If we metaphorically call the chapter on what is love and how not to enable it as being the heart of a Kind Intervention, The Letter is the muscle that puts those ideas into a plan of action. I also refer to The Letter as a declaration of independence for those who are dealing with someone struggling with an addiction.
The American Declaration of Independence is a document stating that there comes a time in an unhappy relationship that must change. “…that all people (family members) have “unalienable rights… (to) Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The letter gives everyone a moment to state their feelings and boundaries that any meaningful relationship must include.
You will have your moment to present The Letter but we understand that “The Letter” is not a chance for venting your resentment, anger, or religious or philosophic beliefs. It is a document clearly stating your feelings without drama, lecturing, or criticizing. It states what you will and will not do from now on. This letter is not open for negotiation.
But before you start - let me tell you some of the things I tell people before they undertake writing and giving the letter. When you find yourself falling apart, feeling burned out, manipulated, resentful, and angry; ask yourself if you have set, and kept healthy boundaries? A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect and chaos. People struggling with addiction rarely understand the concept of boundaries. They are relentless in their desire to get what they want with little regard for who gets hurt along the way.
Addicts are manipulative: They will often say and do anything to get what they want. Gaslighting is common.
Addicts are immature: It is said that the age a person starts using their drug is often the emotional age they struggle to grow out of as they recover. Why? Emotional maturity is a result of going through life’s difficulties or growing up because of life’s difficulties. But if a person who started using drugs at the age of 17 stopped maturing. Instead of learning how to deal with heartbreak, difficulties navigating school, bad bosses, and so on, they used their drugs to numb those feelings and “solve” those problems. After all, they reasoned, that drugs solve the pain the problem presented to them, so remove the pain and they don’t have to care about the problem. As a result, they remained with the emotional skill set they had at the age they started using. This is why addiction counseling does not focus on a person's drug use, but on how to live life on life’s terms as an adult.
Addicts lie and believe their lies: In their moment of regret and shame an addict might say, “I will never use again.” Or “I don’t need help, I can stop on my own, I have done it before.” They are not lying. In fact, they would pass a lie detector test. They truly believe that their sincere intentions and honest regret will keep them from using and they confuse these feelings with a plan of action.
Addicts use guilt, shame, and tears to get their way: This is another form of manipulation. Blaming refers to making others responsible for how one feels and avoiding one’s own role in the problem and its solution. For this reason, we teach people how to recognize where the responsibility really lies and how not to engage in these emotional debates.
Addicts are narcissistic: This is often seen in their adolescent impulsive behavior and thinking. This is confusing for they may function like an adult in some other areas of their life.
Note: Please do not present your letter to a loved one without editing it with a professional. Out of the hundreds of letters I have read only a few needed no editing. During a Kind Intervention, a lot of emotions come to the surface. Having a letter you wrote allows you to make sure what you want to say is clearly stated. The Letter keeps you on track and away from expressing spontaneous or overwhelming emotions. The written letter keeps you from forgetting things you wanted to say and prevents you from saying things you might regret.
Instructions For Writing Your Letter
The letter is divided into four parts:
“I love you”: The letter should begin with a simple statement of love and concern. As the writer of this letter, you are an important part of the addict’s life, so your feelings and thoughts matter. You might share a time when you felt proud of your loved one, or they expressed some important quality trait such as kindness, compassion, determination to achieve of their goal, and so on. This kind of acknowledgment of their uniqueness makes a person feel seen and loved.
“I see these beautiful things about you…”
“I fondly recall…”
“I love your…”
“We have always enjoyed your…”
Remove shame: This section is not necessary, but often helpful to remove some of the shame that is generated when people are confronted about their behavior.
“We have been reading about and attending support groups about addiction. In these groups our eyes have been opened, having met many people of all ages, backgrounds, and circumstances who have successfully changed their lives. We have learned that addiction is more complicated than simply a matter of choosing not to use. We now understand that addiction is a treatable disease that left untreated wreaks havoc on everyone's life.”
State without blaming and using clear factual terms what has happened. No more denial – no more excuses or explanations.
“Your grades have fallen from A’s to barely passing since you started smoking marijuana.”
“When you are not gambling, you become very anxious and argumentative. The children feel as if they’re not allowed talk to you anymore.”
“Your boss/school/parents called me yesterday asking where you were – I will not lie for you anymore.”
“You have put others and yourself in life-threatening situations by driving drunk.”
State how this addiction has affected your life. Each family member is given an opportunity to tell their story of how their loved one’s addiction has affected their life:
“The husband I used to know has disappeared – you no longer hug me or spend time just hanging out... You have become obsessed with drinking.”
“You have lied and told me I am too neurotic, nervous, and imagine things so many times I thought I was the one with the problem.”
“Every time the phone rings I worry that something terrible has happened.”
State clearly your expectations for the future. Draw your line in the sand and define what needs to happen next:
“If I find or smell drugs even once, no matter what the excuse or reason, you will have to find another place to live.”
“I will not give you any more money if you do not seek help.”
“If you want to stay together, you will need to get help for your addiction, which means going to see a specialist and following his or her instructions.”
“I have taken my car back. This will not change unless you get help.”
State “I love you”:
There are so many beautiful things about you. You are smart, creative, full of compassion, empathy, and insight, and often wise beyond your 21 years. Many people who talk with you are impressed. You have a very kind heart, and we take pleasure in watching the way you find ways to help others. I fondly recall how you stood up for that kid at school who was being bullied.
Our whole family has admired your ambition and passion. We have taken pride in watching you devour something new that interests you and becoming a master of it. Whether it was learning how to play the guitar, learning to speak French or the dozens of other things you have done.
No more denial – no more excuses or explanations. State without blaming and using clear factual terms what has happened:
However, because we love you, and celebrate your uniqueness, we are also acutely aware when things are not going well for you – and oh my, how things have changed in the last year. Your marijuana use - what started out as an occasional Saturday night entertainment has gotten out of control. We have noticed many things have changed. Your passions for other things have dropped off unless it is associated with things to do with marijuana. You barely see your old friends, and it appears to us that your physical health is suffering, and you are irritable and discontent.
State how this addiction has affected your life. Each family member must tell their story of how the addict has affected their life:
Our conversations have become short and we often feel as if you are just tolerating us. Once, recently, you scared us when you lost your house key and cell phone and aggressively pounded on the front door at 2:00 AM. We rarely interact with you when you are not under the influence of weed. Your moods and erratic behavior have cast a dark cloud over the house to the point where we sometimes feel as if we have to walk on eggshells around you. We are concerned about your present and future. This is all very frightening for those who love you.
State clearly your expectations for the future. Draw your line in the sand and define what needs to happen next:
Because we love you, leaving things as they are is not an option – we will no longer support your downward spiral. For these reasons, we need to set boundaries in order for us and you to live and function properly. If you follow our new rules, you are welcome to continue living with our family. If you would like to continue living in our home, you need to:
Remove all drugs and paraphernalia from our property. If we find or smell any drugs or paraphernalia for any reason, you will have to find another place to live (since it shows you have decided not to follow house rules).
Go to counseling with someone who specializes in people struggling with drug use. As you figured out, we have been attending a group for parents whose children are abusing drugs and alcohol. This is the number of a local organization that helps people who are struggling as you are. While your conversations with a counselor will be confidential, you must give the counselor permission to tell us that you are attending weekly sessions, so we know you are keeping our rules.
You must attend a weekly support group.
Or, you can go to rehab of an addiction professional’s choosing.
We love you unconditionally, but that does not mean we are prepared to endure living with the chaos and drama anymore, nor will we enable or protect you from the consequences of your choices. It is because we love you that we are setting these boundaries. If you do not agree with these rules, you will have to leave, and you can do what you want in your own home - which you will have to pay for. We have faith you will eventually work this out and become the person you will be proud to be.
We’re all here together because we love and care for you and want hope that you to accept help. Will you accept our support today?
Mom & Dad
Before You Present The Letter
The editing process is an opportunity to learn what to change and why we change the way we converse about this difficult issue. When writing your letter or while speaking with your loved one it is best not to express anger, or sound as if you are blaming, or trying to cause shame. Expressing these feelings is counterproductive and damages accomplishing your real goal. For example, don’t use all-or-nothing statements such as, “The only person you think about is yourself!”, or “You wasted all your money on gambling.” This sentence is not only inaccurate and likely to lead to an argument because everyone has times of kindness and selfishness, but it also is a lesson about future interactions and the value of not using all-or-nothing statements. Our goal is not to win an argument but effect change. As my driver’s education teacher said when I did not look to the left and right as I drove through a green light, “Yes, you are legally right, but without looking you may be dead right. No one likes to be blamed and shamed, so the addicts' mind will be listening for any words or inaccuracies they can use to sideline the purpose of the discussion. “What do you mean that I am selfish? Who took Sarah to her piano lessons all those years?” “I bought her that piano with my money!” To guard against this pitfall, we edit The Letter to make sure as best as possible to guard against such an occurrence. So once again, please make sure you have guidance from a professional who understands this process before you present The Letter.