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When You Love a Shapeshifter, Part 8

The drugs or alcohol have turned someone you love into a monster. How can we turn them back?

Most families have already made some attempts to convince their addict or alcoholic to do something about their problem. Why haven’t they been successful?

We’ve identified three simple mistakes that pretty much guarantee failure. Untrained interveners usually make one or more of them.

Mistake One: Being Vague About the Effects of Drinking/Drug Use

This is a fatal flaw, because intervention has to overcome powerful defenses developed especially to deny these effects. If you can’t provide specific and irrefutable evidence of the problems, you’ll never get past those defenses.

No broad statements like “You’re drinking all the time now” or “You’re just not the person you used to be.” The alcoholic instantly remembers “I was sober three days last month” and decides you don’t know what you’re talking about. And anyway, you aren’t the person you used to be, either, so there! Listening.

Mistake Two: Going it Alone

When you approach the addict individually, rather than having all the key folks united and present to give the same message, it’s easier for them to deflect your purpose. Families tend to think that an emissary– someone particularly influential or important– can do the job of “talking sense into” the addict.

We’ll invite that old college pal of hers up for the weekend, and give her an advance briefing. Mom’ll be less likely to get all defensive with her.” Families report they’ve tried, over and over, to talk to the alcoholic. Brother talked to him at Thanksgiving, Mom tried at Easter, and none of it worked. And it never will. Any addict or alcoholic worth their salt can handle a one-on-one confrontation with anybody. It takes a group to get past that level of ignore.

Mistake Three: Giving Up Too Soon

Untrained and/or unprepared interveners can be easily spooked by overt resistance. The addict loses their temper, or bolts from the room– “What can we do? They just won’t listen!” Giving up too easily reflects either a lack of preparation (contingency plans to deal with temper outbursts, etc.) or a lack of commitment/belief in the intervention itself. Possibly both.

These are weaknesses that have to be exposed in the planning stage, because you can be sure the addict will expose them during the confrontation itself. For instance, when you’re planning, someone might warn “He’s just going to get up and slam into the den again, like last time.” The logical question is ‘What happened when you followed him in?’ ¬†Families that go all big-eyed and say “What? Followed him? Into the den? No one goes in there but him!” are giving up too easily.

Take time in the planning stage to talk about the difference between making calm, assertive statements versus being aggressive. Aggression gives the alcoholic an ‘out,’ feeding into their defenses. Assertiveness, though, can be very powerful.

Families often think it’s the addict or alcoholic’s emotions that need to be overcome to succeed. But in fact, we need to start by dealing with our own feelings– resentment, doubt, anxiety, etc. They can keep us silent or flummox us into giving up, keeping us powerless. Becoming an effective intervener depends on learning to identify and control these feelings.

And following through. Persevere through the resistance, and on the other side is success.

This post belongs to When You Love a Shapeshifter