It Still Outranks Them All Part 3: Resources for Help and Intervention
By Fr. Bogdan Djurdjulov
As James (not his real name) sat in the lounge of the detox center, he began describing to another person how he had come into treatment. He said, with astonishment, "I didn't know my pastor knew I had a drinking problem."
James had been very active in his parish until his drinking got out of control. It was at this point that his pastor got involved and sat in on the family intervention. The pastor along with the other family members confronted James about how his drinking was affecting his life and his family. Through specific examples, they told him how he was withdrawing from them and other people so that he could be alone to drink. Each family member expressed his and her thoughts and feelings to their father and husband in a non-judgmental way. They loved him and wanted him to get well.
The pastor was the person who brought his family together to prepare for the intervention and made the referral to treatment. How fortunate it was that James had a pastor who was aware of the signs and symptoms of alcoholism/chemical dependency and took the initiative himself to involve himself in the intervention and final referral to treatment.
What the Pastor Did
First he helped the family cope with and understand the disease and explained that James needed treatment because of its progressive and destructive nature. The pastor also explained that they (the family) also needed to get themselves healthy. The family was introduced to the wealth of information on the subject and also acquainted with Al-Anon, a self-help group that deals with people who live with each other who are chemically dependent. It teaches them about tough love, letting go, detachment, dealing with guilt and shame, and overcoming the many hurts they had experienced during the drinking days.
This pastor understood that the disease of alcoholism was not a moral weakness or a lack of will power. He understood the addiction process.
In drug and alcohol jargon, an intervention is a process whereby a career pattern of alcohol abuse, alcoholism or other chemical dependency, is interrupted in a way to bring about change. By this process, the person is brought into contact with resources which can help him or her. The pastor in the above vignette helped facilitate change in the family and in the actively drinking person by confronting him through his family who had been prepared for the intervention that got him to treatment.
Why an Intervention?
It is an old assumption that the alcoholic has to want help. You don't have to wait for the alcoholic to ask for help or recognize his or her illness. Successful intervention and treatment can be initiated without it. Because denial is so pervasive in this disease, some outside influences, planned or otherwise must often be utilized. Somewhere along the line, it is important to bring the person face-to-face with the seriousness of the progressive and destructive nature of this disease. Everyone, not just the "alcoholic," needs to be confronted. Because family members are acutely affected by someone else's addiction, they too should seek help for themselves to learn detachment, and healthy and productive ways for coping.
Sorting Things Out
Being a priest, I am profoundly aware that at any time I could be approached to help or could be in a position where I would have to make a decision to intervene on the family's and the alcoholic's behalf. Who should intervene and when they should do it is difficult to determine. An intervention is a process that provides an opportunity for recovery which otherwise may not happen or is long overdue. An intervention takes a lot of care and love for the alcoholic and for the family. A lot of praying goes into the process. Our Lord somehow provides us with the right person to say the right thing at the right time. This is how interventions seem to happen. All we can do is plan, the rest happens. Sorting things out is not easy ... alone.
Preparing for an Intervention
An intervention requires preparation. Some persons need more support than others. An intervention may be one of the first times all or most of the meaningful people are present and share together what they know; everyone has data others didn't know. Often times children are the most influential, because of their frankness and honesty. I recall a five year old boy telling his mother that she never smiles and always yells at him when she has her juice (referring to orange juice mixed with vodka).
The pre-intervention process takes several sessions at least, with a facilitator to help you gather data and a plan of action. If your parish priest is knowledgeable and skilled in this area, go to him. Perhaps he can refer you for help and be supportive. It's not easy to take the first step. Sometimes we feel like traitors because we're exposing someone we love. And this is exactly the point ... it is someone we love that is in need of help. It is an opportunity to put our intercessory prayers into action. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is a call to action -- to do something. You don't have to do it alone.
Some Things You Can Do to Get Ready
Even before you see someone for help, like a counselor at the National Council on Alcoholism, you can begin gathering information. It will be important for you, as a concerned person, to get an accurate understanding of the disease of alcoholism.
Begin making a list of specific situations related to the drinking or drugging of your loved one. Write down feelings and thoughts that are triggered. Write down specific instances with dates, amounts used and the consequences to the user and those around him or her. It is important for the user to see the consequences of their drinking/drug behavior. When actually confronting (sharing with) the person, speak for yourself, using "I" language e.g., "I was hurt when ..., I was angry when ...," rather than saying, "What you did was awful." Such language raises the defenses and shuts down communication.
Such language sounds like blaming. Consider going to an Al-Anon (local phone listing) meeting. Hear from others. These groups are self-help groups, not therapy groups.
Seeking Professional Assistance
Most mental health centers and hospitals have various types of programs geared towards drugs and alcohol. The phone book is filled with resources, some very good and some not. Again I mentioned the National Council on Alcoholism. They can give you information on treatment centers and also help you to get ready for an intervention as well as assist you in seeking out the alternatives available to you. The NCA does not endorse one center over another, but rather helps you match the resources with your needs. They are an excellent referral source.
Ask a lot of questions. When seeking help, remember that you are seeking help for yourself as well. A program with family involvement is essential when finally deciding on treatment.
A counselor will help you define a plan for your own recovery as well as that of your loved one. He or she will help you express your concerns in an appropriate way. Each person in the family will be helped to look at their own role in the family system and what they can do to change themselves. You get help in looking at the alternatives that will be presented to the drinker. More than one plan is usually mapped out -- Plan "A" and Plan "B," -- as I tell my people. The counselor's role is to help work towards unity among the concerned persons regarding a plan for intervention and treatment. Again, don't be afraid to ask questions. There are NO stupid or unimportant questions. Apply Biblical teaching here -- seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. Sitting and lamenting won't do the trick. Do something.
You are Not Alone
There is no question about it. This is not an easy thing to do. There is fear and anxiety and constant questioning if this is the right thing to do. There is somehow never a "right" time to approach the situation in the way you would like.
You are not alone, believe me! The first step always seems the hardest. Don't give up hope. There are professionals who can help and there are people who care. A planned confrontation can be a very effective means of intervention, but it is advised that it be done with help from professionals trained in such a process.
What Your Parish Can Do To Get Help