By Tracey Dee Rauh
At the heart of every successful intervention is love.
Other dynamics exist: group involvement, careful planning, communication, lack of judgment, listening and the preservation of dignity. But first—above anger, demands an ultimatums—there is love.
“I have learned that if you speak from your heart to another good heart, it will be received the way it is intended,” says Ed Storti, 69, who has been an interventionist for 33 years.
When the cameras aren’t rolling in the name of reality TV, there’s no cutting room in which to edit life stories, tense confrontations and trips to treatment into neatly packaged 50-minute segments.
Instead, Storti and other professionals like him work in realtime, diving into the trenches—often in emergency situations—attempting to save lives.
More than 25 million people in the U.S. struggle with alcohol and drug dependency. Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics reveal that more than 100,000 deaths are attributed to alcohol use annually—and that doesn’t include drug-related fatalities.
These numbers represent 2.3 million years of potential life lost. And yet, a very small number of the sick and suffering seek relief.
“Eighty-five percent of alcoholics and addicts never ask for help,” says Storti, who has conducted more than 3,600 interventions and is founder of The Storti Model of intervention. “The remaining 15 percent respond to their own pain or crisis by getting help on their own.”
Interventions are a means of growing that latter number. But, as Storti and others readily admit, landing a person in treatment is not necessarily the bar by which to measure success. For a group to have stood up and honored an individual through an appeal for their life—regardless of the ultimate outcome—defines success, they say.
“Success,” Storti says, “is to have intervened and brought a rebirth in life.” And that rebirth is for everyone involved.
A Family Problem
By the time someone reaches out for help from an interventionist, the situation may be urgent. Still, it’s not easy to create a united front among a constellation of individuals with a history of their own interpersonal dynamics. Some may desperately want to get their loved one to treatment, while others may disagree that a problem even exists. Some may cling to their roles in the family dance, and others may want to protect their own addictions.
“Generally speaking, the person who is contacting me is ready to go and very easy to talk to,” says Jean Mackie, 49, a Los Angeles-based interventionist who has been in the field for roughly seven years.
“My favorite part is, ‘I need help convincing others,’” she says. “The real work is the codependency issues. The rest of the world isn’t aware that it’s not substantially difficult to get a person to go to treatment. What’s more difficult is getting the people around them to stand out of the way.”
But standing out of the way can be difficult, especially for those looking to help.
“The family often is very reluctant to acknowledge that there is a problem until it comes up and bites them,” says Dallas Taylor, a 27-year interventionist based in California. “The family is part of the problem. And when you do an intervention, it is meant to help the entire system.”
Taylor explains that in most situations, loved ones have been spending a lot of energy on the addict. That’s co-dependency, and there’s something in it for everyone.
“The people who shut down on hearing more are hearing things about themselves that they don’t want to hear,” Mackie says. “They want to turn the channels off … ‘If I don’t hear about it, it doesn’t exist.’”
Therein lies the family disease of addiction, Mackie says. Taylor points out that focusing on someone else’s problem is a problem in itself.
“You are in the position of trying to control another person,” he says. “It gives you a false sense of power. Control is an illusion.”
That’s a lesson interventionists teach—and learn—time and again.
The decision to act
Interventions begin with a conversation, usually in the form of a highly charged phone call from a very worried friend or family member. The reasons for calling vary.
“I tend to come in when it’s an emergency: We have got to do something now,” says Taylor, of Los Angeles. “It’s usually something tragic or extreme, but it could be that they are just fed up with what is going on.”
There are all sorts of precipitators: wives on the verge of filing for divorce, fathers concerned with the safety of children, musicians who have blown an arena concert, actors who don’t show up on the set. There are “kids” still living at home at 44, unemployed, smoking pot and drinking all day; financial catastrophes; medical crises; near-death experiences
Yet, sometimes the intervention itself is designed to create a bottom.
“The perfect person for an intervention is the addict or alcoholic who is in denial and doesn’t think it’s a problem,” says Craig Lakes, 42, who was just that sort of addict 18 years ago, before an intervention led by Storti helped him get clean and sober.
“You don’t have to wait for the next tragedy—the DUI, or accident or arrest,” Lakes, who has begun doing his own interventions, adds. “It is going to save that person a lot of heartache and sorrow.”
The experience of pain is always a driving force in intervention. “It’s about the unhappiness of the living arrangement,” says Storti.
Each Renew-interviewed interventionist follows a similar out- line. After the phone call, more assessment takes place. Assembling a group takes some probing.
“I ask the caller, ‘If the patient is going to die—which really could happen—who would be the pallbearers? Who would be the eulogizers? Who would be called in reference to the tragedy?’ Families then realize [who they need and] they will get 10, 15, 18 or more people.”
At this point, the interventionist is several hours in and has done “due diligence to percolate all information,” Storti says. It’s time to choose a treatment center, being mindful of addictions and symptoms, budget, location, gen- der, age and other factors. “You have to consider all this, while working to find the right facility that won’t spook the individual.”
Before the actual intervention, professionals coach the participants.
“Ninety percent of the conversation will be around a heart-to- heart conversation,” Storti says. “I will make the incision with words, and they will say what they would like to say—without judgment or accusations. Dignity is so important.”
Just as on television, there’s a lot of tension; especially in the moment the addict walks in. “We really do go around the room and have people take turns,” Mackie says. And they really do often begin with the words, “I am here today because ….”
The order of who speaks is critical, as is having a plan for who will go after the person if he or she walks out. The meeting place can be someone’s home, a neutral location or even the home of the addict.
“Either they show up to us, or we go to them,” Taylor says. “We knock on the door and if they don’t open the door, we want somebody there who has a key or some way to get in. It’s an emergency. We gotta do something now.”
If a person doesn’t agree to go to treatment, but family members lovingly hold their ground, detach and don’t enable, the person usually will get help. There are cases however, when that doesn’t happen.
“I got a call from a father who said he needed help—that his son was dying of alcoholism and he would like to do something about it,” Taylor recalls. “We planned on doing an intervention tomorrow. Tomorrow came and I got another phone call from the father. He said, ‘Never mind, he’s dead.’”
Most callers know they will spend several thousand dollars. In return for their money, they want to land the patient in treatment— immediately. That’s the bar by which they measure success.
The interventionists know better.
“Ninety percent of the people will go to treatment the day of, or a few days, weeks or even months after an intervention,” Storti says. “Yet, there is a tendency to think if the person doesn’t go that day, we have failed.”
Rehab is just a beginning. Some people leave prematurely. Some drink the day they get out. Certainly, not everyone will embrace a long-term clean-and-sober lifestyle. That’s disappointing, but not a failure.
“I learned this from a woman who wanted to intervene on her anorexic daughter,” Storti says. “I didn’t think she should do it. She told me, ‘Ed, I need to be able to kneel at her grave and know that I did this. If she does or doesn’t respond, I need to do this for myself.’”
Mackie’s message is similar.
“Success is when I have changed the family system in a healthy way,” she says. “If one person actually starts seeing the light and stops playing the game of enabling the addiction, they can never go back to not knowing. That’s a success.”