You may not be aware of it, but people can tell when you really mean what you’re saying. They can hear it in your voice, see it in your eyes, even ‘feel’ it in the way you sit or stand.
This is very obvious in an intervention. There comes a point where the alcoholic or addict looks around at the assemblage and decides whether they are (at long last) genuinely committed to change. If he decides they are, his resistance begins to collapse.
If he decides they aren’t committed – for instance, that they’re still in the grip of self-doubt – he keeps right on arguing.
Alcoholics learn to test the resolve of those around them. That doesn’t mean they’re unaware of the need for change, just that they aren’t certain that other people will be there to support them.
Once the intervention process has ended, they often express gratitude. Like the powerful executive who confessed to me: “I knew I needed help. I was just scared. I needed someone to make me.”
The reluctant alcoholic is super-sensitive to ambivalence on the part of others. He may have become adept at using it to manipulate us. Correction: it’s not so much that the alcoholic is a superb manipulator, as it is that we make it easy for him, by wavering in our commitment to change.
All family members of alcoholics (at least the thousands I’ve met) are initially ambivalent about intervention. They’re stymied by self-doubt. Questions like ‘should I stay or should I leave?’ or ‘is it better to ask for help or do this on my own?’ or ‘what if I do something and it actually makes the situation worse?’
It’s this ambivalence that the alcoholic exploits. But once we become committed, the alcoholic picks up on that and begins to wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to go along. After all, he is sick, and he is tired.
And under all his bluster, the alcoholic is ambivalent, too. Our commitment to recovery will actually strengthen his.
In reality, most family members require some time to commit to intervention. That’s because the commitment requires us to confront our fears, as well as our hopes.
Nobody knows in advance whether things will ultimately turn out as we wish. But we can make a commitment to give it our very best effort.
And that alone is the most powerful predictor of future success.