One of the most important services we can render is helping family members influence a loved one to get help for their drinking or drug problem. Although it’s a familiar quote the following statement is not true: “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” An accurate statement would be: “you can make the horse really thirsty and then lead them to a well.”
If you’re really worried about a family member with a drinking or drug problem, it may be time for an intervention. Done properly, an intervention is quite different than the ones you see on TV.
Step one is preparation:
Grab your insurance card, call the number, and determine which treatment centers in your area are covered by your policy. Call the centers and determine if they have an open bed and what times and days they do assessments for new clients. You may want to go to their web site, read their literature, pick the one that sounds best and visit the facility.
The next part of preparation is determining who can attend the surprise intervention meeting. Which family members and friends would be willing to write a letter, attend the meeting, make a heartfelt plea, and not cave in when the person tries to sweet-talk them. If one is unable to refrain from raising their voice, blaming, criticizing, name-calling, or minimizing the problem, then they will be a liability rather than an asset at the meeting; do not invite that person.
Ask yourself who is willing to write a letter, come in secret, stay calm, put their foot down, and take a stand for what’s right in an effort to really help the person with the problem.
When you have determined who to invite, you need to show them how to write the five-part intervention letter (see below). Send them each the following outline and ask them to write a lengthy letter. Review the letters. Encourage a rewrite if you find any negative factors: blaming, criticizing, name-calling, anger, minimizing or rationalizing. The goal is love, Tough Love. When I facilitate an intervention, I ask each participant to please let me take a look at their letters before the meeting. Email your letter to: [email protected]
1. Explain how much you love the person and why: list all the things you value about them.
2. List all the things you know about the problem and describe how you know them: the things you’ve seen and the things you’ve heard.
3. Explain how you feel about the problem: how scared you are for their safety and well-being.
4. Ask the person to please get help, explain the preparations that you made for them to get help right away.
5. Explain that if s/he cannot find it in their heat to get help, here is what I’m going to have to do to take care of myself. Give them some severe consequences for their destructive behavior. Step back and establish a healthy boundary.
Step two is action:
Get all participants together, (ask them to park where their cars can’t be seen by the interventionee), pray for God’s presence, support and calm one another, and have a trusted friend bring the interventionee into the surprise party. Ask him/her to please sit, listen, and not respond until the end. “These people love you and want to tell you how much they love you.”
And please remember, when we’re dealing with someone active in their addiction, we really do not have access to the interventionee, we are talking to the addiction. It looks and sounds like your loved one, but it’s really not them. So don’t take personally the awful things that they say. And please don’t engage in name-calling, blaming, criticizing or anger. You must stay calm.
PLEASE DON’T CAVE IN. Say what you came to say. A few years from now s/he will thank you for the loving action that you have taken at this time.
Be forewarned, on average, about half of the time the person with the problem refuses to get help. But the intervention is still successful because other family members and friends are taking better care of themselves than they were before the meeting.
Thank you for putting your love into action.
I would be glad to take your questions.
Harold Boggs, LMFT, LCDC