While in the midst of dealing with family addiction to drugs or alcohol, the idea of a happy ending may seem impossible. The pain, lies, deceit, trauma, demoralization, illness and financial ruin caused by an addicted family member can be more devastating to a family than any other affliction in our society. Even compared to other deadly diseases, addiction also comes with feelings of anger and resentment that the loved one cannot or does not change.
To exacerbate the devastation of addiction is the fact that it is a progressive disease — it gets worse every year and never better. So, as the family attempts to put out the flames of the current fire, the next fire is certain to get bigger, hotter and more destructive.
But the purpose of this blog is to tell you that there is always hope (at least while the addict is still alive and relatively sane). While the path your family is on may seem hopeless, demoralizing, emotionally draining and certain to end in jail or death, there is hope. People do get better, and often via an intervention.
The story below is real and similar to thousands of others across our country. Properly prepared for and performed, an alcohol intervention may be the life-saving moment for even the most downtrodden and defeated addicts.
So, I have known Donald (name changed obviously) since my first week at college. It was clear then, in 1990, that Donald was already well into alcohol and other substances. As my own alcoholism began to form in those early years, Donald’s was already established. Daily drinking became the norm. Binges (although well hidden amongst fraternity members) were ever too frequent. Often, anger and violence (thankfully against inanimate objects, not people) also became commonplace.
Fast forward 20 years. Donald is living alone, having lost his wife and kids because of his drinking. Although he still holds a successful job, his interactions with family too often contain bouts of drunkenness.
After two embarrassing visits with his children and family, I was contacted by his parents for advice. A few emotionally painful weeks later, we staged a pre-intervention. Over an overpriced meal at a trendy restaurant, I was peppered with questions about alcoholism, interventions, questions to ask and our prospects for success.
Although this was not my first intervention, I had significant doubts about its success. Donald was well into the later stages of addiction (the remaining stages only involved jail or death). And to make matters worse, his wife and children moved 500 miles away, because he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) stop drinking. So, I tried to convey hope to the desperate family while also laying the groundwork for a possible failure.
A few days later, we waited in his parents’ house for Donald to enter (expecting to visit his children) and begin the intervention. Ninety agonizing minutes later, by some miracle I still do not fully comprehend, Donald was in the back seat of his dad’s car, eating a bowl of soup prepared by his mom, and on the way to rehab. The intervention left nothing on the table. I, along with others, said things to Donald that could have resulted in him leaping over the table at me — but they were truths that he needed to hear. And finally, the intensity diminished and we hugged, and cried, because we knew there was hope to be had.
Now I more than anyone know the difficult road that lies ahead for him. But as I write this blog, Donald has been a model student at a rehab for 16 days. That is 16 days longer than I, or anyone, ever thought he would be sober. That is 16 days towards a chance of a new life. That is 16 days towards becoming a father to his children.
Will this story have a happy ending? No one knows. But what I do know is that as an expert on alcoholism and recovery, I am still astonished by what can be accomplished when loved ones get together and fight for a sick family member. If you too have a sick loved one that is fading away in their addiction, maybe you too can change direction and find the road of happy destiny.
Marc Treitler and his family are the founders and creators of the family addiction education website www.potatoallergy.com and the authors and illustrators of My Dad Is an Alcoholic, What About Me?: A Pre-teen Guide to Conquering Addictive Genes.