A&E struck gold back in 2005 when they launched the Emmy-winning Intervention, a docu-style series following alcoholics, drug addicts and those struggling with other disorders from the depths of their addictions through a staged intervention and, if all goes well, off to treatment. Though briefly canceled in 2013, the show was revived just a year later and is now continuing its 15th season. This was the 14th episode of Season 15 on Sunday, July 17.
This is Brian N.
Once a successful owner of a funeral home, married to his high school sweetheart with two beautiful kids, Brian had a darn-near perfect life. But when his casual drinking began to evolve into a quart-of-booze-a-day drinking (sometimes more), Brian started losing things—his wife, his kids, his home, his business, his license, his car—and has been on a downward spiral ever since. Now noticeably bloated and miserable, the 43-year-old part-time construction worker lives in his mom and stepdad’s guest house where he pays rent by enduring resentment-infused tirades from his screaming codependent mother.
What It Was Like
The only child of two loving parents, Brian’s early years have been described as happy. But when he was seven years old, his father’s drinking led to his parents’ divorce, causing Brian and his mom to move from their beautiful ranch in rural Oklahoma to an apartment in Tulsa. Though he would still see his dad on weekends, Brian’s family life would never be the same. Sadly, Brian’s dad continued to drink; eventually ending up alone and drunk at The Salvation Army, where he died at the age of 52.
Brian was determined not to end up like his father. He met Karin, the daughter of a Baptist minister, at the age of 16 and began attending Bible study just so he could be with her. He attended Oklahoma City University and studied mortuary science, following in the footsteps on his stepfather who owned a funeral home. While still in school, Brian and Karin married and shortly after, he landed an apprenticeship with a funeral home in Oklahoma City.
On April 19, 1995, when a bomb went off at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and 168 people were killed, Brian’s role as an apprentice funeral director was to go down to the site and help remove bodies they pulled out from the rubble. “On the front page of Life Magazine*, there was a picture of a firefighter holding a baby that he pulled out and I held that baby, I was with that mom,” Brian says as he starts to cry. He was 21 years old at the time.
When Karin gave birth to their first child, Holden, Brian decided he wanted to open his own funeral home. It was at this time that his social drinking started to escalate and he would go over to his friend’s house to drink after work, leaving Karin home alone to care for their young child. Brian’s career choice probably played a part in the heavier boozing. “I have never met a funeral director who didn’t drink,” Brian’s aunt Susie, says. “It’s a fulfilling job but it’s a sad job.”
The night Karin when into labor with their second child, Brian was passed out and couldn’t wake up so she had to drive herself to the hospital. Soon after, Karin gave Brian an ultimatum—go to rehab or she was going to leave him. But while Brian was in rehab, Karin allegedly cheated on him (though she said she wasn’t comfortable talking about it). She filed for divorce and four days after it was finalized, Karin married someone else.
It was at this point that Brian’s life began to really unravel. He started drinking before and during funerals and he even kept a bottle of booze stashed in his car. After he was convicted of his third DUI, Brian lost his driver’s license and license to practice as a funeral director. With his business in jeopardy, Brian’s stepfather agreed to buy the funeral home with the intention of selling it back to him once he got back on his feet. That has yet to happen.
What It’s Like Now
There is no doubt that Brian’s life has been whittled down to nothing as a result of his drinking. But it’s also clear how little understanding there is around him about the disease of alcoholism. “I guess he’s willing to give up his job and his family for the joy he gets out of the bottle,” his uncle Gary says. It is pretty obvious at this point that Brian is not experiencing any joy.
Living in his mother’s guesthouse in Miami, Oklahoma (nothing like Miami, Florida), Brian is treated like a problem child. “I am constantly griping at him,” his mother admits. “’Brian, have you eaten? Brian, hang up your clothes? Brian, what are you going to do today?’ I am talking to him like I am talking to a 14-year-old teenager that is out of hand.” She is obviously very angry and feels like these kinds of interactions are necessary but it’s very clear that she is only making matters worse.“My dad was an alcoholic,” Brian says, “and this is not nice but I am going to say it: I think my mom would make most people an alcoholic.”
Brian spends his days doing part-time construction work or drinking—mostly out of plastic bottles. He will drink beer but prefers the quickness of vodka, whisky or Bacardi. “I love three-drinks Brian,” he says. But, of course, like many alcoholics, once Brian starts drinking he can’t stop at three.
The morning of his birthday, Brian wakes up with the shakes but vows to only have two drinks to calm his nerves. This is complicated by the fact that Karin doesn’t allow the kids to be around their father when he is drinking and they are supposed to come over that day. When his mother smells alcohol on Brian’s breath, she immediately starts in on him. “Why would you start drinking when you were going to see your kids?” Brian just sits with his head hanging down. It’s utterly cringe-worthy to witness the powerlessness of an alcoholic get beaten down further by the self-righteous indignation of an untreated Alanon.
The family sits down with veteran interventionist, love-ya-like-crazy Jeff VanVondern. “We aren’t dealing with a bad guy,” he tells them. “We are dealing with somebody who has strayed off the path.” He reminds the family that the intervention is not about making Brian feel bad because if feeling bad solved anything, the situation would probably already be resolved (not coincidentally, the camera pans to Brian’s mother). VanVondern then explains that sobriety and recovery are not the same thing; sobriety is not drinking but recovery is about healing.
“My 12-year-old is just like his father,” Karin says. “What can I do to ensure that he does not turn out like his dad?”
A great question that VanVondern jumps on. “You can’t do anything to ensure that but I can give you the name of some books to read,” he says. Probably not the words she wants to hear. “Or else take him to a family program, which I think you could actually benefit from too.” More solid advice that surely isn’t that comforting in the moment.
Things get tense when VanVondern confronts Brian’s mom about her contribution to the situation. She starts listing off all the “heroic” things she does, like keeping her grandkids from knowing about Brian’s drinking. She also says that she’s allowed him to come in and ruin her home life, as if that is something she should be congratulated for. “I can’t have my grandkids over because he might start drinking, “ she says. “I am trying to please her (gesturing to Karin) and still see my grandkids. She is the keeper of the keys.”
Karin breaks down and says to VanVondern, “I’m sorry but I think you need to tell her that I was not in the wrong to keep my children from going over there since Brian gets drunk every time they go over there,” she says. VanVondern agrees with Karin but this begins to aggravate Brian’s mother and she storms out, refusing to do an exit interview with the production crew.
The morning of the intervention, Karin tells the camera that she and Brian’s mother were able to put aside their differences so that they could come together today and be there for Brian.
When Brian enters the intervention room, he is warmly greeted by his aunt Susie. He seems at ease and open. The first letter is from Mom, who is shockingly able to put her rage aside for five minutes and speak to her son from her heart. She tells him about of all the joy he has brought her over the years but also about all the pain he has caused. She asks if he will accept the help that is being offered.
The next letter comes from Karin. She also recalls many of the happy memories they had as a family—snippets from a life that is hard to imagine the broken man we see now being capable of. For the sake of their children, she pleads for him to seek help. Brian shrugs.
“You can do your life better,” VanVondern says. “You can’t do it by trying hard but you can do it by getting help.”
After some trepidation, Brian agrees to go to treatment. But his mother admits to having mixed feelings about it. “I am feeling some sadness,” she says. “Maybe it’s the death of him really being my little boy and me trying to take care of him.”
60 Days Later
After two moths at The Hills in Los Angeles, Brian looks noticeably healthier. Tan and slimmer, he admits to feeling stronger and clearer and you can see it in his eyes. He seems to have shed the dark cloud that was following him around.
Aunt Susie brings the kids to see their dad in treatment and the reunion is very joyful. Both kids talk about how much they have missed him and how happy they are to see him. Brian says he has a much better understanding now of what his life can be.
He has been sober since March 20, 2016.
*The publication was actually Newsweek and can be seen here.
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