Workshops for Good
Intervention Letter / Samples
Actual Intervention Letter of a Successful Intervention:
Most of my memories growing up with you involve being doubled over with laughter and wiping away tears from laughing so hard. You have the most pitch-perfect sense of humor – always knowing how to cheer me up and make something annoying or frustrating or sad into something hilarious. We had a so many shared experiences, and you always found the “funny” in them. I remember sitting in the backseat with you during family vacations, cracking up. Remember “sane” from Spain? Sane on the left; sane on the right! Remember Spanish class at Marist and “Senora Hague, St. Johnson’s Bay?!” And “consado – contenta!” and work at Fuddruckers – with Mohammed, and “order up please!!” and clogging (remember when you had to go to clogging practice with a horrific wind and sunburn from your ski trip in Breckenridge, in your cub scout uniform – and we would mock Chip Woodall (clap, hey, clap, hey, clap, hey hey!!).
And you were always so fun loving and FUN to be around. I loved when you would come visit me in Boston – in college and in law school, or San Francisco or on all of our ski trips – in Lake Tahoe, in Mammoth, in Utah. I felt like we really bonded as adults and were able to open up to each other, even sharing some of the same friends. You were always so loving, too. I’ll never forget when Paw-Paw died, you were the only one I felt like shared the pain in the same way that I did – and you comforted me then and so many other times when I was having a hard time.
And now as a mommy, I have so many moments as a mommy to laugh about, cry about, scream about, puzzle over, feel like a failure over. I miss being able to share those things with you. I wish we could all continue our ski trips in the winter, and have fun beach vacations in the summer with our kids becoming close as cousins. But these days you are not fun loving. I feel so sad when I hear you constantly complaining about everything – how the world is treating you unfairly, how the bank screwed up again, your friend’s check bounced again, how a creditor took the money out of your account on the wrong day again, how you can’t believe your bad luck, how you just don’t want to talk to me until life is better. And when we do interact, I feel used and lied to and hurt. Remember when you were at Mike’s, watching football, and when we were talking on the phone you slurred your words to the point that they were unrecognizable and then passed out mid-sentence? When I started screaming into the phone in fear, you came to, and made an excuse for the incident. Remember when I came to Atlanta with both kids in tow alone shortly after Gregory was born, and you left many nights to go over to Mike’s – to get high -- instead of spending time with me and the kids? Remember all of the loans that I gave you for car repairs, and even when you set the repayment terms, you didn’t keep them – you sent a check and then asked me not to cash it, or claimed you had the “wrong address” for me even though I’ve never moved, or told me that you just got an overdraft in your bank because the “bank screwed up” again. Remember the mountain of pill bottles that covered your bathroom counter, spilled out of the bathroom drawers and filled most every open space in your bedroom at mom’s house? Remember when you accidentally called me when you were with your friend, just before moving from Atlanta to New York? And you made up some story to explain away what I heard? And when we spoke on your birthday in May – the only time we’ve spoken on the phone since last November – you told me that you were making lots of money, that you had a savings account and had begun a 401k? This, while in reality you in fact didn’t have a bank account at all, had blown through a $7,000 income tax refund in lightening speed and were cashing in _______'s 401(k), having your internet cut off and were behind on all of your bills. I’m so hurt by all of the lies. You’re the only sibling I have, and I really miss you.
You have gone to extraordinary measures to try to hide the addiction, but it is not a secret anymore. I love you and am very concerned about you, and I’m sharing information with everyone who loves you so that I can help you. There are no secrets anymore. I know that you are sick, and you didn’t cause this illness any more than Maw-Maw caused her breast cancer or Dad caused his diabetes. Addiction is a serious disease that runs in our family, and I don’t want to lose you.
I’m so worried about you that I often can’t sleep at night, and have trouble focusing on my work or my family at home. I’m here – far away from my small children who need me – because you need me even more right now. Look around at all of us – this is your family unit. This is where you came from, and you know what is right and what is wrong. You know that this is not the way to lead your life – and this is not the way you want your beautiful daughter, ______ to grow up, in a web of lies and financial ruin due to drugs.
I know you can do this. You have all of my support, and I am rooting for you. Will you please accept the help we are offering today?
Actual Intervention Letter from a successful intervention:
My Dear Son,
On Oct 29th in 1976 at Bayview hospital a big boy was born! I watched his mother reach for him and say, “That’s the most beautiful baby in the whole world!” And you were!! I watched this boy grow and learn and get excited, laugh a lot and occasionally cry and play and work toward goals, develop talents and face disappointments. You fell in love with skiing, enjoyed your musical ability – as I did, developed a kind and sensitive spirit, were unashamed of bending over and kissing your dad on the head in front of your friends even as a 15, 16, 17 and 18 year-old.
When you were little, you had an innate ability to remember how to drive to and from almost any location, learn to play new musical instruments and dance. You won two consecutive annual talent shows at ________ Elementary School. You played baseball, running the bases as fast -- or faster -- than any of your teammates. You went on scouting outings and had many fun adventures/misadventures (like sleeping at _______ Wood after having your tent flooded.) There were many good-quality friends and much laughter and happiness. I loved your gentle spirit and was full of fatherly pride.
As you grew and developed, I knew you would become a good citizen of the world and a credit to yourself and others. As you went off to college in Miami, I was cautiously optimistic. (You had collected some new acquaintances that concerned me – like some of the people with whom you were playing music when you threw a party on _______ Road, lied to me and said all these party-goers ‘just showed up when they heard you and your band were practicing your music.’) I was concerned about your decision-making in absence of guidance, but confident in your ability to get the job done in school with proper focus and directed energy. I became very concerned when I heard about your traffic ticket in Texas, a trip to New Orleans and other unfocussed decisions. When I found out that you were misusing your college money and lying, I was very troubled!
Then you moved in with mom again, lied about attending community college at _________ moved in with a bunch of known druggies, lost all of your music equipment – always blaming others, lost your car, and on and on. As you sank down deeper, I moved you in with me, requiring that you maintain a steady job, and pay a reduced rent, do a few shared chores, and hopefully, develop some career goals and perhaps go back to school. I observed that, at times you couldn’t even keep up with your rent’ borrowed money from others and often didn’t take your turn at your chores. You always had an excuse – which I refused to listen to!
I knew something was amuck, but I was stupid! I thought the money was going for just pot! I remembered our run off of __________ when we found the Cannabis plants growing in terracotta planters and drew a leaf and an arrow. We both laughed and you showed no interest. It was shocking to me to hear that you were using other drugs. You may recall that I aksed you about the rumor passed indirectly through ___________ expressing his concern over ‘other drugs’ you were using. You assured me this was bull and asked me for specifics.
Some friends and clients totally got it! You and Mike appeared to be high at you 2010 birthday party. But I still wasn’t even certain there was a serious problem until the drug prescriptions and resulting narcotic purchases from the scum-bag physician in Southwest ________. I saw how desperate you and ________ were to get a prescription filled. I saw the cash receipts and listened to you attempt to con me! I felt sad as you almost immediately said you were leaving for New York. You said you needed to get away from some of your relationships! You may recall, I said you can find similar people wherever you move to. I was very sad to see you move to an environment I was certain would be no better and perhaps worse. I watched as you and ________ ducked questions about your financial dealings, used your considerable verbal skills to con me out of money and explain away collection calls to my phone number – always asserting that the people doing the collecting were in the wrong and that the bank had made a mistake -- and I believe you tortured yourselves with the knowledge that you were being dishonest and behaving dishonorably.
I cried out loud as I recalled the slurred words in the middle of the day, the trips to client sites when I was certain you were impaired and the interaction with _____ as he asked me not to let you back on the job site. I reacted by telling you our clients need your unimpaired efforts! You didn’t respond!
Son, I love you. You deserve a better life than the one you are living! I keep seeing evidence of the horrible results of your bad decisions – unable to pay rent, buy ______ clothes, food and essentials, always leaving to “run errands,” and all of the times you were “just around the corner from mom’s house.” It was always the same answer when I called after you should have already been home from taking _______ to work late!
As your loving father, I want you to get help for this horrible disease/problem! I want you to become the sweet, sensitive son you used to be. I want you to provide for your sweet unassuming and loving daughter. I want you to be in control of your own life! I want you to be a son and a respected friend and citizen in your community! The key is to address the drug addiction first! That is step one! Please get the help that is being offered here today!
Dad, your loving father
How to write an intervention letter
Interventions are most successful when they are very tightly scripted. For this reason, we like to use letters as a tool for keeping the team members on track. We address this in our guide, “Raising the Bottom: A Family’s Guide to Intervention.”
“During an intervention, emotions can run high. It is most effective if each person writes a letter to the alcoholic to read during the intervention. Letters prevent you from exploding into spontaneous anger or freezing up at the last moment.”
Any hint of anger or blame during an intervention is fatal. The addict will be listening intently for any sign of recrimination, as this presents a golden opportunity to start a fight. Once the anger flares, and an argument ensues, the intervention is destroyed. To guard against this calamity, we use letters to script our remarks, and to maintain a clear and positive tone.
The letters have several parts, which I will describe in detail. But first I’d like to share with you a real letter from a family member that was used during a successful intervention:
We don’t talk about it ever, but I love you very much. I know you love me very much, and you are very proud of me. I wouldn’t be where I am, or have what I have, if it weren’t for you. You taught me that I need to learn how to take care of myself before I rely on anyone else to do it for me. You encouraged me and supported me in my career aspirations. This gave me the confidence I needed to accept job positions that took me throughout the Midwest on my own.
When I went through my major heartbreak with Tom, you were the one whose shoulder I cried on. You were the one I trusted. You helped me get through it.
Dad, your alcoholism has been a part of our lives for a very long time. We didn’t get here overnight. It is running your life. When I call home to check in, if it is too late in the evening, you’re drunk. You get on the phone and your speech is slurred. When we talk later in the week you don’t even remember our conversations. Sometimes you’re passed out, and we don’t get to talk at all.
When I come to visit you, and I’m on my way out to walk the dog, if you’re in the garage I’ll try to wait a little while because I don’t want to catch you secretly pouring a drink. I do this to save you embarrassment. Or else I try to make a lot of noise in the laundry room so you know I’m coming, and you can hide the alcohol.
If I show up at your house late in the evening, you’re drunk. I see it in your eyes, hear it in your speech and watch you move back and forth from the kitchen cupboard to the couch, with an occasional trip to the garage to drink from your hidden supply.
I love you, and I don’t like seeing alcoholism sucking the life out of you. We’re all here together because we want you to accept help. We’re here to help. Will you accept our help today?
Love, Your daughter,
There are several parts to a good intervention letter, and all of them are displayed in the example above. The letter should begin with a simple statement of love and concern. You, as the writer of this letter, are an important part of the alcoholic’s life, so your statement should come straight from the heart.
Next and most importantly, you must recall a time when the alcoholic has been especially helpful to you, or when you have been proud of the alcoholic. Gratitude s the last thing that the addict is expecting to hear. When an intervention begins, the alcoholic will know intuitively what it’s all about. He or she will be on guard, and ready to do anything to derail the intervention. Imagine the surprise on the alcoholic’s face when letters are read that begin with heartfelt memories of pride and thanks. The alcoholic will be completely disarmed. Instead of starting an argument, the addict will often start to weep. This unique element is a key technique of the “Love First” approach.
The next part is optional, and in fact it was not used in the letter cited above, but I like to use it in many cases. In this section, you should make a brief statement about your new understanding of alcoholism as a disease, and your desire for the addict to get help in a formal treatment setting. This statement will have the effect of taking the addiction problem out of the moral sphere and putting it into the medical arena. Here is an example:
“Tom, I’ve taken some time to learn about chemical dependency, and I’ve learned that it is a disease that requires medical treatment. This is not a question of your willpower. It is a question of getting real help for a real illness.”
This should be followed by a statement of facts about the alcoholic’s negative behavior. As Sargent Joe Friday used to say: “The facts ma’am, just the facts.” In this section of the letter, you will need to recall several specific instances that illustrate the alcohol or drug problem. These facts must come from your own first-hand knowledge, not hearsay. They should be the kind of facts that would tell any impartial observer that there was a chemical dependency problem. For instance, our letter quoted above states: “When I call home to check in, if it is too late in the evening, you’re drunk. You get on the phone and your speech is slurred.” The alcoholic cannot argue with first-hand experience.
In the next part of the letter, you will repeat your love and concern, and then ask the addict to accept help for the illness. You may be quite specific about this, and may even name the treatment center that you want them to enter.
When this simple letter format is repeated by all the people on the team, it has a very powerful effect on the alcoholic. Gradually, you will see the addict’s denial slip away. The weight of the facts combined with the loving calm of the group will gently bring the addict into a moment of clarity where he or she can accept help.
Sometimes the alcoholic will want to continue the conversation. It is important that the team stick with their game plan, and have only one person answer the objections to treatment (as noted in the previous article). Often, the silence and self-control of the group will have a confounding effect on the alcoholic. He or she may try to start an argument, but to no avail.
As we have spelled out in our book, Love First, the chairperson must continue to speak for the group after the letters are read. In addition to answering objections, the chairperson will handle any questions that the addict brings up, and will keep the other team members from getting emotionally entangled.
In my experience, very few interventions require the use of a ‘bottom line’ to influence the alcoholic to accept help. However, in about 5% of the cases, it may be necessary.
The bottom line that each team member brings to the intervention can be described as the natural consequence that should follow if the alcoholic refuses help. For example, in an intervention that I facilitated in Florida, the grown son of the alcoholic told me about how terrified his small children were of their drunken Grandfather. The son decided during the planning stages that if his father would not accept treatment, then he would no longer be able to see his grand children. The son was making a difficult decision, but as the father of two small children, there was no other appropriate alternative. Here’s what he said:
“Dad, I’m sorry to hear that you won’t accept the help that we’re offering you today. Obviously, it’s your choice to make. But I cannot continue to subject my two beautiful children to your abusive alcoholic behavior. So, until you complete treatment and become involved in a program of recovery, I cannot allow you to see your grand children.”
Needless to say, the alcoholic was thunderstruck. He blustered and threatened and tried to pick a fight, but no one responded. They let his words hang in mid-air without a reply. Finally, the son said to his alcoholic father, “Dad, your grandkids just want their Pappy back.” Both men started to cry, and the stubborn old gentleman was admitted into treatment that same day.
Take time in preparing you letters. When it comes time to rehearse the intervention, be sure to read them all aloud. Often, other team members will help you to edit out inappropriate statements of anger or blame that you did not intend.
Letters can be a critical part of the treatment process, as well. Many addicts will lie about their use when they finally get into treatment. The intervention team should send copies of their letters to the counselor. In this way, the documented facts will continue to play an important role in the recovery process.
In closing, I want to share a powerful experience I had recently. I was called to a prominent university hospital to facilitate an intervention at a woman’s bedside. This successful female entrepreneur was suffering from cirrhosis, and had recently experienced complete liver failure. Yet she would not accept the need for treatment and recovery. Her doctors were not willing to put her on the list for a liver transplant, because she would not deal with her alcoholism. Her family was at their wits’ end.
Family members flew in from all over the country. The medical team participated as well. The letters that were composed and read by her family were profoundly moving. They told her how much they loved her, even in her disease, and how proud they were of her many accomplishments. Most of all, they recalled instances when she had helped them or inspired them, and this brought tears to everyone’s eyes. Although she was a very tough case, and had a lot of pointed questions about treatment, she finally had a change of heart, and agreed to be transferred into an inpatient center, after her release from the hospital. The assembled group wept with gratitude and love.
Three days later, to everyone’s shock and surprise, she died. At 40 years of age, this bright and successful businesswoman had been killed by chronic alcoholism.
In preparing for the funeral, her family told me how grateful they were. The intervention brought the entire group together as a real family, sharing their love and concern with more honesty than they ever had before. More than that, they were able to tell their alcoholic how proud they were of her, how much they loved her, and how much she meant to them.
As it turned out, they weren’t able to save her life. But they were able to create a moment of grace for her, in which she made the sacred choice to change her life.