A&E struck gold in March 6, 2005 when they launched Intervention, a docu-style series following alcoholics and drug addicts (and some struggling with other disorders) from what we hope is their bottom through a staged intervention and, if all goes well, off to treatment. Shining the light on an individual’s losing battle with addiction hits the mark of “good television” from so many angles it’s hard to keep up. But from the perspective of a recovering alcoholic, and someone who has been around all kinds of addicts for over a decade, watching this journey unfold can be bittersweet. It’s very exciting to see someone confronted with one of the hardest, most important decisions of their life—to get clean and sober—but I also know from experience the sort of challenges that these newly hopeful addicts have yet to face. And of course, there is nothing more heartbreaking that the ones who opt not to go to treatment, who aren’t ready to face their demons and who then walk out on the opportunity of a lifetime.
Though Intervention was briefly canceled in 2013, it was (thankfully) revived just a year later and has now officially entered its 15th season, with the first episode having aired Sunday, March 6, 2016—exactly 11 years to the day of its pilot episode.
This is Kaeleen
The newly revamped Intervention (with a slightly revised format and new music) kicked off its latest season with a bang—showcasing Kaeleen, a 25-year old alcoholic and a “whatever you can get, I will do” drug addict who greets the audience with a diary cam confession of being raped the night before. Boom! And we are off.
We immediately learn that Kaeleen is a gifted musician but her near round-the-clock compulsion to drink and get high has reduced her dreams to playing piano on the streets of Helena, MT. And as a viewer, it’s hard to say what is more confusing: to see a beautiful young girl throw her life away to addiction or that there is a public piano on the street in Helena.
We also learn that, like so many alcoholics and addicts, Kaeleen has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has begun receiving money from the government. While I am not a doctor, nor do I personally know Kaeleen, it’s hard not to wonder how someone can be accurately diagnosed with anything when she hasn’t breathed a sober breath in quite some time. As an American taxpayer, it pisses me off to know that the government hands out money to people without requiring them to take regular drug tests. And we should all be pissed in this case since Kaeleen is putting all of the “money she earned” in one place—down the hatchet.
What It Was Like and What Happened
So how did Kaeleen go from kid to skid? According to her mom, things started to go downhill after Kaeleen blew the whistle on a family member who had been sexually assaulting her since she was very young. At 13 years old, Kaeleen was brave enough to testify at her abuser’s trial but unfortunately, he ended up being relieved of all charges. This was a devastating turn of events and seemed to make Kaeleen lose faith in authority and justice. She developed an eating disorder, began abusing cough syrup and marijuana and dropped out of high school.
This is when Kaeleen entered treatment for the first time. And after cleaning up her act, she seemed fired up to get her life back on track: getting her GED and enrolling in college. She even taught herself Japanese, which could be the most impressive thing I have ever heard of. But it wasn’t long before Kaeleen was introduced to cocaine, which she said initially helped her study but then—as cocaine has the tendency to do—took over her life. She quit school again, and headed back down a path of self-destruction.
The silver lining in all of this tragedy is that while she was going through one of the most traumatic times in her life, prepping for her perpetrator’s trial, Kaeleen’s mom met Glen, a single dad of three who soon became her stepfather. Kaeleen was then blessed with an instant family, a loving paternal figure and three incredible-seeming step-siblings whom she became very close with. These are the people Kaeleen ended up hurting with her drinking and using but they are also the ones who come together to offer her help.
What It’s Like Now
Other than watching Kaeleen stumble all over the city of Helena, and her strange love of knit hats and liquid liner, probably the most disturbing part of this episode is Sam—Kaeleen’s current boyfriend/babysitter who needs emergency treatment for codependency. Offspring’s song “Self-Esteem” (sample lyrics: Now I know I should say “No”/But that’s kind of hard when she’s ready to go/I may be dumb but I’m not a dweeb/I’m just a sucker with no self esteem) starts playing in my head every time Sam is on camera, especially after you see the poor guy endure what appears to be a typical day of driving his girlfriend around to get high and drunk before she leaves him behind while she hits the town to get more fucked up and call ex-boyfriends. Sam is then accused of being controlling and jealous when he wakes up in the middle of the night to find his FUBAR girlfriend stopping home to grab a few beers before some dude comes and picks her up. This is all in addition to her on-camera confession that she has a reputation for being an easy score when she is drunk.
Of course, this does not make what happened to her that night—which turns out to be a rape—okay by any means. And I have to hand it to Kaeleen (or whoever got her to do it) for calling the police and reporting the crime. This is not an easy thing to do for anyone to do, let alone someone who is drunk and probably the last person who wants to deal with cops. But she does it and is relatively calm during the process.
I am sure her train wreck of a life has a lot of appeal to anyone who enjoys the voyeuristic nature of reality TV. But for this alcoholic and addict, watching Kaeleen’s downward spiral has a very different effect. Her relationship with Sam feels like a replay of so many of my own pseudo-romantic partnerships when I was using—that of user and devotee. Even the small snippets into their personal lives made me want to start calling old boyfriends to make amends. But if I put my own guilt and shame aside, there is an important lesson to be learned by seeing a version of yourself in action in another person—and that’s forgiveness. While Kaeleen’s behavior is repugnant and her perspective on life completely off kilter, she is the perfect archetype of a typical alcoholic—selfish, self-centered, sophomoric, entitled, strong-willed and terrified. Any clean or sober person would be hard-pressed not to identify with her in some way.
So comes the big day; the day Kaeleen thinks she is showing up for her final interview for the documentary she has agreed to do about addiction, when she is actually walking into her own intervention (apparently, there are people who are so busy getting high that, even 11 years later, they are not aware of the show). Veteran Iinterventionist Ken Seeley is on the case, sporting a very masculating beard, ready to tell Kaeleen how much her family loves her, and present her with the opportunity to get the help that she needs—now or never.
After watching a large majority of the show’s 14 seasons, I like to think I have gotten pretty good at predicting who will agree to treatment and who won’t. But Kaeleen threw me for a loop as I had her pinned for a “Fuck all of you” walk out. Unlike a lot of the addicts we have seen on Intervention over the years, Kaeleen hadn’t quite gotten to the place where she openly wished she could stop using. She was still in the “I can stop anytime I want to, I just don’t want to” phase and seemed to be happily shadowboxing against whatever powers that be that wanted her to act like a normal 25-year old. But in the end, Kaeleen was willing and even admitted that she had wanted help but was too scared. It’s cases like this that make the show more than a show; it makes it a goddamned miracle.
60 Days Later
Kaeleen’s stepbrother, Blake, flies down to Florida to visit her in treatment and he is greeted by a boisterous, happy and sober young woman who is visibly in much better health than she was two months ago. It’s one of those things where you can’t tell exactly what is different but something is different and it’s really, really good. We get to see Kaeleen reconnect with her brother and be open and honest in a way we haven’t seen her before. She is playing music again and even comments on how this has been a big part of her recovery. She seems very grateful for the opportunity that Intervention has given her as it “helped her save her own life.”