Interventions That Go Wrong
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Interventions That Go Wrong


interventions that go wrong

This post was originally published on April 3, 2015.

Blogger and author Heather Kopp (Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk) recently HuffPo’sted a piece bout the risks of staging an intervention, calling on her experiences with her son. It reminded me of the one time I coordinated an intervention—or tried to at least—for my friend Brandon.

Brandon isn’t a particularly nice person—he terrorized and bullied me all through high school—but there is something about the recognition of shared demons that’ll make you hit the “clear history” button with a person, no matter how many times they called you a whore or threw cups of beer in your face.

Brandon was one of the only people from my hometown in Massachusetts that also lived in Los Angeles; so in 2003, when he crashed and burned on crystal meth, I let him hide out at my place in the Valley for a few months. I wasn’t sober at the time he arrived (sober people don’t typically let meth heads detox on their couch) but I ended up getting sober during the time he was there. Of course, this made things a bit complicated; I was desperately trying not to drink and he was desperately trying to drink his meth addiction away. Needless to say, our living arrangement didn’t work out and Brandon ended up moving back to Boston.

Over the course of the next few years, I would get phone calls from mutual acquaintances reporting on Brandon’s condition which seemed to be a downward spiral into advanced alcoholism. Splitting his time between a local dive bar and his parents’ garage, Brandon was allegedly putting away Miller Lite by the 30-pack on a nightly basis. Eventually, he got smart and started dating one of the bartenders. And then he got stupid and started smoking crack.

When I first heard about the progression of Brandon’s addiction, it scared me—not just because I was concerned about him but also because it felt like a living dramatization of what might have been if I hadn’t cleaned up my act. I reflected on the time we’d lived together and wondered why I had decided to get sober and Brandon hadn’t. Even dealing with the wreckage of a meth problem never provoked him to ask me about the meetings I was going to or show interest in exploring sobriety. I guess Brandon hadn’t hit his bottom yet and I was starting to wonder if he ever would.

Brandon’s situation was also particularly triggering because it came on the heels of several drug-related deaths in our extended group of friends. It wasn’t fun and games anymore; real people were reaping real consequences from their reckless and self-destructive behavior. It felt like something had to be done. So I called one of our mutual friends and together we decided to confront Brandon about his addiction.

Everything I knew about staging an intervention I learned from an episode of Rescue Me. So basically, I knew it was supposed to be a surprise, involve friends and family and take place in a barren New York apartment. Since I didn’t have access to the apartment, I decided the next step was to get Brandon’s family involved.

Here’s the thing. It was 2006, before A&E’s Intervention was a “record all” on my DVR, so I really didn’t know much about alcoholism as a family disease. It never occurred to me that Brandon’s family wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to hire an interventionist or try to help save his life. Turns out they weren’t; they had been in the dark so were confused by what we were telling them about the extent of Brandon’s substance abuse problem. In fact, they didn’t believe us. So now we were faced with a dilemma: would Brandon’s family get onboard with the intervention? And if they wouldn’t, could we do it without them?

We didn’t have to wonder long. A week before Brandon’s intervention was supposed to happen, his sister caved and blew the whistle on the operation. This is one of the risks that Kopp doesn’t address in her blog; having the intervention you planned compromised and the small window of opportunity slammed shut by someone who was supposed to be on the team. It was devastating. Brandon was furious. Not only did we not get to confront Brandon about his addiction but I haven’t spoken to him since. That was eight years ago.

I don’t blame Brandon for being angry. Regardless of our intentions, finding out the way he did must have made him feel judged, ganged up on and betrayed: all really great reasons to keep drinking and using drugs. That day I lost a friend, Brandon lost his trust in me and his family lost the ability to get him help. I am not sure if Brandon’s sister regrets her decision to undermine the intervention but I know I don’t regret doing what I could to try and help him. Maybe it wasn’t my place to get involved, maybe Alanon would have advised me to stay out of it but losing Brandon as a friend was worth trying to avoid losing Brandon to this earth.

The bittersweet ending to this story is that eight years later, not much has changed. Brandon is still in his parents’ garage drinking Miller Lite and smoking crack (whenever he can string enough money together). And I suppose some may see this as a success; Brandon’s ability to maintain his lifestyle of living in his mother’s basement and working odd jobs while still drinking and using drugs. And I guess that it is a success if your only goal in life is to stay alive so you can keep drinking and using drugs.

This certainly helped underline the point made in recovery circles that if the disease remains active, we get worse and never better. I know that I can think of few things worse than realizing the only thing that has changed in close to a decade is the depth of the lines in your face—and perhaps a little less hope.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.