This story begins five years ago in Belgium when I was called to facilitate a memorial activity for a recovering addict who passed away. The family called me because they said that I was the only one who “got” their son Jason and he had respected me for the work I had done with him and his family. His mother talked about the lessons she learned in family program and in her ongoing Al-Anon meetings.
This retreat/memorial lasted a day and a half in what I thought was a castle with thirty or so individuals, some who loved Jason, some who didn’t know him at all but had heard about him and how he tried to help others. The group was a mixture of non-recovering people and those in family recovery and addiction recovery – a nice mixture. The workshop focused on addiction as a disease, help for families and a tribute to Jason. People expressed their grief, loss and anger at the disease and mostly their gratitude as they had all been given a second, third and even eighth chance at life.
I presented a piece to the group called Drunks that included the phrase “we tried and we died”. It brought into focus why we were there. At the very end of the retreat, as people started to go their own ways, I was stopped by a couple who shared their story about their son, his recovery and eventual relapse and that they wanted to help him. We’ll call him Lucas, but of course that’s not his real name.
I talked to them about intervention and the process, they said that they wanted to do something but were too afraid. They believed Lucas would never speak to them again if they did something like that. They also told me that they only heard from him when he wanted money – usually for a slip, a fall, or some plan he’d dreamt up to become financially successful so that he would not have to rely on them anymore. By the way, did I mention he was 47 years old?
So they said they would keep my number and when they were ready, they would call me. Almost three years to the day later they called, desperate to help their son. They told me he was living outside of Mexico City and had lost his job and about to be put out on the street. They were scared. He told them his life was being threatened. They told me that they were finally fed up. They had recently sent him $10,000 for back rent and a vehicle. He had totaled the car they purchased for him six months earlier.
I reviewed the intervention process with them one more time. They told me, “We can’t go. We cannot be a part of this. He hates us and it will not turn out well.” They asked me if I could go and talk to him. “Hmm,” I said, “I’ve never done a one-on-one intervention before.” But then I thought, “Yes, I have.” I’ve done it a million times in coffee shops, living rooms, the streets, and even in a rehab with a coworker who had returned to using and was in denial. We worked out the travel and I was on my way to Mexico City.
When I landed, I went to my hotel and called Lucas but did not get an answer. I texted him with my picture saying that I was a friend of a friend and would like to meet him. No response. The next day, I contacted the landlord and introduced myself as a friend of the family. I explained that I was the guy who would be getting him the back rent. He graciously provided me with a key and we went to meet Lucas. We knocked on the door for about five minutes and then entered. The place was a shambles with dishes and clothes everywhere. The TV was blasting. It was hot and humid. We went upstairs to a locked bedroom door. After knocking, he answered with, “Who the hell are you?” I introduced myself and handed him my business card only to get a big fuck you and some other choice words.
I tried to explain over the yelling who I was and what I do. When I told him that I was working with his family to support him, it brought out more of the same – just louder with tears. He started waving his arms and getting very dramatic. I let him know that he could calm down if he wanted to and that I was only there to assist him. He demanded that I leave. I let him know where I’d be staying and that he could utilize me as support while I was in Mexico. He said, “No, thank you!” So I left. Later that afternoon, I texted him to apologize for the abruptness of my visit. I let him know that I understood why he was so angry. I also reviewed with him the work I had done with Jason at the memorial. I reminded him that they were good friends and that he had even sponsored Jason during Jason’s early recovery. I talked about the loving tribute to Jason and the gratitude that was expressed. I invited him to call me later.
Several hours later I received a text from him sounding somewhat remorseful around our meeting, but suspicious about his family’s involvement. I let him know that they were the initiators of this meeting, but that my only goal was to help him if he needed additional services, or help with stress that he might be experiencing. I did not want to accuse him of relapse, as I had no evidence other than hearsay and suspicious behaviors. He agreed to meet me that evening, but danced around a bit due to a “headache”. Then he said he’d meet me in the morning. I got a text that morning canceling due to allergies but he might be able to meet later in the afternoon.
I decided to take in the sights of the city. Three hours later I got a text. He was ready to meet. We sat down in the hotel conference room. He burst into tears reviewing the past year: losing his job, most relationships, fights, and the car. Not to mention scooter accidents and feeling suicidal. He talked to me about his drug use and feeling hopeless about ever getting into a lasting, fulfilling relationship. He went on to talk about the many failed ones he had had throughout his life. I let him get it all out. Then I asked if he was willing to get some help. He said yes. I asked what he thought he needed. He then talked about all the diagnoses he had been given over the years. He knew he had personality problems along with drug and alcohol addiction. He also said he needed to work on issues related to sex and relationships.
We reviewed three treatment programs that dealt with co-occurring disorders and one 10-day retreat with a continued care component. He chose the 60-day treatment with 90-day continued care. Two days later we flew to treatment. His parents agreed to go to Al-Anon two days a week and contracted with me to do family calls weekly for 16 weeks as they strengthen their recovery.
Four weeks into the phone calls Lucas’ sister and brother-in-law joined the calls. Initially they were angry with the parents because they thought the parents had spent too much time, energy and money on Lucas and they were feeling neglected. The mother invited them to participate for two calls to see if it had value and they did. They also agreed to attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. So far, it’s been nine weeks. The client has remained in treatment with only two times threatening to leave, but the family was united in their message: If you do not honor your agreement then we have to let you go. They didn’t panic. They didn’t negotiate. They just said they would let go and continue to work their program of recovery.