after volley of them. You need to be mentally prepared so when crises occur you can maintain a level head and not panic. During an intervention, crises are not so much the enemy as is panicking in response to them.
Keep in mind that a crisis is not necessarily something loud and flammable. A crisis is whatever the addict can do that creates a certain kind of reaction in others.
In other words, if isolating himself, not answering his phone and sinking into a pit of despair causes others to stop in their tracks and second-guess what they’re doing, then that’s what he’ll do. I’m talking about anything that causes critical players to panic, become hopeless or fearful, doubt themselves, and otherwise become emotionally stopped.
Expecting the addict will have more than one crisis–and allowing enough time to handle each one–is something that distinguishes effective interventions from those which fail.
Mainstream intervention theory suggests the addict will either say “yes” or “no” during the meeting when the offer of help is made. But this is misleading since most addicts react to the offer of help with crisis.
Families often conclude, based on what they’ve been told, that such a reaction indicates the addict is either not ready for treatment or that he must hit bottom. Not only does the intervention end with the addict not going to treatment but, because the family did not anticipate the crisis and instead sees the intervention as a disaster or failure, it is ended prematurely when success was actually within reach. Bluntly put, this is why traditional intervention models tend to have such abysmal success rates.*
The most common scenario is for the family to plan the offer and then make the offer; then the addict will have a crisis, either during that meeting or shortly thereafter.
* “As a generalization, we have found that about one-half of all interventions we have participated in have resulted in the person’s going to some type of treatment.” ~ Page 114, Substance Abuse, Information for School Counselors, Social Workers, Therapists, and Counselors. Second Edition, Gary Fisher; Thomas Harrison. ISBN 0-20-5-30622-5
As long as his family has successfully kept a collective cool head, has continued selling the aesthetics of the program, NOT changed direction and has kept or put the ultimatums in place, the addict will soon realize his crises are no longer effective, at which point the family will likely see the beginnings of a negotiation.
It’s a lot like hooking a big fish. Expect a fight and, when you’re about to get it in the boat and you’ve got your net in hand, expect another one. And, when you’re on your way back to shore, confident your fish is secure in the cooler, you’d better make sure that cooler is locked because he may fight you again.
The forms that crises take are not important if you recognize that they are mostly efforts at control.
Here is an example from one addict during the loss of his job:
“There’s this one manager at work who’s had it in for me. He blames me for what others are doing, and he pushed me too far so I told him off. So now they want to talk to me in the office on Monday, and I’m suspended until then.”
In truth, the addict has already lost his job due to being tardy or absent, a direct result of his drug or alcohol abuse. Blaming others is how he begins the cycle of self-protection and abnegation of responsibility.
Here’s another example. The son (who is out of money and has been kicked out of the house) calls his father and tells him the following:
“I owe these drug dealers some money, Dad, and I think my life is in danger. They stole my wallet and it has your home address in it. They said if I don’t pay them $200, they’re going to hurt my family!” This example is from my own playbook. What actually happened was that I had run out of drugs. (Yep, I was the addict).
I just needed more money to buy more drugs. The goal of my entire crisis, my ruse, was to get money for drugs.
I came up with an extreme situation I thought my dad would buy into. And, sure enough, he did. He was so pissed he almost cried. He “had had enough of my f**king problems.”
The only thing that mattered to me, however, was to show enough remorse to be believable so I could get the money, get the drugs, and get to a quiet place and get high.
I did an intervention with a kid who was 17 years old and addicted to meth, pot, and alcohol. We did the intervention and it went smoothly, the kid was in treatment within five days. A week later, however, I got a call from his father. He was in a panic, telling me his son was back. Apparently the mother–after having worked tirelessly with me for five days to get the kid to the program–had driven to the treatment facility, picked the kid up and brought him back home!
I had a feeling I knew what had happened but I waited to hear the mother’s story. Sure enough, this is what she told me: Her son had called her from the facility and told her horror stories about what was happening to him there. He told her about how the Health Department was visiting the facility because of the unsanitary conditions there. He told her things they were “making him do” that were morally questionable. He demanded to come home. He acted genuinely frightened, promising earnestly and sincerely that he would get help at a “normal” treatment center the moment he got home. His mom, now horrified that she had made the wrong choice, raced to the treatment center and pulled him out. She did this despite what the facility staff told her and despite what she would have found out had she taken the time to look.
She didn’t want to risk that he might be telling the truth, and he took full advantage of it. If you ever run into this, go visit the treatment center and make sure your loved one is not in the same room when you’re taking your tour.
The bottom line: The kid had finished detoxing, wanted out, and fabricated stories which he played on his mom. He made it into a crisis in order to get away from having to do the program. He controlled the situation by turning it into a crisis. Instead of calmly investigating things, his mom panicked.
If his mother had spent just a little time looking at what was actually happening at the center, as opposed to listening to her drug addicted son, things might have turned out better. Instead, the kid came home and was shooting dope that same day. Then he stole a bunch of guns from some Hells Angels and went on a year-long binge, much worse than before. True story.
Another example of crisis as a means of control is a story about a client whom I’ll call Abigail. Her husband Jim, after a heartfelt outpouring of love and a plea from his family to get help, instead of humbling himself exploded into a hostile rage and told his wife, his two daughters and me that he had no intention of doing anything but sitting in the basement and smoking crack. He actually dared his own wife and kids to try to stop him.
Without going into the details which led to it, I advised Abigail to get a restraining order. The next day she went to the courthouse, told the judge her husband had threatened her, and was granted the restraining order. The next day Jim was served by the sheriff and forced to leave the family home. Within a few days, Jim had run out of money and, in order to get back into his house, he created a massive crisis with one of his daughters by calling her and painfully telling her he was homeless and hungry. He even had the gall to offer to forgive them if he could just come home (big hearted guy, right?)! The daughter, deeply moved by her father’s story and believing him, convinced Abigail to have the restraining order lifted and let Jim back in the house.
No sooner was he home than he was ripping into his wife, blaming her for having the nerve to do the intervention, accusing her of being cruel, and (surprise) went back to doing drugs and drinking just like before. Therefore, if you hire an interventionist, follow his instructions. The price Abigail paid was that now, having violated the Restraining Order she herself had requested, she was unable to return to the judge and request a new order, so now Jim was in the house and she became the one who had to move out.
The crisis Jim presented was that if she got him off the street, he’d be able to eat and have a place to stay. The case he was trying to make was: How could she be so heartless to have made him homeless?
The fact was he had a place to stay: a treatment facility on 30 acres of southern California mountains, with tennis courts, a swimming pool, satellite TV, and great food!
So how is it he didn’t have a place to stay?
This is a perfect example of the child-tantrum analogy. He was like the child who yells, “I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go.” And his wife says, “Okay honey, you don’t have to go to treatment if you don’t want to. Come back home, and we’ll work on things. We’ll get you a good doctor, and we’ll get you a therapist, and we’ll get you to some AA meetings and maybe we can put all the pieces back together ourselves without all this pain and heartache,” when in fact the pain and heartache is exactly what Jim created in order to get Abigail to fold up.
If Abigail had continued with what she knew to be right, not giving into his fake state of surrender, the likelihood is good that Jim would have chosen treatment. Instead, she panicked and gave in.
The addict will do anything but what the family knows he needs to do, which is a comprehensive, long-term program. Why? Because true rehabilitation is a hard road, and why go down a hard road when you can simply take a hit or a drink and forget all about it for one more day?