Before We Intervene - Preparation for Successful Interventions
Television shows have given us misguided beliefs about how to effectively intervene in the lives of people who are active in addiction. The shows are good theater, but most do not show the reality of intervention as an ongoing process as opposed to a one time discussion. People’s lives do not often change dramatically in under an hour. The most common mistake people make in intervening is not being on the same page with themselves and others involved regarding expectations, delivery, and follow through.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Before we seek to address conflicted feelings and concerns with others, we must have a reasonable degree of clarity with ourselves and those we seek to involve. The most effective interventions are similar to well organized meetings. There should be an agenda based on what can reasonably be addressed.
Addicts are master manipulators. If there is an opportunity to create conflict within us and/or between ourselves and others they will find it. While we may have different visions of what a successful outcome for the addict is, we must agree not to engage in conflict, nor tolerate attempts to focus on what divides us during the intervention.
Addicts are brilliant at deflecting and preying upon our doubts. This is why resolve is key. If we approach an intervention with uncertainty we have little to convey. Those active in addiction are brilliant in their ability to rationalize and justify. Debating or arguing any issue with someone active in addiction is a lost cause.
The wisdom of recovery dictates that we act on our convictions without expectation of reciprocity. Going into an intervention with expectations of self is healthy. Going in anticipating what the outcome for the addict will be is not. This is a process of sharing information, concerns, and sharing the availability of support in change processes.
Make every attempt to leave the intervention with clear boundaries. Moving forward, there should be lines drawn as to what we are and are not willing to do. If you are willing to offer support but not willing to enable, these lines must be clear and consistently upheld.
Consider your delivery
Addicts generally respond to intervention with either shame or defensiveness. Shaming an addict is redundant at best and there is no way to win if we choose to attack and defend. Guilt is a very poor motivator as well. If you wish to express your feelings, do so, but do it with enough vulnerability that you are informing and not admonishing.
For meaningful change to occur, accountability and responsibility are paramount to all else. A person who is unwilling to take ownership of their addiction and to acknowledge the ways in which it has affected others is a person who is unlikely to make any significant or lasting changes.
Many interventionists suggest threatening consequences for non compliance. Based on 10 years of clinical experience working with families and addicts I have to disagree. Don’t make threats. The best interventions are centered upon where an addict is today not where they’ve been in the past nor where they could be in the future. If you need to withdraw support or stop enabling then do so. Make this decision before going into the intervention and do not negotiate.
Don’t make promises or conditional offers. Bribing or enticing an addict to cease their using is always a step in the wrong direction. Recovery begins when a person takes stock of what their disease has cost them and decides they are no longer willing to pay. Getting clean and sober for someone else’s benefit is highly unlikely to work. Getting clean and sober for a future reward is doomed to fail. Upon receiving the reward, the addict is no longer motivated to stay clean and sober. Recovery is its own reward. The reclaiming and/or development of self respect and integrity are foundational to having a manageable life.
There are very real limits to what can be accomplished in a single intervention. The most likely outcome of any intervention in the short term is that the addict will continue to use. They will do so however, with the knowledge that others know of their addiction and with less protection from the natural consequences of their actions (enabling). The collective wisdom and experience of the 12 steps tells us there is a time and a place for all things and when the addict has suffered enough (“hitting bottom”) there is always hope of change.
If you are invested and want to see your loved one make a full recovery then consider what you might be willing to do in support of their efforts. Continuing to reach out even with a phone call or email sharing a willingness to support positive change shows that you care.
Do not allow relapse to dissuade you. We urge loved ones to disengage when the addict shows signs of being under the influence. We also encourage you to consider that recovery from addiction is one of the most difficult things any person can accomplish. It’s rare that people simply stop and never use again. Each of us is the power of example and a lifeline to those seeking recovery from addiction.
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