On Addiction: The 2+1 Intervention Method(™) In Action
I have received so much positive feedback on my “On Addiction” series, and that warm reception inspired me to continue to reach out and share my experiences.
I recently had a friend – part of a sweet gay married couple – who reached out to me to let me know that my “2+1 Intervention Method(™)” really helped some friends recently. I asked if I could share their story and they said, yes (anonymously of course).
After all, if there was one lesson I learned in dealing with many of these types of cases, the names are irrelevant. There are real people behind each story, but the themes and plot points tend to be fairly universal.
My friends had another pair of married friends struggling with an unbearable cycle of alcoholic binging, rehab, and relapse – probably going through that more than 10 times in their case. I’ll call the addict Gary, and his loving partner, Stanley.
My friend recently shared my “On Addiction” series with Stanley after another relapse by Gary. Following several events, including what might even be labeled an intervention for Stanley, something finally clicked.
My friend, who was 14 months sober himself, and had been helping sponsor Gary for several months, was very much invested in this recovering addict’s success. The two couples were friends before Gary’s most recent relapses, and it was very hard for them to watch it all play out. Clearly, Stanley was in an impossible position.
But, ultimately, after much encouragement, Stanley realized he could not do the heavy lifting for Gary anymore. Gary needed to find the resolve to make some difficult changes for himself. And Stanley would have to make his own changes if he was going to break the cycle.
The struggling couple had seemingly done everything in the past, but nothing they tried ever worked long-term. Gary was on doctor's orders not to drink, at the risk of serious medical repercussions, but even that wasn’t enough deterrent. And yet again, following relapses over the holidays that continued into the New Year, Stanley found himself at his wit’s end.
What changed this time – and not to my credit, but to the credit of all the other parties involved – was the intervention that happened for Stanley after Gary’s most recent relapse. Stanley had been going to Alanon, and doing all the right things, “listening compassionately,” “remaining empathetic to the disease,” and “loving unconditionally.” But Gary’s disease was not only slowly killing him physically, but it was also impacting the mental and emotional health of his partner. Addiction had already disrupted their relationship, friendships, family relationships, and more.
In this case, Stanley was admittedly enabling his partner’s addiction and letting the cycle continue over and over again, unchecked. He was acting out of pure love and kindness, but the unintended consequence of that unconditional support was that unfortunately, it left no serious consequences for Gary’s relapses. (Enabling is a big word … we’ll cover more about that in the next article.)
Gary’s bills were always covered, the insurance was in place, the home was there waiting for him after rehab, and even the job disruptions weren’t of serious consequence to them because of their wealth. There were few serious repercussions of Gary's relapses, other than it could kill him, and sadly the pattern continued to repeat.
My friends and I truly believe that the key difference this time was the “2+1 Intervention Method” they tried out with Stanley.
While the group attended to Gary’s urgent needs, my friends also helped Stanley see the need to make healthier choices and some major course corrections. They encouraged Stanley to make himself a priority this time and to set new ground rules and boundaries for Gary.
In this case, Gary needed to detox, but he needed to come to that realization himself. He had been to rehab so many times before there were no other skills for him to learn. But what would be different this time – following the +1 intervention – was his spouse’s new resolve. He was encouraged to set what I like to call a “loving ultimatum.”
I will paraphrase Stanley’s new rule: “I love you, but I need you to get the medical help you need. I’ll be here for you when you get out clean if you’re willing to continue the work, but if you are not, I can no longer help you. I can no longer be with you.”
This type of boundary-setting is not a new idea. But honestly, having researched this issue for several years, I found most of the advice online was completely centered on the alcoholic and not on the loved one(s) who are supporting them.
I even searched for articles by typing “what should spouses do for alcoholics who relapse?” And I found dozens, maybe hundreds of links with many steps and suggestions for how the partner can support the relapsed alcoholic, but very few suggest that the partner needs their own intervention, or how or where they can get the specific help for themselves.
That’s the +1 Intervention part, and it is simply not something that’s advocated for enough among the recovery literature or the community.
Of course, the messages that are pushed are universally sound. We should be compassionate. Don’t push too hard. Respect the disease. Provide a safe space to recover and heal. All those loving, supportive approaches make sense.
But – and it’s a big BUT – when and where is the limit for the partner? Where is the advocate for the caregiver or family member in these challenging situations? I found very little written about these critical points for the loved ones.
Can setting a firm boundary – drawing a line in the sand, as it were – save a relationship, or possibly save a life? It may be too early to tell, but in this case, where there have been so many previous attempts and continued failures, what is the alternative?
The alternative might be to do what I did years ago, and what Stanley has done too many times: Support, assist, rinse, and repeat some or all of the mistakes, all because you feel that’s the right thing to do. Or perhaps because you consider yourself a fixer, you are someone who does not easily give up, or you are masterful at controlling things. Or perhaps you’re just a good person who thinks you’re doing the right thing … in sickness and in health.
Those are not inherently bad traits. But I promise you, when you are deep inside this forest, you cannot see the trees, and you cannot see what you are missing. The disease of alcoholism can be wily, and alcoholics can become professional at hiding, lying, and covering up their disease.
As the famous adage says: If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” Even if you’re doing all the right things and have all the right counseling and support resources in place, it doesn’t mean it will change the outcome the next time.
It’s important to remember that it’s not your fault. In my experience, I have found that a big part of the problem is there is no adequate support network or help for the family life adjusting post-release from detox or rehab. The support system is in place for the addict, but not the caregivers or family members who now have to make new adjustments and set new expectations and boundaries post-release.
There needs to be joint counseling, alcoholism specialists, therapists, and groups for the alcoholic and the family, the loved ones who are often just praying to themselves: “God, just tell me what I’m supposed to do.” The spouse/family needs help just as much, if not more, than the addict.
Again, I don’t have all the answers, maybe not even one answer. But my experience drove me to share my concept of the 2+1 Intervention Method(™) with others. In doing so, my friends could use the concept to support their friends, which they did with some early success.
This story hasn’t concluded yet, but I’m happy to report that it’s on a different course than the last 10 for the couple. Gary has checked into detox again, and Stanley has an exit strategy to get them into sober support with intensive counseling and an outpatient rehab program on the back end.
Of course, there are no guarantees, and much of the hardest work is on the shoulders of Gary. But there is also hard work for Stanley. It’s hard enough to draw a line in the sand, but it’s really hard to maintain it. Buttons get pushed and change the dynamics. It also can be difficult to love and let go. It can be hard to address one’s codependent tendencies. It can be very tough to set boundaries and limits to one’s kindness and stick to them. But one must. Stanley must.
No one said any of this would be easy. My only ask is for these good people, and others, not to repeat the mistakes of the past. At least try something new and more strident than before. Take better care of yourself, so you can help your loved ones. If you don’t already have a therapist who’s an addiction specialist, and if you can afford it, please seek that out, too. As a firm believer in therapy, you can have more than one expert therapist helping you through these matters of life and death.
On behalf of Gary and Stanley, I know you’ll join me in wishing them luck. As many AA meetings remind us, pray for the alcoholic who is struggling. But I’d like to add a new prayer: Pray for the spouse, who is struggling and give them strength, too.
For my dear friends, who reached out to this couple, offering their support and intervention, my highest praise to you! I often wish that friends or family had sat me down earlier during my dark days of life with my addict spouse … I know I would have handled the situation differently!
I also pray for the 12-step programs everywhere to help the spouse/partner/friend find appropriate help and set appropriate boundaries. We can only help care for others, if we take care of ourselves, too.
If you or someone you know are struggling with addiction, there are resources for you. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA.org) or Alanon (Alanon.org) are available and have provided free support to millions of people. Importantly, as you support the addict, remember to take care of yourself!
This article was published by Stacy D. Phillips on LinkedIn on February 2, 2023.