OUTLINE Of THE INTERVENTION PROCESS
Each intervention is a unique scenario and the interventionist will help to guide you in determining the proper route. However, the proceeding should provide a rough outline of what is going to occur during the intervention itself. We believe in a hope for the best, but plan for the worst mentality. An intervention is a one-shot deal and every base should be covered in entirety to bring an addict to sobriety. To better understand the intervention, we have broken down the various points of the process into eight defined sessions listed below and the related goals or objectives of each:
- Session One: Initial introduction and handling of addict’s surprise or anger.
- Objective: To put the addict more at ease, receptive and ready to hear the remainder of the intervention.
- Session Two: The family letter reading is the foundation of the intervention, as well as the bulk of communication between the family and the addict.
- Objective: It draws the addict back into the family system and surrounds him with love, but also delivers a strong message.
- Session Three: The interventionist will begin to relate his story, probing for connection points or ruin patterns.
- Objective: To establish a connection between the interventionist and the addict to enable more effective communication.
- Session Four: Acknowledgement of problem by the addict, followed by an offering of a solution by the interventionist in the form of treatment.
- Objective: To slowly guide the addict into realizing the negative impacts of drugs or alcohol in his life, and getting him to be in a position where he will be more receptive to treatment.
- Session Five: Treatment rejection and objections handling.
- Objective: Making treatment more attractive and comfortable by handling each objection individually.
NOTE: If the addict has already experienced a large number of negative consequences as a result of his drinking/using then he will usually agree to treatment after delivery of Session Five. Over 60% of addicts we have delivered interventions on end up seeking treatment at this point without ever having to move on to the final sessions.
The following sessions usually only occur where the addict is in extreme denial or has major enabling factors surrounding them that are very difficult to alter or change. During these sessions, the intervention can become a very emotionally charged event. Remain strong and understand that this is just a part of the process.
- Session Six: The Interventionist alternates between “good cop” and “bad cop” roles.
- Objective: Make the drug and alcohol use less comfortable by “reality factoring” (r-factor) and treatment more comfortable of an option.
- Session Seven: Gradient increase. The interventionist begins to slowly drop hints about bottom lines. Objective: Allow the addict to begin to see the consequences of his choices.
- Session Eight: Delivery of bottom lines.
- Objective: Allowing the addict to understand how the family has set boundaries and refuses to be affected or contribute to the addiction any longer.
NOTE: The addict can agree to treatment during or between any of the above eight sessions. In the event that this does occur, we do not continue on to the later sessions, but instead move on to the treatment handling listed below.
Once your loved one agrees to treatment, it is of the utmost importance that they go to treatment as soon as possible. Ideally a bag has already been packed and a bed has been reserved at the decided treatment facility. Transport can be arranged with either the interventionist, the treatment center itself, or a family member. It is usually not recommended, however, that an addict be transported to treatment along with their primary enabler. If this is necessary, consider having the interventionist or another family member attend as well.
The foundation of the actual intervention itself begins with a simple, yet emotionally powerful, letter. The letter will be one of the first things that the addict hears and if properly done can “make or break” the intervention.
LETTER WRITING GUIDE
WHY AM I WRITING A LETTER INSTEAD OF TALKING DIRECTLY TO THEM?
There are 4 basic reasons why it has been determined by most successful interventionists that letters are more effective than simply talking to him. Simply put, they are:
- If we just talk to the addict, they probably will not hear anything we have to say. An addict has an almost uncanny ability to talk their way out of anything. If we just try and talk to them, the addict will hear about 30 seconds of what we have to say, formulate their response, and ignore the rest. The addict’s skill is at talking and manipulating, not listening. A letter puts the addict in the role of a listener.
- People have different dynamics of communication when speaking with others. Brothers talk with sisters differently than they do their friends and over time, old habits or patterns set in. We do not want to fall into our old patterns of talking (combined with other old habits that have developed over the years). Also, certain phrases or tones that we naturally use with our loved ones can be a button and result in the addict getting very defensive. We need the addict to be open and receptive, not defensive. This process will be difficult enough with them being the center of attention. We cannot fall into our old patterns. We must try a new way to communicate.
- The addict will assume that everyone is going to attack them; whereas the first portion of our letter writing is designed specifically to lift them up. The letter writing portion of the intervention is strategically designed to make the addict ready for the remaining portion of the intervention. A combination of lifting them up and objectively talking about drugs and their addiction played back and forth together can put them more at ease. A properly structured letter will relieve some of his defensiveness.
- Letters seem to have a greater emotional impact than simply talking. We have tried countless interventions with and without letters and those with letters have almost double the success rate. When a loving family member sits across from an addict, opens their letter, and begins to read, usually what comes across is an incredible message of love. It is an emotionally powerful experience, and we need the addict to be emotionally impacted. This is hard to do through the protective layers and haze of years of drug use, but the message of love can get through. A letter is a method to deliver a greater emotional impact.
BUT I AM NOT VERY GOOD AT WRITING LETTERS
Do not worry, most of the families we help do not have experience in letter writing either. The intervention specialist is here to assist you through this process. It is not the spelling, the words, or the grammar that counts. What counts is the message of love that comes from the heart and can only come from you.
An example that comes to mind is a story of the father of an addicted son who was in his early 20’s. The father barely had a 2nd grade education, farming was all that he knew, and letter writing was something that he absolutely did not do. “I never write letters and I won’t do this,” he said gruffly. After discussing it, he finally agreed that he would try. His letter was filled with misspellings and grammatical errors, but he wrote one anyway. The following day, while sitting across from his son, he opened his letter and began to read slowly; his hands shaking, barely able to read his own writing. When he was finished, tears were in his eyes and he looked up at his son. His son, with tears also in his eyes, said softly “Dad, you wrote me a letter. You never write letters.” After the intervention was complete and the son agreed to go to treatment he took us aside and confided to us. It was one letter. One letter that could never win the Pulitzer Prize, that probably would have received an ‘F’ by any grade school teacher, one letter that almost was not even written. It was the one written by his father that got to him. That was the one that cracked the almost impenetrable wall of the addict.
THE OUTLINE OR FORMAT OF THE LETTER
The letter that we are going to write is composed of 3 basic sections: Lifting Up with Love, Objective Portrayal of the Drug Use, and a Simple Request for Help.
Over the next several pages, we are going to cover a much more detailed explanation of the 3 primary sections; however, the entire letter can be summed up in the following outline:
- SECTION ONE: 3-4 detailed stories that connected you and your loved one in the past, finalizing with a time that your addicted family member was there for you.
- SECTION TWO: General statements on the present drug or alcohol usage. Speak in broader generalities than in Section One, but be sure to avoid bias or opinion.
- SECTION THREE: Referring back to the positive qualities of Section One, a simple request to get help and a gentle loving uplift.
LETTER WRITING GUIDE
SECTION ONE: LIFTING UP WITH LOVE
The first section of our letter begins with love. We believe this section more than any other is what can transform an almost impossible intervention into a successful one. This is the part where we can tell the addict who they used to be and who they really can be underneath all the fog of their addiction. Most addicts, by the time their life is so impacted by their substance abuse that it is necessary for an intervention, are unhappy and miserable. Although they may try to give the impression that everything is fine, in reality it is not – and they know it.
In order to understand what it is that we write in this first section, it is first important to explain what it is that we do not write. It is often mistakenly thought that the best thing for an addict to hear about is the future and the possibilities for them if they get sober. How many addicts have we told, “you have so much potential”, “you can have a great life without drugs or alcohol”, or “you can have a successful career and a happy family.” This future is unknown to an addict and with it brings uncertainty and fear. An addict is fully aware of their potential and their failure in achieving it. They also have a diminished ability to confront life and all its problems. This means that talking about any such future will be counterproductive. We do not speak of the future in this portion of our letter writing. We also want to avoid speaking of the present time. At the moment the addict is truly not happy. Some currently sober addicts, in retrospect, have referred to the feeling as a “deep loneliness or emptiness on the inside that could only be filled with drugs or alcohol.” They do not like who they are today and do not have much hope for the future. That is a terrible place to be for anyone. Once again, in this first portion, we do not speak of the present.
Explaining first what it is we do not write, it is now necessary to comprehensively determine what it is that we do write. Since the addict is not happy in the present and does not want to confront the future, it is necessary for us to go back in the past. We need to address who they used to be, going back to a time when they were happy, and things were better. All of us at certain times have reminisced about the past and reflected on when times were good and that is exactly what we shall do now. Since this is a letter, all letters begin with a “Dear_____.” It may sound odd since we will be reading this letter aloud to them later, but beginning with a “Dear_____” sets the pace and immediately defines it as a letter. If you have a nickname or a special name that you refer to them by, please feel free to use it. What we want to do is establish a connection.
Next, since this first section is dedicated to love, it is common to start with love. After the initial greeting, many mothers often write “you are my son, and I love you very much.” This is a good start. We have defined it as a letter and started off with love. However, this is nowhere near good enough. Addicts hear “I love you” quite often, more than most, as they are usually surrounded by caring people. Love is a good start, but next we need to get to exactly why and what it is that we love about them. We need to get down to specifics. What are or were the good qualities that they possess(ed)? What are the things they loved, their dreams, their goals? Perhaps for some of us there do not exist a lot of good feelings towards the addict.
They have hurt us for so long that we honestly cannot think of any good qualities, or we are so angry we do not even want to try. This can be tough, but understand that each of us is here for a reason. Deep down there is usually a shred of caring or we would not have even bothered to come this far. Here is a common example that we have seen brothers or sisters use in their letters:
You are my brother and I care about you very much, even if I don’t show it much. But I am here today because I do love you. You have always been the funniest guy that I have ever known, cracking up jokes everywhere we went.
This is a specific quality that this particular brother remembered and wrote about. But even that is not good enough; we need to get more specific. We cannot settle on just stating broad generalities, for we do not even want the addict to have that much freedom to pick and choose just what it is you are saying about him.
Next, we need to tell a specific story relating to the qualities we just mentioned that they will hear, think about, reflect on, and maybe even smile at. We need to specifically pinpoint memories that have a positive association. Speak of a specific time that you two shared that is a positive one. Be detailed as you relate the story. Yes, the addict was there and remembers the time or situation, but we want you to take them back there.
Let’s look at a continuation of the letter that our “loving brother” has written to the addict Patrick:
Always cracking me up. I guess that’s what older brothers do, make their little brothers laugh. When you weren’t beating me up, that is. Ha Ha. I’ll never forget the time when I was 12 and you were about 14. Mom said we were never to go swimming in the rock quarries because kids sometimes got hurt. But, of course, we were invincible (or at least you were) and you told me that we were going down there. A little afraid at first, I knew, though, that I could trust you.
I was always safe with my big brother around. When mom wasn’t looking we took off and snuck through the woods, and after what seemed like forever, we made it to the quarry. Standing over that tall rock cliff, I was a little afraid to get too close, but you whispered “shhhh, come here” and pointed down. Peeking over the edge, I looked to where you point-ed, and I saw (what was to be a first for me) those girls down there all skinny dipping. After several minutes of staring, you nudged me and started walking down there. Like little secret agents, we crept through the woods and down the cliff, until we came to where they hung their clothes on a tree. I couldn’t believe it, but you reached out and stole them right there, and started running, yelling and laughing.
Little did we know at the time, but we had just stolen clothes from the junior varsity girls’ track team. Although we were fast, they were faster. I don’t think I’m going to tell the rest of the story, because I’ll never admit out loud that I got beat up by two naked girls. Mom thought the black eye was from a baseball. But you remember what really happened, don’t you? You always seemed to be able to surprise me and make me laugh, especially when I was feeling down.
Notice the detail. This is a memory that two brothers share. Two brothers who were once very close, but have since grown apart due to drugs and alcohol.
List the qualities that we love, followed by a story that reaffirms that quality. Humor can also be a healing quality, so if there are humorous stories, feel free to share them. If you can get them to smile, then you know that they are listening. It is suggested that you include approximately 3 stories. We suggest that the mothers or fathers of an addict consider beginning with the day he was born. To wives or husbands, begin with the day that you first met, and later include the day you were married. After alternating between listing qualities and relating stories, we then come to the end of the first section. This first section is where we want to remove any sort of pity that the addict may think we have for them. We do not want the addict to think that we are looking down at them. Which is why we think of a time, if there ever was one, that the addict was there for us. If we can show them that they have been there for us and we want to be there for them, then the addict will not feel so low or embarrassed. Take a look at the end of our brother’s first section:
You have also always been caring when I needed you most. I will never forget when my girlfriend Dawn passed away. It was so sudden and I didn’t really know what to do or say. I guess that I thought things would last forever. You came over and gave me a hug and told me how sorry you were. I guess it may seem like a small thing, but that simple gesture got me out of myself, out of my self-pity and back into life again. I figured I’d never ever date again, but you helped me through that, and for that I will always be grateful. You were there when I needed you most, and I just want to be here for you.
Basically, what we are saying is “we are not here because you are less than us; we are here because you are a part of us.” If there has never been a time that the addict has been there for you, don’t try and stretch the imagination. Telling him that “I’ll never forget the time you lent me $15” sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? So if there ever was a time, list it. If not, don’t.
SECTION TWO: OBJECTIVELY TALKING ABOUT THE ADDICTION
This section is where we, as a group, must be cautious. It is where we are slowly moving from the past to the present day. We have addressed who they once were and now we need to say what we see today.
This is where we are going to speak of the alcohol and/or drug use. We cannot simply go from, “I love you,” to “You were smoking crack last week.” We need to casually get there in the form of an intro- sentence or sentences.
A common intro-sentence is as follows:
But lately, however, I’ve noticed a change in you.
We need a sentence that connects the past with the recent past or present time. After we formulate an appropriate intro-sentence, we need to objectively speak of the addiction. Objectively, versus subjectively, means without bias or opinion. Or, put simply, the facts that we see and how we feel about it. Do not assume to get into the mind of an addict. We cannot say “You are screwing up your life!” for that is an opinion, and they may think life is getting better for them. As interventionists, we have noticed an interesting phenomenon.
No matter how long or how bad the drug or alcohol use, almost every addict we have intervened on has thought, expressed, or stated out loud, “recently I’m doing much better, though.” Addicts very often believe that they are getting a grip on their life and beginning to improve, even as they sink deeper. Most addicts have a very low awareness of what’s really going on in their lives so try to steer clear of opinion. If you are completely objective and only state facts it is much more difficult for the addict to get angry, defensive or argue.
Let’s look again at our brother’s letter and what he has written:
It seems that you never come around anymore. I don’t see you smile much, and the last time that you made me laugh was years ago. Last year, your girlfriend called us and said that you had just gotten a DUI and you were now doing drugs. At first I didn’t want to believe it. I was angry at you and didn’t even talk to you for months, but deep inside I was really scared. I hoped that you would get a grip on your-self. But over the last year the problem seems to me to be getting worse, not better. I heard from mom that you lost your job again, and last month you borrowed $200.00 from me, promising to pay it back the next Friday. I waited until Sunday and didn’t get a call from you so I went to your apartment. Since your car was parked out front, I knew that you were home so I knocked. And I knocked and I knocked. I began to get scared. I thought maybe you were hurt or even dead, so I broke in. What I saw I will never forget. You were passed out on the couch, surrounded in empty bottles, drugs on the table and pipes and things. The apartment was trashed and there was garbage everywhere. You have lost so much weight, your clothes barely fit anymore. It took me about ten minutes to wake you up. You looked at me like you didn’t even know it was me. You said “What the f—“ and staggered up. You then started yelling at me to get out and I thought you were going to hit me for a minute. I left because I didn’t know what to do or what to say. Six months ago you promised me that if the drugs got out of hand you would quit. I think they have gotten out of hand and I know that you haven’t quit. I don’t want to lose you.
If you look within our example, you will see that it is pretty objective. There are no real opinions stated, just the facts that we see and how we feel. Anytime anything close to an opinion is stated, it is buffered with an, “It seems to me” or “I think.” Although it may be tempting to list in detail every negative thing that the addict has done that pertains to their addiction, that is usually a mistake. When an addict is confronted with an uncomfortable life situation, their first instinct is to remove themselves from the situation. If the uncomfortable situation cannot be avoided, an addict will alter their perception through the use of drugs or alcohol to make it more bearable. Again, we suggest tread lightly in this section. If the addict feels very uncomfortable, they may leave and/or get loaded. It is also a mistake to go back too far into the past. Listing the DUI or terrible chaos that occurred 5 or 10 years ago is past history to an addict. They are, in their own mind, a completely different person today. To bring up a past crisis that is too distant is usually meaningless.
SECTION THREE: A SIMPLE REQUEST FOR HELP
After we have completed the section of our letter giving an objective portrayal of the addiction, next, we must offer our help. We are going to put the offer out on the table in a simplistic way. We do not mention treatment, rehab, or recovery at this point. If you mention rehab in the first letter, the addict will not pay any attention to the rest of the family’s letters. The addict might also have some preconceived ideas as to what treatment is and might have their own personal objections. These objections will be dealt with later on in the intervention delivery process. Again, don’t mention treatment.
If we look one final time at our brother’s letter, we can see a pretty simple example of this.
I do not want to lose my brother. I want to go fishing and hunting like we used to. I want your smiles and your sense of humor back. I guess what I’m truly saying is that I really just want my big brother back.
I miss him and will do anything to get him back. Will you please accept the help that we are offering you here today? I love you.
If you notice, Steven went back to some of the positive themes from Section One and summed up what he wanted to say. Remember that the objective portrayal of the drug or alcohol use in Section Two may have been a little harsh and you are dealing with someone who does not deal with uncomfortable feelings or situations very well. An intervention would be a pretty difficult to
do if the addict ends up running down the street in anger after the first letter is read. You will have much better results if you end off your letter in an uplifting manner. Take the time to let them know how much you care for them.
Our sample letter has summed up what we are trying to say to the addict: This is who you used to be, this is what I see today, and I just want you back.
Properly delivered, the letter can have a profound effect on an addicted loved one. After years of misery and hiding an addiction, the addict usually thinks that everyone is mad, does not care, or even looks down on them. The letter tells the exact opposite. It says that they are truly loved.
OBJECTIONS TO TREATMENT
If an addict or alcoholic is primarily about avoiding discomfort at different levels, then going to a treatment facility far away from his comfort zone is bound to feel like a very uncomfortable choice for them. Part of the intervention process is to make treatment more comfortable as a solution. The best way to achieve this is to brainstorm as to exactly what his objections are then and come up with solutions. What is it that makes treatment such an uncomfortable choice at the moment? Here are some common categories or objections:
- DENIAL: “I’m not bad enough that I need to go away to an inpatient facility” or “I can quit if I want”.
- PRIDE/REPUTATION: “I don’t want anyone to know that I’m going to rehab”.
- EMPLOYMENT: “I can’t leave my job” or “I have a job interview coming up”. FINANCE: “I can’t afford to leave for a couple months.”
- FAMILY: I don’t want to be away from my family (kids, wife, girlfriend, dog, etc)”.
- MEDICAL: “I have to take care of my knee surgery” or “I have a dentist appointment”.
- LEGAL: “I have a court date coming up that I don’t want to miss” or “I’m on probation and don’t want them to know I’m going to rehab”.
- POSTPONEMENT: “I need a week or two to handle my affairs” or “I don’t want to leave all my friends without saying goodbye”.
- UNSPOKEN OBJECTION: If all the previous objections to treatment are handled and your loved one still refuses to go, then the only thing left is the unspoken objection, which is a silent way of saying “I want to keep using drugs” whether he actually uses those words or not.
If you can adequately come up with your loved one’s objections to treatment and then discover appropriate solutions to handle their objection; then you can effectively make treatment a much more palatable solution. On the following page the intervention specialist will help you to try and come up with any objections as well as adequate handlings or solutions.
List any objections that you feel your loved one will have and then work with the interventionist to find appropriate solutions or handlings.