In Hollywood it's not about what they say, but what they do. The PR facade bumps up against the one played out in headlines and YouTube and tragically, obituaries. This week the headlines are Casey Johnson, but about four Hollywood minutes ago it was Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, and Brittany Murphy. There will be more, I promise.
There will be a steady stream of these stories until we start to comprehend this important truth: What you have been trying doesn't work. You can get someone to stop using drugs. You can motivate someone to stop drinking. You can help them stop their downward spiral. You have more power and more options with a loved one than you believe, because as you sit and wait for them to "hit bottom" they do, and they die. I am one of them who lived and changed and thrived. My name is Brad. I am a recovered drunk, junkie and bulimic and I am here to tell you how to change someone you love.
NEWS FLASH: Casey Johnson dead. Cue toxicology report.
Every very time a celebrity death hogs the headlines it calls attention to the enormous suffering that one goes through when they battle addiction and mental health issues. We don't know what killed Casey yet but we do know that she had a long history of substance abuse problems and made several attempts at rehab. We also know that in the weeks leading up to her death all the usual suspects of collateral complications from full blown addiction showed up - alienation from family and friends, erratic behavior, chaos, legal problems and reclusive withdrawal. This is the hell that is addiction. I know because I have been there.
Every sketchy spot in Casey's life scrutinized by the media since her death are things I dealt with first hand when I used to binge on crystal methamphetamine or go on drinking benders. Friends "got" to me and I wound up in treatment. Like Casey, I tried more than once. I think that the largest misperception about addiction is that rehab and traditional treatment will be enough. This is deadly nonsense. After examining my own experience I decided to devote my life to helping families bring lasting and meaningful change to loved ones but first I had to help shift the paradigm of change. Why do we wait for the one who is not thinking clearly to think him or herself into a smart decision?
This is not scientific. It's a myth based on conventional wisdom. And it can get you killed.
When I meet with families across the country, they are hurting. Most are at their wits end and believe they have "tried everything". Most arrive on my doorstep talking about letting someone needing to "hit bottom" or "want to change." This "bottom" that you hope your loved one will hit may very well end like Casey's. Would you look at a cancer patient and tell them that we have to wait for their disease to advance further before we step in? No way. So why do we treat the disease of addiction - the third leading killer in America - the chronic condition of 20 million Americans - differently? Why do we see someone drowning and talk ourselves out of throwing them a life preserver? Because unlike cancer, where friends and family rally around the patient and pray for them and send wishes and immediately step in to help with whatever is needed, the by product of addiction symptoms on family and friends is cunningly devastating. By the time a diagnosis is clear, compassion is hard to come by as the addict has usually put an inordinate strain on any loving relationships - not to mention the legal troubles, financial woes, and emotional tsunamis that frequently arrive. I know because I was that person.
But I think when celebrity addiction is in the news it's an important teaching opportunity. Right now a good percentage of people reading this know someone in need of help. In my work I teach families four simple steps:
• Craft a Circle of Change -- Use the natural influence of friends, family and even co-workers to move a resistant loved one toward change
• Deliver the Invitation to Change -- Invite your loved one to grab the preserver, that is, take actions necessary for change to begin
• Champion the Change -- Enable in positive ways your loved one through his or her transformation so that change sticks
• Care for You -- Nurture yourself so that you stay physically and emotionally strong, mentally alert and spiritually centered
We can apply these steps to anyone suffering with multiple problems: addiction to drugs, gambling, food sex, hoarding, etc. I also teach that relapse is a natural element of this disease and its part of the pathway to recovery. I didn't get clean and sober on the first try - but it's now seven years from the day it clicked for good. Most likely your loved one is going to have to try a few times to get it right. Expect setbacks. Work to avoid them but be prepared for them when they occur. Move forward despite feeling discouraged, without judgement. When you make a wrong turn while driving does your GPS berate you? It simply says "recalibrating." When I work with families I simply teach them to do the same.
Another crucial factor in dealing with addiction is creating a long term plan and staying engaged - not for the struggling loved one but for the entire circle. We mediate weekly WebEx based conference calls with family members and everyone gets a podcast - this provides consistency, accountability and a "momentum" to the change process. The weeks after someone emerges from an insular in-patient rehab environment back into the world where they are protected is when they are often most vulnerable.
But my point is that I am here today because my friends and family didn't let me bottom out. They "hit bottom" and declared amongst themselves that they would stand still no longer. They believed in their hearts they could change someone they love. And despite the fact that I went kicking and crying, and had made a pretty good mess of my life, they stood by me and are still my loved ones to this day. It's that bold step that we have to start seeing as an option for ourselves to use with our own loved ones who are frankly at risk of dying. It may be an uncomfortable idea, but lets get comfortable with being uncomfortable shall we?
If you're already hurting, why not hurt on the way to wholeness? Your loved one's life is at stake and you have the power to help them.
It saddens me to read about the last months of Casey's life and how her family and friends lived a very familiar painful syndrome. I hurt knowing there will be more headlines with more cases of people who hit bottom, and are gone. But I bear witness to an important life saving fact - YOU CAN CHANGE SOMEONE YOU LOVE. I am here because my family and friends knew that, and I am able to know I am a RECOVERED drug addict, alcoholic and bulimic.
Brad Lamm is a Board Registered Interventionist and author of "How To Change Someone You Love"