Mike Loverde is President and Founder of Family First Intervention, Inc. Mike Loverde’s own intervention is told below by his actual drug intervention counselor.
The Interventionist’s Story
Having performed many interventions in the past, most situations you walk into aren’t a mystery. It only took a few moments speaking with Mike’s mother, Florence, to see the whole picture. Late 20s heroin addict living at home, stealing her possessions, 19 rehabs, promising to quit for years. Most people think that an intervention is about the addict. Families often want us to come out and magically inspire a drug addict enough to want to change his life forever. The problem, though, is this: were I able to speak words of wisdom that would touch the very soul of a drug addict to the point that he was driven to tears, it wouldn’t be enough. Two days later, withdrawing from drugs in detox, the addict will completely forget my inspirational speech, get uncomfortable, leave treatment against medical advice, and come home. In Mike’s case, it was the same…a mother who had tried everything else threw out a hopeful roll of the dice. She kept telling me: “I think Mike will listen to you. I think he’ll relate.” Inside, I knew what she was thinking. Maybe this interventionist could inspire him. Maybe this time things will be different. I wish inspiration was all it took. My job would be easy.
Interventionist Family Day
Arriving the day before the intervention, I spent several hours with the family. What they saw as the problem was that Mike was destroying the family. This was all about Mike. When you are an interventionist, you are disconnected enough from the family that you can see things differently. Many times, what you see is a hopeful picture where a substance abuser has all the variables in place for a successful intervention, followed by a commitment to treatment. But in this case, what I saw but couldn’t tell them at the time, was a much bleaker picture. I saw that if the family continued to do as they had always done, Mike would probably agree to treatment, but he would leave within days, going back home. He would create a scenario where he would be the victim or “in trouble” enough to pull Mom’s heartstrings so she would crumble and let him back in the house, the same house where Mike had used heroin for the last 4 years. The biggest problem was that I believed in my heart that this family probably would do as they had always done. Tomorrow, Mike will agree to go, and they will thank me as he goes off to treatment. But within days, I will get a phone call from Florence telling me that Mike left or got kicked out of treatment and was now on the couch and high again, that she had to let him back in the house. She would say that he was dirty, begging, and crying. She would say that she couldn’t bring herself to just throw her son away. This was what was going to happen…I knew it in my heart.
Preparing for the Intervention
There is a motto in the field of interventions: “Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.” The only chance I (and Mike) had was to convince this family of a particular truth in order to change their behavior. This truth was something that many families have trouble understanding. Many families feel that their loved one is “safer” if he is within their home, that somehow they can protect their loved one from serious harm. They are wrought with the fear that if he leaves the home or ends up on the streets, that he will be dead within days. In reality, the odds of Mike overdosing actually increased exponentially if he stayed in their home. Their home had now become a “dope house” for Mike. The money he could have spent on food, shelter, or survival was being covered by the family, leaving just enough to support his daily habit. And every time he shot up in their bathroom or the basement, he was conditioning himself to associate those surroundings with the idea of getting high. Mike’s chances of long-term sobriety in this home, as beautiful as it was, were near zero. Educating the family on the nature of addiction, the Jellinek curve, and the biochemical effects of heroin on the brain—none of these were anywhere near as important as this one simple thing. Mike could not return to the family home, no matter what decision he made, and this was a point I continued to repeat over a 10 hour session. At the end of the day, both myself and the family, being mentally and emotionally exhausted, retired and prepared for the following day. Gathering my papers, I knew that rationally the family understood the points presented, but again I doubted if they were prepared emotionally to do what was necessary. Few families truly are when it comes down to an intervention of this type.
On a heroin intervention, it is usually best to perform the intervention after the addict has taken the morning “fix”. Try and do it before, and they’ll never hear a word you say, their anxiety will rise and all their focus will be on getting high again. With Mike, we planned to meet on Memorial Day at around noon. He would already be high and I would arrive as a “family friend” just visiting for the holiday. Like clockwork, Mike got up that morning and left to get high. Like clockwork, he arrived at noon, with the slightly oily sheen common to most heroin addicts. Interestingly enough, a late stage heroin user like Mike actually appears quite normal when using. The days of slurring his words and nodding on the couch have long been gone for him. Now he only uses to “feel normal.” Greeting Mike, we began the intervention. The family began to read heartfelt letters. Although each letter was emotionally powerful, it was his father’s letter, read through tears, that hit Mike the hardest. Just like clockwork, Mike agreed to go to treatment. All heroin addicts willingly agree to go to treatment, for every day is a hell for them and deep inside they want out. However, statistically, only a small percentage of heroin addicts stay through the uncomfortable detox. Fewer still continue treatment after detox, for they feel that “all they needed was to get off the dope.”
After a several hour transit, we arrived at the detox facility. Due to a breakdown in communication, the detox facility would not be administering medications for Mike to “easily” come down off the heroin. In other words, Mike would be quitting cold turkey. Looking me in the eyes as he pulled his suitcase into the building, he said: “This time, I’m going to do it. I’m really going to try.” Looking back at him, the sad reality was that he probably was telling the truth…at the time. Eight hours later, forgetting his promises, forgetting his father’s tearful letter, and oblivious to my inspirational speech, Mike checked himself out of detox and found the local drug dealer. He was back on the streets and heading back home.
Tough Love Intervention
When I got the call from Mike’s mother, you could hear the frustration, anxiety, and fear in her voice. The familiar feeling of helplessness came back to her and she kept asking me what to do. Knowing what was to follow, I suspected she wouldn’t hold firm. First the phone calls, then the arrival back home. Could Florence shut the door on Mike? Did she have the ability to hurt her son in order to help him? That day, every hour was spent with another call from Florence. “He’s calling now, what should I do? He says he’s coming home, what should I do?” Call after call, and then nothing. This was the moment I dreaded. When this happens, it usually means the addict is back at home, and the mother doesn’t want to call because she is ashamed, having not stuck to the plan. So, I waited. The following day, I received a call from Florence. Just as predicted, Mike showed up and begged. But this time, instead of letting him in, she did something that days before she was incapable of: she called the police. Upset, Mike left but continued the phone calls. Holding her ground, Mike eventually crumbled: “Fine, I’ll go anywhere you want.”
I am proud to say that I was witness to Mike’s recovery. After detox, he entered a six-month treatment program out of state. Resistant at times, Mike would try to return, but his mother remained firm: “You can’t come home.” Forced to take responsibility for his life and his actions, Mike paid off all his debts, made up the damage to his family, and eventually dedicated his life to helping others. And not just drug addicts or alcoholics like him, but more importantly, his focus is on helping families like his. For it wasn’t until Mike’s family changed that Mike truly began his journey into recovery. It’s never the addict who needs help first. It is always the family first, always.