The Interventionist

What is rock bottom and why do families wait to intervene?

Rock Bottom
How does one determine what their rock bottom is? A few weeks ago I was preparing a family for an intervention for their addicted daughter and the mother asked me a very common question, if my family did an intervention to get me to accept treatment. I answered “yes” as was the case and she followed with the next question, “When was it that you hit rock bottom?”. I thought about it for a second, recalled the moment and answered her question honestly by saying “about a couple of weeks into my program”. She was clearly confused by my answer so I had to clarify my answer. In my mind, what I was answering was “When did I really realize that I was at rock bottom and then decide that I had to make changes?”. When did it really hit me? I remember the moment. I finally broke down and realized where I was and what I had amounted to. I heard and felt the extreme disgust and disappointment in the voices of my wife and parents on the phone. I had no friends left, no job and literally no possessions. That was the moment that I broke down and FELT THE BOTTOM. I was on my own and had to do something about it all. My back was finally against the wall and this time I had nothing clever to say or to do to get out of it.

Of course, that mother was asking this particular question because she was looking for hope that she was doing the right thing and that the intervention would help her daughter realize that she was at rock bottom and therefore be receptive to help, just like it happened for me. She was looking to validate the very difficult decision to intervene on her child and praying that she was doing the right thing. The guilt was overwhelming for her.

This mom like so many others could have intervened at least a year before she did and gotten her child help back then with just as much ease as we did a month ago. The signs were all there. The girl had been arrested, lost all of her good friends, acquired a new group of horrible and addicted “friends”, she was at risk of losing her job, you name it. Her life had been falling apart for a long while before this family finally decided to intervene. Her child was not only addicted to drugs; she was disconnected from her family and falling further away from the reality of life more and more every day into a black hole of hopelessness.

The problem was that they as a family tried everything they could think of to tackle the addiction but kept getting resistance. Resistance is typical and expected. To come out of addiction and face the world without drugs is a very scary thing for anyone in that position. So when the family tried everything, they started to give up and stood back to give her space to figure it out. Then they would press on her again without a plan of action just to press because the addiction was consuming their lives more and more. They became inpatient and angry with her and became desperate because nothing they tried had worked. Desperation brought more friction and less effective communication, thereby making matters worse. Finally someone at a treatment center recommended an intervention and the rest is history. She is actively doing her program and doing very well. And the communication with her family has improved tremendously. She has a long way to go to get it all right again, but she is more confident and much more able to do it now.

Rock bottom is all about perception. The addict doesn’t see rock bottom as the end. They see it as a new challenge that has to be overcome, just another crappy day falling apart as usual, just a little worse each day. The addict doesn’t see what you see on the outside looking in. You see life becoming more unmanageable and out of control by the second and somewhere in your gut, you know they need help. The problem lies in that perception because addicts are unbelievably and inevitably notorious for convincing others and themselves that everything is going to be ok. Everything is NOT OK! Most addicts are surviving at rock bottom much longer than families and friends are aware of. Most have a closet full of secrets that families have no clue about until they finally go to treatment and need help sorting it out. Things have been falling apart much longer than most people realize but with a timely smile, a few convincing words, maybe an angry outburst or defensive comment that you’re too close to a sore spot, the addict learns how to repel all signs of potential attempts to “help” them. So you leave them alone, dance around the subject and stop pushing the issue and pray for them to wake up and finally ask for that help you so desperately want to give them.

People in general have the perception that something will have to happen to make their loved ones wake up or hit bottom hard enough to wake up and accept help. The majority of families I meet have normally waited for heavy consequences to hit their loved ones before calling a professional interventionist and arranging treatment. Or things have fallen apart so badly that it now has to be the right time because nobody can take anymore of the destruction and everyone is ganging up on the enabler to do something about it.

To expect someone under the full influence and control of drugs and/or alcohol to make a logical life changing decision, no matter what the circumstances is a mistake. Waiting for someone to just wake up one day and dive into recovery is asking the impossible for most. They need you to stop the madness and make the choices for them until they can prove to do it themselves. This is addiction! With enough support and firm stances behind them, they will wake up and have their own rock bottom to start over from. Without it, day one of recovery may not ever happen. Recovery is much more possible than most people know or believe but it takes 100% commitment from the addicted one and the supporting family and friends. Rock bottom to me was a blessing and it allowed me to finally see reality. My intervention was what saved my life because it gave me the abilities I never would have had.