Monday, October 13, 2014

How to do an Intervention!

Staging an Intervention is easy as pie!

A reader writes that their parents want them to "intervene" in the life of a sibling, to "help" that sibling with their hoarding disorder and other personal issues.

An intervention!  What a neat idea!   What could be easier?  It reminds me of this Monty Python bit (see video above) called "How to Do It!":
Cut to a sign saying 'How to Do It'. Music. Sitting casually on the edge of a dais are three presenters in sweaters - Noel, Jackie and Alan)
Alan: (John Cleese) Hello children.
Noel: (Graham Chapman) Hello.
Jackie: (Eric Idle) Hello.
Alan: Well, last week we showed you how to be a gynecologist. And this week on 'How to Do It' we're going to learn how to play the flute, how to split the atom, how to construct box girder bridges and how to irrigate the Sahara and make vast new areas cultivatable, but first, here's Jackie to tell you how to rid the world of all known diseases.
Jackie: Hello Alan.
Alan: Hello Jackie.
Jackie: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvelous cure for something, and then, when the medical world really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there will never be diseases any more.
Alan: Thanks Jackie, that was great.
Noel: Fantastic.
Alan: Now, how to play the flute. (picking up a flute) Well you blow in one end and move your fingers up and down the outside.
Noel: Great Alan. Well, next week we'll be showing you how black and white people can live together in peace and harmony, and Alan will be over in Moscow showing you how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese. Til then, cheerio.
Alan: Bye.
Jackie: Bye-Bye.
(Children's music.)
And that, in short is how "easy" an intervention is!   You just get a bunch of friends together, go over to your troubled friend's house, and sit him right down and explain to him why his addictions and other problems are doing him no good!   He will say, "Jolly well, you're right!  I'm giving up my methamphetamine habit today!"

And once again, you've saved the world.

Nice fantasy.   But that's all it is.  And in a way, it is a sick fantasy - the idea that "we" are all perfect and have our shit together, and are in a position to tell other folks what for, and moreover that they will just sober up and say, "Gee, you're right!  I never realized heroin was so bad for me!"

Letting people face the consequences of their choices is often the greatest kindness you can do them.  Insulating them from consequences is often the greatest cruelty.

There are a number of flaws in the "intervention" theory, which is one reason why this 1990's trend has faded from the scene.

1.  They don't work.    People with addictive and compulsive-addictive personalities, mental health issues, drug habits, alcoholism, hoarding, or whatever, can't just "kick the habit" after a two-hour long "intervention" by some friends.   These problems are protracted and ingrained and require years of therapy and help (and often medications) to cure - if they can be cured at all.  The sad reality of mental illness and addiction, is that few people are ever "cured" of it.  They take it to their graves.

2.  Who are you to say?   If you are paying 22% interest on a "miles" credit card, you really don't have your own shit together, either.   Maybe it isn't as bad as a meth habit, but it shows that you are not taking life seriously.  Rather than going around trying to "fix" other people's lives, you should concentrate on fixing your own.  And no, this isn't being "selfish".   If everyone concentrated on improving themselves, as opposed to improving others, well, we wouldn't need "interventions" at all.   And yes, some of the folks who like to "intervene" are the ones most needing an intervention of their own.

3.  Leave it to the professionals.   Drug addiction, mental health issues, alcoholism, hoarding, and the like, are not something amateurs should diagnose or attempt to repair.   You may do more damage than good, although in most cases, you just end up doing nothing and wasting your valuable time.

4.  What are your real motives?   Many people who want to stage interventions do so in order to feel better about themselves.   They want to show others (the other attendees at the intervention) that they "care" and moreover have their shit together enough to not only handle their own lives, but the lives of others.  It is a pretty sick scenario.  I am not saying that all interveners are like this, but usually the person organizing one of these lynching parties is usually the type.
5.  Change has to come from within.   An alcoholic won't stop drinking because someone told him not to.   The meth addict won't stop because his friends said not to.  The hoarder doesn't think he has a problem, period - which is why it is the hardest compulsion to break, if ever.   If any of these addictive/compulsive behaviors is to change, it has to be from the person involved, not an external force.   It is like the old joke, "How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?  One, but the light bulb has to want to change!"
6.  You create two victims.  If you squander all your energy and money trying to "help" someone else, and they refuse such help (or abuse you) - which is quite likely - all you have done is now create a second victim - yourself.   I know a plethora of such folks, who will regale you for hours about how they tried to help Mom or Dad or Brother or Sister or Uncle, and ended up being abused instead.   Mom gets into debt problems, so Son bails her out and buys a new set of tires for her car (which he can barely afford to do).   Mom shows up the next day with a new car, financed at horrific rates.   She has learned nothing other than her children are patsies and will bail her out.  Letting people face the consequences of their choices is often the greatest kindness you can do them.  Insulating them from consequences is often the greatest cruelty.

"Well," some might say, "You're always telling people what to do in your blog!  Why don't you follow your own advice?"

Nice try, but no sale.  You see, I wrote this blog for my own edification, not as a teaching tool.   If someone gets something out of it, fine.  If not, they can piss off.   And like the First Lady promoting healthy eating, I am not "telling people what to do" but merely pointing out that spending all your money and then borrowing even more is a really bad idea.   I am not forcing anyone to do anything or 'intervening' in their lives.

"But what about family members!  Aren't I supposed to be my brother's keeper?"  And the answer is, well, NO.   You are not obligated, just by familial relationship to "take care" of a sibling, once you have left home and formed a life (and family) of your own.  You primary duty is to take care of yourself, your spouse and your own children (if any) before you go running off to help a brother, sister, Uncle or parent.

Yes, it is a tragedy when a parent or sibling suffers from mental illness or drug or alcohol problems.   But no, you can't "fix" them like you would an old car (which itself is a messy and expensive process!).   The best thing you can do is leave it to the professionals (and move and leave no forwarding address).  You are not obligated to "fix" other people, help other people, or be a punching-bag for abusive people.  Fix your own life - be kind to yourself.  I give you permission.

Of course, there are some who prefer to "intervene" so they can be the friend with the perpetual problem.

If you see a friend about to drive their car off a cliff, you should warn them there is a cliff ahead.   But don't be surprised if they ignore your warning - and tell you they are taking a shortcut!

The key thing is not to be in the back seat when they drive the car off the cliff.