A group of women came up to me at a baseball game a few weeks ago and asked how my trip to Texas went. “I heard you were out of town. Awesome! Was it fun?”
I am a terrible liar, so I told the truth. “Actually, I flew down to Texas to do an alcohol intervention on someone I know. At least the weather was nice. (Smile).”
An intervention is usually a coordinated effort where a person or group reaches out to a person with an alcohol or substance abuse problem with requests for them to obtain professional treatment.
They looked like they had swallowed a shoe. “Oh.” Dead silence.
“Oh” is right. Then came the questions. Most people just don’t know what to do with a situation like that. When we hear about a problem with substance abuse, or when we hear about a mental illness, everyone takes a hard swallow accompanied by crickets. Yet, most of us have been in or will be in a situation where someone we care about is addicted — to drugs and/or alcohol.
So many people know someone who is dealing with addiction. We live in America for God’s sakes! And if you don’t think you are surrounded by “the problem,” you are in big-time denial.
My husband and I flew to Texas to help someone who has had a horrible addiction for years. Fortunately (and unfortunately), I have had a lot of experience with this and want to share some pointers with those of you who might be searching for how to intervene with a friend or loved one’s addiction. Along the road, I have made a few big mistakes. In fact, I have lost my sh*t a time or two …
Luckily, I never “lost it” in a professional capacity. However, when you are intimately involved with people who abuse, it is pretty normal to act a little crazy without support, insight and help. It used to be very hard for me to emotionally detach in a loving way. But not anymore. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I used to make if you are on this stressful road.
Here are some valuable tips when intervening:
- Make sure it is your business.
Just because someone has a problem doesn’t mean it is any of your business. Besides, some people can party hard and have no negative consequences. Good for them. Live and let live.
My husband and I had information that this loved one was close to death as a result of his drinking. We decided that even though he had refused to get help for his alcoholism in the past, we needed to make a last effort. If he was still unwilling, then it was his choice, however sad or unsettling his choice may be.
- Do NOT intervene with the mentality that you HAVE to “get them” to agree to treatment.
In my more naïve years, I used to believe if I said a certain something, or treatment was positioned in the right way, I could successfully convert someone into wanting drug/alcohol treatment. This is typical of helpers, but it is useless. What I was really doing was trying to control an outcome over which I had no real control. Don’t waste your energy. This is a set-up for pressure, tension and frustration. If the person agrees, that’s a wonderful thing. If not, that’s not your responsibility.
- Stay calm and respectful.
Understandably, you may have a huge list of grievances toward the addicted person. However, when you suggest treatment, that is not the time to question the person about the past. It is okay to say, “Your drinking has affected me in the following ways: 1., 2. and 3. ….” Screaming tirades or hashing out past incidents is out of bounds—do not do this. You want to encourage the person to get help, not give him or her an excuse to drink (and that might happen anyway).
- Do NOT spend huge amounts of emotional energy or money on getting treatment lined up, unless you will be totally fine with them shrugging it off.
When a person I cared about agreed to treatment, I would work so hard to find just the right place. Then, the person wouldn’t go and I would feel hurt and pissed. Don’t do this to yourself. Check out a few places so you feel better about having a plan. Ultimately, it is the other person’s job to do the rest. (Sadly, Sara, who I tried to help over and over again is dead now, as a result of alcoholism disease.)
- Have support in place for yourself before, during and after you meet the addict.
Not every situation calls for you to intervene. Get professional support and guidance around this issue before making a decision. In addition, this is a tough and emotionally wrenching situation. Make sure to get support afterward and talk about it.
- Reassure yourself that you have done your best and that the rest is up to them. This is important. Do not take on responsibility or guilt related to whether or not your loved one gets help. They have choices. If they say no or if they yes, you will leave with powerful feelings. Talk about them with someone.
I am glad I responded honestly to the woman’s innocent questions. Would I have changed my reply if I had a diabetic uncle who was in need of hospitalization? Probably not. After all, the quieter we are about these struggles within families and friendship groups, the more power the negative stigma holds. Addiction blooms in a dark space and when we discuss it, we bring the problem into the light.
For those of you are are living with someone or for those of you who are extremely close to a loved one who has an addiction, consider getting professional support or commit yourself to a 12-Step Program before any kind of active intervention. It could help you and the afflicted person tremendously.
And, as always, take care.
Photo by Wikipedia