The advice has become exceedingly popular: “write a letter.” In a time of struggle or confusion, many therapists, coaches, and teachers often advise this practice to help people get clear on things.
Sometimes the letter is written to another person; sometimes it’s written to a younger or older self. Since these letters are rarely shared, the end result of the writing isn’t as important as the process. The letter becomes a vehicle for focused attention, thought, and structure for a specific topic that helps a person create a new level of awareness or growth.
An Intervention Letter Is Different
At Feinberg Consulting, we ask our clients to write a letter as part of the intervention process. It’s no exercise; these letters are read aloud by family members at the intervention and play a crucial role in having a loved one say “Yes” to the treatment he or she needs.
In addiction recovery, there’s a proven recipe for success. The same is true with interventions, as well as with intervention letters. We provide families with a template for their intervention letters that allows them to create a powerful appeal that will strike at the heart of the disease of addiction.
By the time a person who is struggling with addiction reaches the point where intervention is necessary, the disease has created a very strong armor around them that distorts reality and makes it hard for them to see that their family is trying to help. We like to think of interventional letters as “love-piercing arrows” that are sharp and strong enough to penetrate the hard shell of addiction.
The most important part of every intervention letter is the “Love” section. Let’s say Jim was writing an intervention letter to his brother, who is struggling with alcohol addiction. The love portion of Jim’s letter would speak to the reasons he cares so much for his brother. Jim would describe the times when alcohol wasn’t dominating his brother’s life and recall a few special moments the two shared together. These acknowledgments must be sincere, and just as importantly, unattached to the current problems related to his brother’s addiction.
Addiction and Weakness
In the next part of the letter, “Reframing,” Jim would make it clear that he acknowledges his brother’s addiction as a genetic disease that’s separate from character or willpower issues. Jim would also list any family members — current or past — who have also struggled with addiction, creating more space between the disease of addiction and personal weakness.
It’s at this point that Jim would move onto the facts of his brother’s addiction. This isn’t a place to pass judgment or be emotional. He would provide first-hand examples of problems addiction has caused for his brother: DUI, the deterioration of their relationship, etc. Just a few powerful, fact-based examples are sufficient, as each family member will be providing first-hand examples of the havoc the addiction has caused to the life of their loved one.
A Powerful Appeal
The end of an interventional letter is made up of three parts: Commitment, Ask, and Affirmation.
The Commitment section covers a promise of something a family member will do to support their loved one while in recovery. In Jim’s case, this might be attending Al-Anon meetings or visiting his brother during the family weekend while he’s in treatment.
Next, Jim would ask his brother to accept the treatment being offered at the intervention. For our clients, this means presenting a treatment program that’s been vetted by our professionals and appropriately matched to both the needs of both the person struggling with addiction and the resources of the family.
Finally, Jim would give his brother a compelling reason to want to get sober. In this Affirmation section, he might reveal to his brother that he is going to marry his long-time girlfriend in the near future, and he needs his brother to get sober so he can be his Best Man at his wedding.
Life After Intervention
Throughout the intervention process, the main focus is ensuring that a person does, in fact, enter recovery. It has to be, as addiction can be a life or death situation. After a person accepts treatment, however, new feelings can start to emerge. Family members who were a part of the intervention can feel that they “needed” the intervention, too — not because they are battling addiction, but because of the emotions and behaviors, their loved one’s addiction created within them.
As we tell each of our clients, interventions are truly a process, and the impact tends to be wide-ranging. The next step in our family-based recovery process, Family Coaching, helps family members become a force that empowers long-term sobriety and healing for their loved ones.