Junkies beware. A modern-day mercenary is on your tail.
“Without prep work, you’re nothing,” says Ceraso. “Your chances of success are slim.”
Interventions are not cookie- cutter affairs; the interactions need to be tailored. If you’re dealing with a meth addict, for example, the intervention should be scheduled for the early morning because the last thing you want to do is get into a person’s face who needs to cop their first fix of the day.
“I also want to know what are the good qualities about this person? I think of it as a before and after,” says Ceraso.
Ceraso spends most of the time building up to the confrontation part of the intervention in clandestine phone calls and meetings, interviewing every participant to find out all he needs to know about the addict. He has to figure out how to unlock what he calls “the authentic self,” program-speak for the essence of a person before they became addicted.
The education goes both ways during this phase. While he learns everything he can about the target, he schools the family in everything they never wanted to know about addiction.
For starters, Ceraso breaks it to the families that they’re not dealing with their loved one anymore. That may look like your sweet grandson, but it’s the addiction inside that you’re battling, the chemical deficit he wakes up to each day that programs him to get high again. By the time a family reaches the stage of intervention, they’ve endured months, maybe years of agony watching as loved ones slide into the gutter parade of the hopeless undead, transforming into strangers who lie, cheat and steal like common junkies. So Ceraso’s first order of business is to take control. He becomes a drill sergeant with the family.
“It’s my show,” he says. “My rules.”
First rule: There’s no time for pussyfooting.
“I tell people up front. Your family member might die,” he says. “So cut the shit with me. You call me up to tell me something you just thought of because you didn’t feel like telling me last week, I’m going to be pissed. If [the family] wants this to work, I need to know everything I possibly can about this person.”
When he says everything, he means everything.
“What used to make this person tick?” asks Ceraso. “Was she a good mother? A great wife? Was there sexual trauma?”
This information is mandatory in order to prepare for the confrontation, but it also helps Ceraso to select the right rehab. Part of the job of a good interventionist is to maintain a database of treatment centers and know which ones specialize in “secondary issues” a person may have going on. He says placing people in the closest or cheapest center without considering secondary issues is one of the reasons for a high relapse rate. (The national relapse rate is somewhere between 40 and 60 percent; Ceraso, who says he monitors cases for a year, claims a relapse rate of “just over nine percent.”)
Second rule: You can’t rush an intervention. Families in crisis often call Ceraso in a panic, desperate to arrange an intervention for the next day, that moment even.
“They’re like, ‘You don’t understand, he’s going to kill himself. It’s Friday, let’s do this tomorrow morning!’” he says, shaking his head. “You could offer me all the money in the world and I would never do an intervention the next day.”
You can’t rush it because you only get one shot to get it right. Pros are asked all the time to try to fix botched and makeshift interventions. It’s dangerous business. When an intervention backfires, the addict can run away, or go underground, amp up their defenses and become even harder to reach.
The one-shot principle leads to the most important rule of all: Once the mechanics of the confrontation are in gear, there’s no going back.
“The addict has a way of convincing you that you’re nuts,” warns Ceraso. “I tell the family, ‘Unless you’re willing to do something now, be prepared to live with this until the day you die.’ You say no, and your loved one OD’s three days later, you’ll never be able to forgive yourself.’”
That’s the guiding light of such work: loved ones intervening on the situation, creating a custom rock bottom of sorts before the addict actually hits the rock bottom that they’re spiraling toward.
For Ceraso, tough love means no bullshit. “I’m relentless,” he says. “I know what it’s like to go through withdrawal, I know what it’s like to sit in the Roundhouse at Eighth and Race sts. I’ve literally walked in their shoes.”
Though overcoming personal addiction issues isn’t a prerequisite to becoming an interventionist, old-school types like Ceraso tend to come up through the underground networks of AA and NA, building networks of referrals and rolodexes and honing their chops one job at a time. Despite the insane schedule and grueling nature of the work, interventionists are springing up everywhere since Intervention became popular.
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