Intervention, I have concluded, is in a large part “shame-busting!” This is essential. I am speaking of effective intervention, the kind that brings long-term success; the kind that recognizes there is no “quick fix.” Shame paralyzes the addict and permeates the family system. It keeps the system stuck and allows it to get sicker. “Shame-free” must be the goal in the interest of wellness and sustainable recovery—for those with addictions and those caught up in its web.
This is why intervention is a process, not a single event. The depth of shame is not skin deep; it is entrenched and generational, for this is truly a family disease. Effective intervention wakes up the family to this fact. Effective intervention motivates the family to say, “no more … this next generation can be free of addiction and codependency.”
Why effective? Because we are naming it, outing it, shining a big light beam on it. We see its intention to destroy. United, the family group says “no more … this ends here.” And we recognize it as a self-destructive disease, neither a weakness nor immorality, rather a progressive illness with stages, and an eminently treatable one, once arrested.
Intervention is a commitment to change. It challenges everyone to look at themselves. Were it so simple that “getting the alcoholic/addict to treatment” would make everything better. Where there is addiction, there is collusion, unwitting most often, but there nonetheless as a “participation in the problem.” We need to look at our role, our futile misguided attempts to help, or perhaps our avoidance and denial in our own (understandable) self-preservation.
Intervention works. Intervention is a gift. It is so important, however, to take a deep breath before you dive into this process; important to find a skilled interventionist who can walk you through the minefields and get you successfully to the other side. I feel compelled to urge caution and care and scrutiny as you interview interventionists. My field is still a bit like “the wild west” with all sorts of characters and frankly, unethical cons. Do not be rushed, fear-baited, or swayed by promises or guarantees. Consider how long the loved one in your life has needed help. Do it right. Think long-term happiness vs. short-term relief. The immediacy of treatment—the promise of that and the feeling of relief is enticing, but please know that “getting someone to treatment” can be the easiest part of intervention. In my experience, the relapse rate is high for the intervention clients sprung upon and pressured by a group to enter treatment NOW (the “shock and awe” approach if you will).
Ideally an intervention process is one that “helps it make sense” to the addict to “take a time-out” from their alcohol/drug use and enter treatment. They gear up for the change during the process time and when treatment is chosen and accepted, they are as ready as they can be with an attitude to match.
The most effective interventions are as open, honest, and respectful as possible. Rarely is “surprise” required or indicated. There are exceptions—and I am happy to discuss if you think your case is one—but in general, an inclusive invitational intervention process yields the best results over time.
We begin the intervention process with an initial “assessment” meeting to gather perspectives and history (the concerned parties). Then, with coaching, the alcoholic/addicted individual is notified that the family/friends/co-workers etc. have sought help from a professional; sought help because it had become too painful to watch and ignore what was happening, what addiction was doing to them, how it had changed them, and and how it was destroying relationships.
The next step—what I routinely recommend—is education; meeting together as a group. It might be a one day session. More typically it is a 2 day “family workshop.” Topics include: communication (healthy vs. normal), addictions (ingestive and activity), compulsive behaviors, shame as the driver, codependency/enabling, recovery resources, and agreed-upon treatment plans (individual and family). The person of concern, the addicted individual, is invited. I want to stress “invited,” not pushed, sold, bribed, threatened, or nagged; simply invited to join the group in getting help and learning together.
The person is also invited to call me, the facilitator. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Most often they do, and most often they join us. But it’s OK if they aren’t ready or willing for whatever reason. I trust this process and I urge families to do same. The focus must remain on “self” for after all, that is the only person we have power to change. The educational workshop is a key core part of this process. Other sessions and follow-up are arranged as needed. Each family is unique and treated as such.
The process I am advocating—the open model of intervention—is so much less stressful than the strategic, closed, surprise intervention. Clients often need help with “what to say.” I tell them, “when in doubt, tell the truth!” It is a marvel and relief for them. Radical change in a rigid toxic addictive system occurs with truth-telling and newfound focus on “self” (vs. the addict). It can be scary and may not feel good or even right, but it is healthy.
Healthier individuals, a healthier family system—one in which toxic addictions and codependency cannot thrive—this is the over-riding goal of effective family intervention.
When does the alcoholic/addict go to treatment you may be wondering? At any time in the process is the answer. I’ve had folks choose to go prior to the family-get-together (that alone was a motivator!) but most join their family for the family workshop, whether all or part of it. If that is avoided, they might come to a follow-up session, at which time family changes/commitments are shared and treatment presented. They can come “on board” at any time when enough willingness is there. Some like to meet with me individually first, or call with their questions, comments, or skepticism, and this is encouraged.
Consider your interventionist the driver of “a recovery bus.” It’s a journey with stops along the way. “First stop” is the assessment session. The “second stop” is the Family Workshop. We’ve discussed together who to invite on board the bus, who might want to come for the education and provide support. “Third stop” is a follow-up session or it might be a drive or flight to a treatment center if that comes first. Other stops along the way might be Al-Anon or AA meetings. Every family and situation is different with respect to follow–up time, sessions, and structure. I have generalized to give you an idea of my thinking and favored way of doing things.
Addiction is harsh and mean, and I understand that promotion of a gentle respectful process may not make sense. You may well be angry, scared, frustrated, and impatient for change NOW. But I have learned because I have witnessed it countless times: the addicted person is defenseless against love, caring respect. This approach, this process un-does them, unsettles them; because the self-loathing can be so great, they expect harsh judgment from those (family/friends) they have hurt.
The alcoholic/addicted individual is suffering. The way it is expressed can be tough to take, but I promise you they are suffering and want a way out.
I have learned not to predict who will “make it” and who won’t. Some of my toughest (and most obnoxious!) intervention clients have gone on to thrive and embrace recovery in a big way. It is humbling to witness and a privilege to facilitate positive, healthy change in a stuck, hurting family system. One never knows who will be impacted by this intervention process. The alcohol/drug addicted individual is never, I believe I can say, the only one in need of help.
This is for your consideration, in the interest of doing it right, with respect and care. I am happy to discuss and answer your questions, and refer you as well if I am able to a skilled interventionist in your area.