Heroin Addiction holds Two Families HostageTurbulence. For myself, it was only in the sky. For the Cain family, it was all about Vanessa. There had been turbulence in her life, and her family’s life, for her entire existence. At first, the turbulence had nothing to do with her. It wasn’t her fault. How could it have been her fault when she was just a little girl and she lacked everything including basic stability and a balanced home? A healthy neighborhood to grow up in and a nice man to point at as her real father was just not in the cards for her. Nobody knew what really set her down the opiate path. If they knew, they wouldn’t have sent me to help them sort out her issues and transport her to rehab. One thing was for certain: the source of turbulence in this family had certainly changed. Vanessa was handing them back what they gave her twenty years earlier. The Cain family had grown tired of suffering from the monster they created. They had grown tired of wondering when the police were going to phone them with bad news. Up until that Boeing 737 landed that night in Atlanta, Vanessa held the cards. She was in control with the power of her disease of addiction. She was the heroin addict who placed her drug far before her concern for her family.
I closed my eyes, thankful I was no longer the one in her position. That was a decade and a half earlier when my self-will ran wild. It was all about me. I only cared about my own plans and designs without any care or worry about the consequence. I had to be in control.
Drug Intervention and the PreparationThat night, with a storm knocking my American Airlines jet all over the dark skies of the Deep South, I had no problem being out of control. What choice did I have? I was on my third Intervention flight that month. There wasn’t anything pleasant about flying for business purposes even with first-class upgrades every other flight. There wasn’t anything pleasant about that intervention for Vanessa either. My goal was to put her into a position where she made her own decision to be clean. The plan was for her to still go to treatment even if she didn’t want to and even if she didn’t like me very much after I did my job. I was far from concerned about what she thought of me. She was going to be withdrawing from heroin. I only cared about the comfort of the family. They paid me to come up to Atlanta, to teach them how to speak to an addict - and under my tutelage - totally neutralize their beloved little princess. I conducted interventions for many reasons. Money was last on my list. Losing an intervention would make me feel like an absolute failure. I never lost because it would take a threat against my life to get me to fold. We only flirted with loss. We only came close to losing when a family changed plans in the midst of an absolute panic. Sometimes it only took one family mistake to turn a routine intervention into a riot.
Pre-Intervention Meeting in Atlanta: No Ordinary Family Gathering at the Cain’sAfter an Uber ride over to one of the upscale areas of Atlanta, I was introduced to sixteen members of Vanessa’s family. The plan was for her to drive up from the downtown Miami area where she lived with her boyfriend, also a heroin addict. So, during the family conference – or pre-intervention session – Vanessa Cain was driving home to drop off her car to get a new replacement from her enabling grandmother. Like she even deserved a new car? She was 23 and had a record a mile long. She was living with a boyfriend who may even have been pimping her out. Regardless of what his role was in her life, he was not my problem. His parents wanted to attend the pre-intervention session with the hopes of figuring out what to do with their son, addicted to everything. The Cain family made it clear to me that the parents of Tommy Shea were temporarily welcome in their home. Both the Cain family and the Shea family wanted their children apart forever and at all costs. I was offered a Publix sub. I reminded the family for the tenth time that because I worked for a company that was performance based (we refund people who we fail to help), I was responsible for constructing the plans of this intervention based on the facts. I didn’t need nor want their help. I just wanted information. I would let them know what would have to take place to get Tommy apart from Vanessa and Vanessa in my car on the way to rehab after I spent the day hearing about this girl’s history. The family was made up of New York Italian transplants. They wanted to argue from the start, all sixteen of them. The button-cute grandmother sat motionless, looking guilty, all day. It was her money that fueled this monster who was likely pulling over hourly to smoke heroin off Interstate 95 as we sat around and conversed around her. My sandwich remained untouched. I don’t eat or drink anything during any phase of an intervention. Perhaps I just never wanted to miss anything by having to leave for the restroom. On my right sat the Shea family, mother and father. They were clueless about everything except one thing. They had made the decision to never spend another dime on their son’s treatment - not towards intervention, not towards detox. But he was allowed to come home. They didn’t feel he was the problem. They felt Vanessa was the problem. On my left sat sixteen angry New Yorkers. The grandmother received a text from Vanessa that she would be arriving at the house to pick up her new Mercedes at 10 AM the following day. “We will meet in the backyard at 9 AM tomorrow,” I said. The Shea family was invited to the intervention as long as they agreed to remain silent. Not even a word to their son. I made the decision to leave them out of all conversations during the pre-intervention. They were there to listen and take instructions. Each and every family member went around the room reading the letter to me that I asked them to construct a week before. When each person took the time to read, one more piece of this addict’s puzzle came to the table in front of me. Everyone wanted to lend their opinion on their little lady and why she was willing to walk the dangerous streets at night in search of a hit. We were building a case, and the intervention was coming to light. I usually looked for the toughest person in the room right away. This is the person who stands by the door to block an alcoholic/addict who decides to run as a response to this harmless confrontation. They are not allowed to touch anyone, but they sure can scream at them if needed. Vanessa’s enormous uncle had volunteered for the task. What the family didn’t know was that she was likely to run just because nobody had ever said “no” to her before. Her uncle was instructed to simply block the doorway with his sheer size alone but not lay a single hand on her. As we made our way through the room, I was properly introduced to her step-father. He claimed he was a retired high-ranking member of the Marine Corp. “Brian, want to see what Vanessa looks like?” he said, reaching for a picture of a potential Sports Illustrated model. When he returned it to the top of the mantle, he accidentally exposed a model 1911 firearm. I wasn’t scared, but I did have an opportunity to show the family who was in charge of this meeting. He complied with my hand gestures, giving the firearm to me. I popped the .45 caliber round into the air, caught it with my left hand, inserted it back into the magazine, and uncocked the hammer, while he looked at me like a 12-year- old who was caught stealing the milk money at school. “Why on earth would you have a bullet in the chamber during an intervention?” I didn’t wait for a stupid excuse. I told him to leave it in his car tomorrow morning as we wouldn’t be needing it. Apart from halitosis, nothing came out of this man’s mouth the rest of the day.
At least the family knew they had their man. I was hired to take full control. Now, while the grandmother had the money that fueled the drug habit, it was the mother who was the one who delivered years and years of insanity and dysfunction to Vanessa.The group all agreed to now focus their attention and efforts on Marla Cain, the mother of the addict. There is nothing that makes an Interventionist feel better than dropping someone off at treatment. Second to that is the feeling of knowing that you have a family completely under your control. I had the Cains right where I needed them and right where they needed to be. See, the theory is, a family can’t accomplish their goals because they have no idea how. The mother stared at me with deep confidence. I was the one who was going to fix her little girl, she felt. I agreed. The whole room agreed. The Shea family felt left out. They were in fact, left out. The mother proceeded to give me a long rant about how incredibly volatile her relationship was with her daughter. Vanessa had not listened to her mother in years. Though Marla raised Vanessa all alone, Vanessa had just seen too much action, too much negativity from her mother to ever trust her again. She had even stolen money from Vanessa. She promised to fund a modeling career for Vanessa when she was 18, but the funds for the modeling agents and photos were spent on crack-cocaine. Vanessa knew this. She had been lied to, pawed at by boyfriends of Marla, cheated, and screamed at by her very own Mother since she was ten years of age. The most difficult thing I had to do at this Atlanta intervention was to explain to her mother why she was absolutely uninvited from having any role in the intervention apart from being a spectator. “WHAT! You have some nerve to suggest I stay on the sidelines while trying to save my kid’s life!” She was quickly comforted by her relatives. I explained to the room that my job was to get Vanessa to treatment. My job was not to put her in a position so that family members could take pot-shots at her. I did not need anyone to turn Vanessa upside down. Vanessa simply had too many traumatic memories and issues with her mother. Marla was going to be a massive target and distraction to her daughter. Everyone in the room knew it. Even the Shea couple humbly agreed with me through their facial expressions. I was not going to risk creating a mother-daughter mess and lose my grip on the room. It was not needed to get Vanessa to rehab. It was wanted by the mother but only because she did not know any better. Again, I reminded her – that was why I was there. She agreed. I recalled asking her if she was willing to go to any length for her daughter to get help. She assured me she would do whatever the family agreed on, even if it is not what she had planned when she asked her family to hire me. The abnormally large group had just witnessed their queen-bee being dethroned. They watched as I manhandled a Vet with a loaded firearm. They had no question about my ability to handle myself. They were dead quiet and waiting for the next surprise.
Preparing for Possible Outcomes of an Intervention: The Only Outcome You Can Plan for is SurpriseWe moved on to simulation mode where we played out all possible scenarios and outcomes of the intervention. I usually conducted interventions with 5-7 family members, each reading their letter on my call. Each with some kind of assignment that I give them. Today I had sixteen family members, not including myself, Vanessa, or her boyfriend Tommy. This was a massive group. The first simulation was based around an incoherent and hysterical Vanessa, and how to handle that. The answer was simple. I would take the relative she was closest with, and the two of us would isolate Vanessa until she calmed down. The family felt that this was the likely scenario. I disagreed. I felt she would run as soon as she heard the dreaded word “no” when she presented her counter-offer to me and I declined it. We prepared for her bolt, based on my advice and experience. The uncle at the doorway was not to touch her but only to plead with her to sit down. The rest of the room was to do nothing but watch. My job would have been to run down that hot summer pavement in my Ferragamo’s, blisters building on my feet, and get her to calm down and sit in the grass with me. I would want her to cry, to tell me her problems, her plans, her regrets. I would need and want information from her in order to help her. This is when I would get it. The family shrugged their heads at me. They didn’t feel she would run. I told them to expect her to run. That was the likely case. The unlikely case would be for her to accept our offer of help and to get in the car with us to the treatment center in New Orleans. Earlier in the day, I reviewed many letters from all of the family. Some too long, some perfect. I warned them that after two or three letters, Vanessa would lose her cool and start to bargain. Again, the family insisted she would stay put. Marla, the mother, told me that her daughter was going to respond very well to me because I had similar facial features to her family. I scanned the room and politely agreed. “See everyone bright and early tomorrow.”
Intervention Day – The Cain Family in AtlantaI had the grandmother send them a text. They were an hour away. I pleaded with them to let me do all of the talking. I would call on each family member to read their letter in the order I had suggested. It was time for a short break. Everyone was nervous. I was nervous because the size of the family meant one thing: The odds of everyone acting how they needed to act were not great. Most of the family was very kind. They wanted me to do my job and get her out of there. We waited and waited for Vanessa and her boyfriend Tommy to cross the state line, smoke more heroin, and keep driving. It was intervention day, and the thoughts in my head were the same as they always were – anything goes: I overheard 3-4 different uncles discuss how they were going to remove Tommy the boyfriend, from the group…by his head. I watched the Grandmother prance around the room and feed people as if she wasn’t the primary enabler and primary source of drug cash for Vanessa, like this wasn’t all her fault. I hugged the mom who was crying, rocking back and forth like an Orthodox man at the Western Wall, and swore to her that her daughter would have a better life today and going forward. I shrugged off advice from nieces and aunts on how to handle Vanessa when she screams in my face, which she never did anyways. A car pulled into the driveway, screeching to a halt. Out came two young people, screaming at each other like they were fighting over their last slice of pizza. In this case, they were likely fighting over their last dollar. Or maybe they were fighting about how they would take a loan out on the new car they thought would be waiting for them in her family garage. In stumbled a girl who looked like she had just walked out of a three-day rock concert. Behind her was a very underweight and seemingly high, Tommy Shea. No wonder the uncles were so willing and eager to get their hands on this guy. He was tiny and defenseless. Vanessa didn’t look anything like the glamorous pictures her grandmother had put up the money for. The pictures sat all over the house. They must have been from the last time she was clean because she looked great in them. According to her family and what they told me on family day, her last effort to stay clean was supposed to be based around getting a real job. Instead, she was somehow able to convince the grandmother to get her an apartment in Miami and put up the money for a modeling career. Somehow, she met Tommy and heroin – again. Her hair was matted. There was dirt under all ten of her fingernails, connected to small feminine hands. Black and dark grime. Her clothes were stained. Her Lululemon pants had a hole on her knee the size of a silver dollar.
Loving Someone enough to Intervene in a Heroin AddictionShe ran down her family hallway without a care in the world. “Hi Uncle Jimbo, what are you doing here?!” “OMG Aunt Gloria!” “Is everything ok?” She cocked her head at me like a poodle does when you ask it if it wants to go for a walk. “No, things are not ok. But they will be,” I said. I explained to her that her family had grown tired of worrying about her and her drug problem. I told her that she wasn’t under any obligation to do anything at all, though it would be deeply appreciated if her family could take the time to each explain to her how much they loved her and cared about her. “Ok,” she said, with puppy dog eyes. I looked at her. I nodded my head slightly and said, “Yeah?” She had confirmed. I now had an intervention. She had agreed to be at the mercy of an outsider and her family without any further questions or demands. I placed her on the black leather couch in between the two least harmful, but warmest people in the room– two of her aunts. Both grabbed her hands and caressed them. “Vanessa, would it be ok if your grandpa read you his thoughts first?” I said. She looked at me and agreed. (I gestured towards her cousin to grab her keys and wallet from the table, which Vanessa was too shocked and upset to notice.) After requesting that her grandfather look directly at her when he read his letter, he reached under his lazy-boy chair and held out a handful of childhood pictures of Vanessa. While this was unexpected and not in the plans, I was forced to go along with it. He started to shake, fell back into his chair and was hysterical. The Shea boy wilted. Vanessa looked at me with her eyes full of tears. Tears running down her face, Vanessa stood up and looked at me and said, “Is this about me going back to rehab?” I replied, “No! If you choose to go to rehab, that’s a smart move. This is just about you listening to your family as they each took the time to put their thoughts and concerns on paper. YOU agreed to hear them all, and I think that is really sweet of you. Are you willing to let them resume as you said?” “Yes, yes, of course I am. It’s ok. I am sorry,” Vanessa said, as if she owed us something. “Great!” I said, and I smiled at her with everyone in the room as well. Both of her aunts who flanked her, hugged her, and held her. One cried. The grandfather started reading the letter. He got through the first paragraph, and then the second, and wiped his eyes and looked at me for approval. “Vanessa, I want your cousin Maria to read her letter to you next. Is that ok?” “Uh-huh,” stated Vanessa. Maria approached Vanessa and gave her a big hug and started to read her letter in a very professional manner. Before Maria could start her letter, Vanessa said, “I am not going anywhere without Tommy. I don’t want to hear what anyone has to say until I know that I don’t have to leave Tommy.” Tommy sat there, with his parents close, shaking with tears running down to his jeans. I explained to the Shea parents that the family would really appreciate it if they took him to lunch alone and came back in a few hours to give us time to focus on Vanessa. They couldn’t have agreed more. The two young drug-lovers decided to take control of the meeting by deciding the opposite. Right before I could do my job and calmly get Tommy out the door the step-father (minus the gun, I thought) decided he wanted to be an interventionist. He got up, walked over to Tommy, placed his hand on his sidearm and told him to “get the hell out of the house” louder than a hand grenade exploding. The Shea family was gone. After he left, I immediately explained to Vanessa that we had zero opinion on what she does with her love life, we just want to help her first, try to see if she is willing to get clean, and at that point she would be able to make her best decisions on men. She wailed and wailed, and nearly lost her voice. “Vanessa, with your permission I would like your cousin to read her letter.” In one ear, out the other. “But I want Tommy now!” And she stood up and ran for the back door, past the uncle who was in the kitchen eating pretzels and not guarding the door. “Let her go please!” I urged the family. “She is just upset, I will handle it, stay here please!” The family complied. I warned them. It was all part of my plan, although I did not know exactly when. Then the Mother stood up. “Marla,” I said, “Marla!” “Sit down, Marla. I am going to go get her and will be back when she calms down.” In one ear, out the other. Like a linebacker trying to get his first sack of the season, she tackled her daughter down to the grass. Both of them were wailing. The intervention had changed its course. I never worry about situations like this for myself. I know that sometimes if people get very upset, they will crash and burn and then start to listen.
See, on occasion we will have someone get drunk on a plane or take a handful of pills right before the intake process at their treatment center. It is totally understandable. The problem is that Vanessa wanted hard drugs, and she had to buy them in order to use them. She didn’t possess anything.
Well at least she doesn’t main-line the stuff, I thought. And she didn’t. She went through each bag like chewing a small pack of gum. She agreed to treatment. We arrived on the detox side as we were instructed to do so. Her brother got her bags out of the trunk. I looked at the grandmother in disgust, like I always look at the primary enabler. Disgust, but understanding. She grabbed my hand and apologized.Vanessa, on the other hand, was in the backseat, upside down, flicking the lighter for that last resin hit. Over and over I pleaded with her to leave the vehicle. Two nurses, both in recovery from addiction, stood in amazement as they watched this poor girl breathe in nothing but lighter fumes, over and over. “This is why you and I still go to 12 step meetings,” I said to one of them. “Uh, yeah, it’s like looking into a mirror from a decade ago,” she said. Vanessa took my hand, and we walked into the facility. She knew it was all over. What she didn’t know was that it was over forever. At the time of this writing, Vanessa has been clean and sober for four years, has a full-time job as a real estate agent, and maintains a healthy relationship with her family – including myself.