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 addicted person looks around at the assemblage and decides whether they are (at long last) genuinely committed to change. If she decides they are, her resistance begins to collapse.
If she decides they aren’t committed– for instance, that they’re still in the grip of self-doubt– she keeps right on arguing.
People with alcoholism 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 person is super-sensitive to ambivalence on the part of others. She may have become adept at using it to manipulate us. Correction: it’s not so much that the person with alcoholism is a superb manipulator, as it is that we make it easy for her, by wavering in our commitment to change.
All family members of someone with alcoholism (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 person exploits. But once we become committed, the person with alcoholism picks up on that and begins to wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to go along. After all, she is sick, and she is tired.
And under all her bluster, the alcoholic is ambivalent, too. Our commitment to recovery will actually strengthen hers.
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.