Mr. Atwater: My 40-year-old sister has had a drinking problem for years. It has torn the family apart.
She’s been married twice, both times to alcoholic men. She has three children; one by her first marriage, one by an unknown man and one by her second husband. We’ve taken care of the kids off and on, and the oldest boy now is living with us. My parents, who are in their 70s, have the two younger ones at their house to avoid having them removed from the home by the state. This already has happened once.
She has been in rehab three times and refuses to go again. My parents asked me to ask you about an intervention. Is this an option? We don’t know what else to do.
Dear Reader: Intervention is certainly an option, but let’s talk about what would be required of you to give you the best chance of success.
Let me just say interventions aren’t a quick fix, nor are they as they appear on TV. Ask a cop if “Law and Order” is the way it really works. There are some elements of accuracy, but the long, nondramatic, hard work part isn’t evident. It doesn’t make for good TV. The same applies to interventions.
Some folks have the idea they’ll simply call a meeting of everybody the alcoholic has disappointed, angered or damaged, and they will tell their stories of pain and then demand or beg the alcoholic to get help.
A well-designed intervention starts with examining the attitudes of the interveners. It involves educating them about the nature of addiction, the process of letting go with compassion and the need to be absolutely nonjudgmental.
The next phase involves factual scripting of events and their consequences and refining that script, removing lectures, demands and anything starting with “you should.” Often, the interveners are encouraged to start their own recovery in Al Anon or another appropriate recovery program.
In addition, one or more of the interveners are encouraged to research treatment facilities, insurance coverage or lack of it, management of minors, work or school issues and other practicalities so these objections can be overcome at the conclusion of the intervention.
Interveners then are asked to be prepared to state what they will do if the alcoholic declines the opportunity to get well, and this is scripted, refined and practiced.
By the time a family is done with the preparation phase, they well-know the intervention is as much for them as for the alcoholic, and they will be able to feel like they have done all that is possible and put the outcome in the hands of the alcoholic, where it rightfully belongs.
This process can take five to six meetings. People often turn to the idea of intervention in a crisis and want to hurry the process, but remember it took quite some time for the alcoholic to reach the point of needing the intervention.
Interventions usually are a one-shot deal. If you have one shot, better to make it a good one rather than a rushed and poorly thought-out one.
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.