The tragic suicide of country singer Mindy McCready early this week is becoming far too common of a tale. Her long struggle with drugs became primetime entertainment when she did a stint on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” Her addiction and the fallout from it overshadowed her 18-year career. It’s no secret, the effects of drugs have always taken a huge toll on popular culture. But what’s often misunderstood is treatment and recovery from addiction is very seldom a onetime fix. It’s usually a lifelong, up and down journey, taken one step at a time.
A United Nations report from 2012 stated drug abuse kills an estimate of 200,000 people worldwide each year. The most recent accounts of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), tells us about 10 percent of the United States’ population has abused or is addicted to drugs or alcohol. According to recoveryconnection.org, 27,802 South Carolinians entered drug and alcohol rehab in 2010, the latest figures available. Admittedly, these numbers are deceiving because these are the people who found help and were treated for substance abuse – the actual numbers are hidden around us, in our families and friends and coworkers and neighbors who struggle with addiction without seeking treatment.
Right now, you are surrounded with people battling to stay sober or besieged with disturbing thoughts that result in destructive behavior. It may be someone working beside you, living with you, sleeping in the next room or on the other side of your bed. Some of them will battle the rest of their lives to stay sober or stay away from this destructive behavior. Some will lose these battles. And when they do, they’ll need help. Whether they know it or not, it takes a team to untie them from the chains of addiction. But when these family members, colleagues or close friends falter and all seems hopeless, when you don’t know what to do, when you’re at the end of your rope, when you feel your only move is to walk away and write them off – enter Ken Seeley.
Seeley is one of the nation’s foremost interventionists, featured on the A&E show aptly titled “Intervention,” and he’s the founder of Intervention 911 – an organization which provides interventions, which attempts to gather the loved ones of an addict or a person in crisis to persuade them to seek professional help. Intervention 911 also offers treatment referrals, sober escorts and long-term solutions. He’s bringing his wealth of knowledge to the Grand Strand to speak to students at Coastal Carolina University and to give the keynote address at Horry Georgetown Technical College’s Addiction and Recovery lecture series on Thursday. Seeley brings experiences from both sides – he’s also a recovering crystal meth addict. We also tapped the founder of this lecture series, Casey King, to participate in our discussion involving interventions as an introduction to addiction treatment. Along with organizing this event, King teaches physics, astronomy, algebra and trigonometry at HGTC and ITT Tech. King is also a recovering addict.
Choosing the right professionals to help with recovery makes all the difference. It’s very common for addiction specialists to be recovering addicts themselves. It’s a community of sponsors and sponsees. With this community in mind, King organized HGTC’S annual Addiction and Recovery lecture series. It’s three weeks of lectures and education, leading up to a panel discussion of students, faculty and staff – all recovering from addictions and disorders. This discussion engages the day-to-day process of recovery and healing from the crushing blows of addiction.
Intervention Step 1: Planning
An intervention can be a volatile environment. Often the subject of the intervention feels betrayed and directs intense anger and resentment towards the members of the intervention team, who are most likely the people closest to him/her. It may even build to violence. It is essential to have a professional in the room. Seeley is a Board Registered Interventionist – Level II, which means he’s trained to deal with all addictions from drugs and alcohol to eating disorders, sex, gambling, hoarding and pretty much anything else someone could be addicted to.
Usually an intervention requires a house-call and Seeley has seen his share of the world on his mission. He’s traveled to every state in the U.S., some multiple times, the Caribbean Islands and last New Year’s Eve he was in England doing an intervention. He tells us it’s all too often a family gets so far gone that they just give up on their afflicted family member. “This is heartbreaking. They tried everything to help – gave them money, jumped when they said to jump. They’ve walked on eggshells, listened to all the demands the addict puts on them. Finally they just say it is over and give up,” he says. “This is the tough part. If you really want to save them you have to put consequences in place and work with a skilled and trained interventionist in order to create an intervention with love and respect.”
Seeley tells us there has to be limits when you’re dealing with an addict. He calls these limits, “bottom lines,” like drawing a line in the sand of their addiction, setting a boundary that addict must stay inside of. He explains, “It’s very hard for loved ones to put consequences or bottom lines. It’s easier to walk away. But the result can be life threatening. If you create bottom lines that are consistent, we have a chance for the addict to hit a rock bottom and surrender to recovery. We all have to do it in order to recover. No one I know wakes up and says today is a great day to get sober and stop using. Something negative happened in their life that created the pain to make them want to change.”
The local Addiction and Recovery lecture series’ founder, King looks at the logistics of the situation, on the planning of an addict’s future. “Every Thursday, The Sun News publishes contact information for people who need help. The area is overflowing with 12-Step meetings of all kinds. Usually it costs a dollar to attend and even the dollar is optional. There are also local institutions that are close by. This area is fortunate because so much help is available if it is wanted.”
Intervention Step 2: Gathering information
In order to help someone, you have to know how to help them. Do the research, look for tell-tale signs of abuse, get information about specific programs and be ready to stand your ground in support of your loved one. Seeley says the signs and behaviors are pretty obvious with addiction if you know what to look for. “If they’re not interested in things that use to excite them, if they’re not showing up to work or family events or even present (mentally) when they do show up,” he says. “If they’ve become short-fused or given up on making their goals a reality or given up on their past interest.”
King agrees the signs are usually obvious but says, “The hard part is to not dismiss the signs. We all have an innate tendency to deny and many times, this leads to enabling.”
And addictions are not always as cut and dried as booze and illegal drugs. “Today we are dealing with a huge problem with prescription medication addiction. CNN reports every 19 minutes someone in this country dies from it,” Seeley says. “Add sex addiction as another one that is hard to recover from.”
So, are drug issues geo-specific? Do different areas see different problems? Seeley says no. “Ten years ago, I’d see more heroin on the East Coast and meth on the West Coast. Now I see everything everywhere.”
So what approach does Seeley suggest as the most adaptable and the most sustainable? With a herd of addiction specialists constantly writing books and touting new programs, Seeley reverts to a program that’s been around since 1939. “I’m open to many of them but the one I see help the most with long term statistics is 12-Step,” He says. “If someone tries and cannot make it with the 12-Step, I’d try other options, but most important is that long term care is available for all of them. The 12-Step model is lifelong support.”
The 12-Step program outlines a long-term spiritual and physical recovery plan where the addict must accomplish actions on the way to making amends with themselves and the community that has been affected by his or her addiction. The program offers constant support for the addict and the co-dependants of the addict.
Whatever programs the addict chooses, Seeley advocates a five-year plan – this plan is not unlike court ordered, drug diversion programs where drug offenders are required to seek treatment for drugs, drug education, pay restitution and perform community service. In this plan, there’s room for modification of treatment, random drug testing and addict accountability. This type of five-year program has also been seen with doctors who become addicted to substances. And pilots who have an issue with addiction are placed on a ten-year program. Seeley says, “The longer people are accountable to recovery, the better the chance they have. Studies and statistics show these programs work and all of these programs are documented with protocol.”
Intervention Step 3: Forming the intervention team
When putting your team in place, it’s important to remember that addiction is not an amoral issue. It is a medical issue. Everyone involved also needs to understand that this is not a curable issue, but it is essential that it’s treated and continues to be treated. The delivery of your message during an intervention needs to be prepared and consistent.
But can there be a blueprint for interventions, can you use the same criteria and select the same sorts of teams each time? “I think it’s different all the time. Really getting to know the family system and using the tools you have for each one is very important,” Seeley says. “Each family system is different and may require a different model of intervention. It’s best to be trained in many different ways to intervene.”
“I’ve learned there is absolutely nothing that can be done until the person recognizes the need for help and seeks it out,” King says. “There are theories that suggest it’s actually counter-productive to try to force help on a person.”
But isn’t an intervention an elaborate plan to force someone into getting help? What makes the object of an intervention seek help?
Intervention Step 4: Deciding on specific consequences
“This is where the consequences come into play, the rock bottom they have to hit,” Seeley says. “We can wait for the natural progression of the disease or we can intervene and hopefully catch it before it’s too late.”
These consequences are the key point to the fourth step of intervention. “Think of other diseases,” Seeley says. “If symptoms arise, the patient will do anything to recover. With addiction, it’s a mental disease and the patient goes into denial. Emotional discomfort is only thing I see that motivates them to lean towards recovery or even get them to start the process. Too often, they get help, the pain subsides and they feel better. Their mind tells them they’re OK and do not need any more help. And they fall back into the addiction.”
This is why Seeley is such a proponent of the five-year plan of recovery. “With long term accountability like diversion programs, it gives the patient a hard bottom line for years,” Seeley says. “It’s been proven to be successful for close to 30 years. It really is simple. We just complicate it with the addict dictating what they feel they need.”
Intervention Step 5: Writing down what to say
On the reality TV show, “Intervention,” the families write these tear-wrenching letters. People bawl their eyes out and the addicts roll their eyes until someone says that something that changes their mind and makes them pack a bag for rehab. But Seeley has already admitted, interventions are dirty snow flakes where no two are the same. But who is the most affected by addiction, what demographic? Who are we talking to? What should we say?
“The average age is between 18- 50,” Seeley says. “13 is the youngest call I received wanting help with;. 82 is the oldest person I helped. She said ‘her family was strong and would not let her just die.’ She did get help and did quite well.” Seeley goes on to say, “At any age, if you see the signs please don’t wait, you can catch this in the early stages.”
But King has seen a much younger demographic. “It’s been my experience that the most common range of ages is 4-to-17-years-old. I have seen more than one instance of children being provided alcohol in their sippy-cups who later become addicted,” King says. “The least common is someone in their later years developing an addiction.”
King describes how sometimes we let our minds get clouded and lose focus on what’s important. Addicts should be reminded to clear their minds and reset their priorities. “A person must make recovery their top priority even over their family or their job or other aspects of their life,” he says. “Sometimes it turns out that what was previously given the top priority was actually a main contributor to the problem.”
As far as what to say and write to implore an addict to seek help, Seeley says, “Love is the best way to answer that. If you’re coming to them with love and respect it helps the fear of the unknown they’re feeling subside.”
King has a more pragmatic approach. “The best thing to do is minimize the damage on a personal level. I have personally seen families overcome by the legal and financial issues surrounding the addicted person’s behavior and in the end, the addicted person is still no better off,” he says. “In terms of an intervention, two options are presented. Get help and we’ll stick with you or continue your addictions and go it alone.”
Intervention Step 6: The intervention meeting
One of the key elements of an intervention is surprise. This means the family needs to partner with the interventionist on every step of the process. In our conversations with Seeley, we found out sometimes the families are more saboteurs than partners. “It breaks my heart. We have the tools and knowledge to help but it’s difficult to hold a bottom line,” Seeley says. “I get it, it seems like you’re going against your loved one. Some people just cannot hear or see that what they’ve been doing isn’t working but they won’t try something else that may yield a different result. This is when co-dependency kills the addict.”
Seeley seems to get very passionate about families not willing to break their destructive dynamic. “Sometimes I want to wave my hands in the air and give up when families cave in. I have seen it, over and over. Once the addict starts sounding better or looking better they cave, ‘Let me see what the addict wants,’ like they know?” he says. “What they’ve been wanting has been killing them. It may not feel good but it could save a life. Why let them dictate treatment? You think the trained professionals that dedicate their lives to work in the field know less than the addict? It doesn’t make sense but that’s why it’s so hard to recover.”
King thinks you need to be firm with them getting treatment but flexible with what treatment the addict chooses. “What works for one person may not work for another. It’s best left to the person beginning recovery to determine what works best for them,” He says. “When they find what works, it’s their responsibility to continue it.”
Seeley has made it his mission is to reaffirm the accountability of recovery. “My goal is to get the message in every household that if you have an addiction or a loved one with an addition put some bottom lines between them and the disease to help support their recovery.”
Intervention Step 7: Follow-up
Seeley tells us it doesn’t matter what type of addiction it is, “They’re equally hard to recover from.” He believes it’s a matter of motivation and “support from friends and family in their recovery process.”
That’s what this step is all about, making recovery a lifestyle. As an addict, you are always recovering. King believes it is the responsibility of addicts to “remove themselves and not put themselves in uncomfortable situations,” that may compromise their sobriety. “There’s no clear cut answer why some people can recover and others spend the remaining years trying to recover. For many, it’s the realization that death is imminent as a consequence of their addiction. That’s their moment of clarity.”
Seeley sees a bit of a hierarchy concerning the issue of recovery. “There seems to be high statistics for success in licensee professionals – doctors, lawyers, nurses, pilots, pharmacists and so on. Also those in drug court programs,” he says. “They all have random testing and reporting necessary to keep them in recovery. It’s sad these programs are so successful and some states lost funding for something that has a proven success rate.” It is listed on Seeley’s Web site, www.intervention911.com, that the success rate with these long-term treatments is approximately 80 percent. Whereas, depending on the area, 40 to 60 percent of people treated in less than 90 days relapse at least once.
But Seeley thinks this five-year plan can still find a place in everyone’s treatment, to monitor and modify treatment as needed, to add intensive case management. In this plan, the placement of an interventionist and a case manager are important to remain objective, so the family can be emotional. “Long-term care is the missing link of education to the family members. We need to get this message out there to save so many people’s lives,” he says. “What a great goal to have, saving another life one at a time.”
Making the connections
Before coming to the Grand Strand and becoming a teacher and the host of the Addiction and Recovery lecture series, King worked for the U.S. nuclear regulatory commission as a radiation specialist in Chicago. It seems he’s found his calling here though, as a teacher and an organizer for something he’s clearly passionate about.
“Almost everyone has had a connection to addiction and recovery at some point, so about six years ago, I found myself wanting to give something back, probably has to do with maturing and evolving as a person,” he says. “I play no part in this series other than bringing it together. Every year it seems to get easier.”
But King is more of a realist than a radical. “This isn’t a temperance movement. The goal isn’t to get all these addictions removed from society. That’ll never happen. My goal is to be a conduit between the recovery community and the members of the general public that want help.”
And because of the connections King has made in the last six years of this lecture series, he has been able to help when people have reached out to him.
As far as the lecture series goes, “Anyone interested in the topic is invited. It was designed to be a completely open door. The ones who mostly attend are students, medical professionals, members of the recovery community and family members of abusers,” he says.
“The ones who never attend are the ones who still abuse. I’ve yet to see a person in the audience who appears intoxicated. I think because they are usually the last one to know or admit they have a problem. To them, this series has no relevancy at all.”
The lecture series is a three week event, Seeley kicks off Thursday, followed on Feb. 28 with lectures by Tom Burney, the clinical director of the 15th Judicial Circuit drug court, and Dan Schoettle, recently named Councilor of the Year by the South Carolina Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors.
King is really excited about the events on March 7, the last night of the series.
The finale is reserved for HGTC’s students, faculty and staff who are recovering from addiction and various disorders to participate in a panel discussion about taking recovery one step at a time. The recoveries spanning the last six years have included drugs, alcohol, cutting, bulimia and anorexia. “As a male, I was unaware of how deeply we’re affected by the food-related addictions and I feel the topic is under-covered,” he says. “One of the speakers last year was 21 years-old and had already had a liver transplant due to her anorexia. She is doing well, still in counseling and will be speaking to a group of students at Socastee High School this month.”
“I have yet to have a speaker turn me down. I know Ken Seeley will do a wonderful job.”