What Others See that We Can’t
Using drugs and alcohol is self-defeating; however, we do not see reality when we are in the grips of our addiction. Many of us required a caring intervention by others to understand just how much harm we had inflicted, the damage to our relationships, and to know that there are still people willing to help.
Someone Had to Get My Attention
Thirty-three years ago, I worked at a small southern college. My dual roles, House Director and student helped justify my tranquilizer and alcohol use. I deflected criticism if anyone questioned me about the pills I took or where and when I drank.
I’d make self-serving comments to anyone who would listen that if they had to put up with over one hundred college students and be a student, they would need something for their nerves as well.
“Nerves” is not a medical term, although my doctors understood the reference when discussing anxiety, snowed under, and stress. By the time of my intervention, I saw five general practitioners and got Xanax from all of them.
Guilty But Never Charged
Doctor Shopping is illegal. I faced charges ranging from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony if I was caught.
Some of my doctors were complicit in giving me unnecessary prescriptions. When looking at the waiting room, I knew that most people weren’t sick, either. Fidgety, jaws grinding, and unable to sit in their chairs for more than five minutes without inquiring about their turns. I’m sure I looked as apprehensive as them, but I created the illusion that I was better than them.
It is not uncommon for us to doctor-shop; where we seek out complicit physicians who willingly dispense prescriptions as long as we meet the co-pay.
False Fronts Prevent Us from Seeing Clearly
Then we have to make sure that we don’t give Dr. X’s prescription to the same pharmacy where we’ve taken Dr. Y’s for the same medication. It’s no wonder that I had nerves, all those clandestine activities – sneaky, underhanded, and illegal.
Part of my smoke-screen was to deflect criticism from co-workers and family by pointing out my grades. I would throw out my status as Dean’s List student and proudly proclaim that no one with a substance abuse problem would have a 3.9 GPA. Sidetracking the issue typically ended the conversation about my use.
Why did this work for me? How else would an academic institution judge someone except by their grades, if you think about it? The GPA bought me time and kept people from addressing my issues, whether students or employees asking questions.
I Won’t Talk about the Problem
I also used the change course approach. When asked about my use, I re-framed the question and asked if they thought someone with a 3.94 GPA could have a problem. That usually ended the discussion.
That invariably focused the conversation on my better qualities and took the direct attention off any suspected substance abuse issues.
However, that all changed when the college hired a new dean. I worked in the Office of Student Development, one of her departments.
She believed in meeting with each staff member individually, getting their feedback on strengths and weaknesses within the office.
Our Excuses Don’t Fool Some People
Several of my co-workers determined that my erratic behaviors and suspected substance use were weaknesses. After discussing their concerns, she calmly told them that no one on campus was qualified to make an assessment but that she was in a position to require me to have one.
I met with her for what I assumed would be my luncheon get-together, and instead, she informed me that there was concern about my pill use and drinking.
Since she was new and had not observed any of these behaviors, she wondered if I would have an evaluation to determine if I had a substance abuse problem. I immediately agreed, thinking I could justify my use to any counselor.
Excuses Quickly Crumble with a Professional Counselor
My assessment was not what I expected. I assumed it would be a form with yes/no responses, and I knew I’d lie.
Instead, the counselor asked questions that I found challenging. It was apparent that I could not rationalize my use with this woman.
After talking, I asked her opinion, and she calmly told me that I was an addict and an alcoholic. I wondered if she had to report her evaluation to the school.
When she said that she only could with my permission, I took what I thought was a way out. I informed her that she did not have my permission. Feeling smug and self-assured, I grabbed my purse and left.
Armed with the Evidence
Only a delusion addict and alcoholic like myself would think that “no news is good news” in this case. When the Deans did not hear from her, they collectively made other plans.
On September 30, 1988, I was called to the president’s office. Not unusual, I had been there for meetings before. It reeks of education and English library influences in the décor. However, the moment I went in, I realized there would be no offer of tea.
Five deans and the president all stood up, formed a single line, and produced 3 x 5 cards. Each shuffled their cards and looked to one another for direction. As a psychology major, I knew what they were preparing to do – have an intervention, and I would be the subject.
While we have a TV show of the same name today, where people typically deny a problem, throw fits and make wild accusations, I did not.
I would not put these people or myself through the ordeal of recounting all of their collected examples of my out-of-control behaviors. Instead, I just asked them what they expected. They expected me to get help.
An Intervention Usually Takes More than One
For many of us in the addicted population, any one individual confronting us about our use is ineffective. We can argue with the best of them, deflect one person’s point, and use the time-worn, “Well, that’s just his or her opinion.”
As if one person’s opinion doesn’t count.
Although this group of people had no counseling to help them facilitate the intervention, in my case, this worked to get me the help I desperately needed, and I celebrated thirty-three years on September 30, 2021.
However, you may need to consider combining forces for an effective intervention. Also, having a skilled interventionist to weed through the examples and decide who, if anyone, is a weak link is paramount.
Think about this logically, if five people are giving the same example, it may be five people talking about it, but it is still just one example. We’ll get out of that, but if five people give five clear examples, it is more efficient even for the same type of behavior.
Who Needs to Participate and Who Needs to Stay Home
Looking for the weak link references the person, who may have valuable information, but is still not solidly in favor of requiring treatment for the person.
And we can spot a weak link the minute we walk into a room. The one who will cave if we cry or may think they are somehow responsible for our choices, and we can use that information to distract from the intended purpose of the intervention.
I knew that none of those people, uncomfortable as they appeared, was going to back down on their guidelines for my continued employment.
After being in treatment for about four weeks, my father told me that the college had asked him to participate in the intervention. Much to his credit, my dad told them he couldn’t; he knew if I started crying, he would take me out of the intervention and probably not have the same demands as the college. He knew that this was the best thing for me, so he removed himself.
As we talked about it, I knew that I would have cried and manipulated him and not gotten treatment had he been present.
Getting Help for the Addict: The Ultimate Objective
Getting the addict help is the fundamental goal, not condemning, shaming, or belittling the person. Whether we act like it or not, most of us feel guilt and remorse for our behaviors; our addiction is just stronger and overrides those feelings.
Also, we are not consciously doing something to others; we are doing something for ourselves when we use.
A trained interventionist lets the family and friends vent about their anger, fear, and sometimes guilt. There isn’t anything wrong with having these emotions and should be discussed leading up to the intervention.
If the entire focus of the intervention is family feelings and thoughts, it is distracting from the primary goal – getting help for the addict.
Write out the Feelings and Thoughts
The norm has a written statement from each participant, often revised and reworked several times. These letters convey the love, concern, and how the relationship used to be before drugs and alcohol took over. How do these letters do this? By reinforcing the following:
1. The person still loves the addict, not the behaviors, the use, or the other self-defeating behaviors. It’s okay to be angry about the actions; just distinguish between the user and the acts.
2. Family and friends have grave concerns for the welfare of the addict and their children.
3. The family and friends miss communicating and visiting with the person. Whether it is a family function or a work golf tournament doesn’t matter; examples of how it used to be, help convey this message.
4. How good the relationship used to be or remind them of their accomplishments when not using.
5. That today, there is a choice – treatment, with a plan in place, or, and then state the alternative.
Change the Existing Ways of Enabling
For some families, it may be that they will no longer give money to the addict. They may still buy food but not give the addict cash. However, you may state that withheld support will continue if they choose treatment if that is an option.
Be ready to state that you will withhold any further help unless they get help for their addiction. Be specific to the type of support – financial, housing, or transportation. However, you can reinforce that withheld support will continue if they choose treatment, if that is possible.
Others may have to distance themselves and not communicate with the addict for a set time. Some family members do need a break. One member may be the point of contact to see if the user has changed their mind about needing and wanting treatment if they refuse the help the day of the intervention.
Give the Addict Choices at the Intervention
- Go to detox if medically necessary.
- Come home and enter outpatient treatment for 12 weeks
- Restart recovery support meetings for 90 days.
- Enter a long-term facility for three months.
Options and the semblance of choice can sometimes diffuse an emotional and irrational response from the addict.
What If the Intervention Doesn’t Work?
It is difficult when all want the addict to get help, and they walk away from the intervention, angry and refusing to get help.
Families and friends, who have done all they can, enlisted the help of a trained interventionist and had their mock intervention need to know that “all they can do, is all they can do.”
Without being cliché, this is probably the most challenging thing for families to accept.
Often, when an addict reflects on the care, concerns, and examples, they will change their minds and want help. Make sure they have a number to call – a family member, friend, or in some cases, the interventionist.
Sometimes Interventions Work – a Day Later
If the addict asks for help after the intervention, mission accomplished.
Unfortunately, some family members will spend time on the “Why didn’t you take the advice yesterday?” Or worse yet, “I told you that you needed help.”
Forgo those words and be grateful that your loved one is getting treatment, and they can finally see their lives as you see it and are willing to make changes.
Writing and recovery heal the heart.
What is Your Story?
Did it take an intervention for you to see the problem? Have you had to change the way you see things due to an intervention? Then your story may help someone else who’s struggling with their addiction or help family members know the benefits of an intervention.
How we say something is just as important as what we say. How you write about addiction and recovery will differ from mine. That’s okay because the more voices say, “Recovery works,” the more people we reach.
Consider a guest post today and help someone struggling with addiction or recovery.
Bio: Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink.She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Indie Books, and Books A Million.
For editing services, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.