If you’ve tried reasoning with your loved one, encouraging them to get help, and yet their substance use only seems to be getting worse, it’s possible that the only thing left is to stage an intervention. Most people are familiar with interventions; they’re when you get some family members and possibly some close friends together, confront the person about the obvious damage their substance use is causing, and ask them to accept help.
A lot goes into a successful intervention and you should always enlist the help of an experienced interventionist to guide the process. However, one part of the intervention that you may be deeply involved with is writing an intervention letter. There are two main reasons for writing a letter beforehand. The first is that you want to have something to say and you want to say it without rambling. In other words, you don’t want to find yourself drawing a blank when it’s your turn to speak—after all, it is a form of public speaking—and you don’t want to go off on tangents that eat up everyone else’s time. The second reason is that interventions are often emotionally intense and you don’t want to get drawn into any arguments that might derail the process. With those two things in mind, let’s look at some considerations for writing a powerful intervention letter.
First, it’s critical to open your letter with a sincere statement of love and support. When someone walks into an intervention, they instantly become defensive. It’s important to remember—and to remind them—why any of you bothered to engage in such an unpleasant task. You wouldn’t do it unless you were genuinely concerned for the person and wanted them to be happy. It’s often a good idea to share a happy memory or express sincere gratitude for something the person did for you.
When you’ve expressed your love and support, it’s typically a good idea to follow it with a statement about how their behavior when using drugs and alcohol is at odds with the decent, kind person you know they really are. What’s more, you understand that they have been behaving in this uncharacteristic way because addiction is a disease; one that needs treatment.
After you’ve expressed your love and support and stated your belief that addiction is a disease, it’s time to move on to the meat of the letter: the real harm that drugs and alcohol have caused your loved one, and by extension, their friends and family. There are a few important points to keep in mind about this. The first is that you want to keep your examples as concrete as possible. Value judgments and generalizations open you up to arguments, so stick to facts. Instead of something like, “You’re always getting drunk and starting arguments for no reason,” go with something like, “Last Wednesday, when you were drunk, you were yelling at me so loudly that the neighbors called the police.” You can say that you felt scared, angry, hurt, and so on, but try to refrain from attributing feelings, thoughts, and motivations to the other person.
Next, stick to incidents you’ve experienced firsthand. For one thing, this gives you more credibility since you’re not relying on hearsay and rumors. Another reason is that there is a room full of people who are going to share their own stories and there’s no point relating a secondhand version of their stories.
Finally, resist the urge to embellish or labor your points. The incidents you choose should speak for themselves.
After you’ve shared a few examples of how substance use is hurting your loved one, reiterate that addiction is a disease and ask them to accept treatment. Say that treatment can be effective and life can get better. If they won’t do it for themselves, ask them to please do it for you.
Sometimes it’s necessary to spell out the consequences of not accepting help. This is only done in a small percentage of cases and your intervention specialist will make a judgment on whether an ultimatum is appropriate in your case. If you do give your loved one an ultimatum, you have to be prepared to follow through. If you say that you’ll take the kids and leave unless your spouse accepts help, then you have to do it. Otherwise, they’ll know they can just continue to do whatever they want because your threats are meaningless.
With so much at stake, writing an intervention letter can feel like a huge task, especially if you don’t write very often. To make it manageable, start by breaking it down into the smaller tasks described above. Do a little brainstorming. For example, when you are writing the part describing the effects substance use has had on your loved one’s life, see if you can come up with 20 examples—from those, pick the most striking three to five to detail in the letter.
After you have a first draft of the letter, the real work begins. Put it away for as long as you can, to get a little space. That might not be long under the circumstances. When you look at it again, read it to yourself aloud. When you do that, a lot of awkward phrases will jump out at you. Since you have to read it aloud anyway, you might as well do it early. Make sure to have someone else look at it, so you can get some perspective from outside of your own head. Finally, you will probably have an opportunity to read the letter during a rehearsal or at least to show it to the interventionist. Take their feedback seriously; they have a lot more experience with interventions than you do.
An intervention is typically the last resort, but they often succeed in getting people into treatment. The important points of an intervention letter include opening with love, emphasizing that addiction is a disease, spelling out as concretely as possible the consequences of your loved one’s substance use, and asking them to accept help. At Enlightened Solutions, interventions are one of the many services we provide. To learn more, explore our website or call us today at 833-801-5483.
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