Drugs Intervention At Christmas: Why Some People Choose The Festive Season To Go Cold Turkey

Cold Turkey

“I liked that she could party, that was one of the things that attracted me to her,” Laurie Sanders said of wife Susy.

“I didn’t realise what that would become. She is the most amazing person, but when she was drunk, that wasn’t her.”

Christmas for the Sanders’ family was, for years, something to dread and to endure. During their decade-long marriage, Saunders’ wife battled dangerous alcoholism, a coke habit and a prescription drug addiction.

“She had a great upbringing, we had a good relationship, " Sanders insisted, adding that the family were comfortably off, with two children they adore.

"She had postnatal depression, I believe, and she was stuck at home, a stay-at-home mum, which she found very stifling. She had a real negative perception of herself."

That contributed to turning social drinking, which Sanders would enjoy with his wife, to a destructive habit.

“In the past five or six Christmases, she'd tried to hold it together, drink two bottles of wine during the day, that would keep her level, basically,” he said.

“And we'd all pretend to have a nice Christmas, but it was all fake. And that is partly my fault, for enabling her, for allowing it for so long.

“Me and my friends were cooking a Christmas dinner in December three years ago, and had a lot of people round, and everyone was asking how Susy was, and she's lying in bed pissed.

“I would tell people she had period pains, she was unwell, or whatever, excuse after excuse.”

The horrors were endless, Sanders said. “I would come back and parties would be going on at four in the afternoon, with complete strangers.

"Susy would disappear for days on end, we would call the police and then she'd eventually come back stinking of booze."

I once found her in a really deprived area of Edinburgh, in someone's flat, smoking pot. It looked like something out of Trainspotting. It was horrific.

“She would steal from supermarkets, steal booze, even though she had a card to pay for it. She had started taking cocaine to keep her awake. She would drink a bottle of vodka during the day, before I got home from work.

“Once she went missing and we found her lying by the canal, naked, holding a bottle of champagne.

Three years ago, the family were at the point of no return, with Sanders coming home to find his wife passed out upstairs, with teenagers drinking and smoking in the house, and playing with their two young children.

“You can hardly imagine the horrors of spending years with someone who is so unpredictable,” he said. “Some nights I'd come home and she'd be playing music, dancing, and we'd have so much fun, and smile and she'd look so beautiful. And then she'd have another drink, and get violent, start taking swings...”

The drinking had become so bad, Sanders said, he believed she would soon be dead. It was a few weeks before Christmas when family suggested staging an intervention.

“She was disappearing for days on end, I'd phone the police, and they would say 'she is not missing, she is in a hotel somewhere and it's her choice if she wants to be found,'" he described.

“I tried to get her sectioned, no-one would section her. The police said they could take her in if she was arrested for domestic violence.

“But I didn't want my own wife arrested for that, even once when she stabbed me in the chest with a fork.

“I am a real believer that marriage is for life, so I thought I just had to deal with it.

Conventional methods of getting her help had failed, Sanders said. “We tried rehab but she just left and got the train home. We had Alcoholics Anonymous round, and spoke to the GP .

"She was put on anti-depressants, which I do think make things worse. She became almost psychotic at times.

"You cannot drink 40 to 50 units of alcohol a day, take Prozac and think you'll be a normal person. She'd wake up with a hangover, and take four or five Valium to cancel it out."

It was then family members suggested a radical intervention, an American-style method of treating drug addiction, by getting an entire family to confront and deliver an ultimatum to an addict, to force them into getting help at a rehab centre.

A sceptical Sanders called Daniel Gerrard, a professional interventionist with Addiction Helper. Gerrard, a ex-city trader, is an alcoholic and former cocaine addict , and one of only around five interventionists in Britain.

His life was saved, he said, by his mother who staged his own form of intervention. Having moved abroad in order to escape his demons, he was forced back home after he failed to kick the habit, even with a fresh start. Living with his ageing mother, one day Gerrard came home and found his bags on the porch.

“If I didn't go to rehab, I would have to leave,” Gerrard said. “That was an intervention. Everybody else had had enough of me. She was the last person who cared. And I went in to rehab, hating everybody, hating her. And I got my life back together.”

Gerrard has now been clean for a number of years, and even got back into work as a trader. But one day, he said, he could no longer stand to stare at the numbers on the screen, got up, and walked out of his job.

He began volunteering with drug charities, started a counselling course at Regents’ Park College, and then went to the States to train with their top interventionists, John Southworth and Ken Sealey.

He has performed more than 100 interventions. The method is controversial here, most will only have come across it on American reality TV. Some charities are sceptical of its success.

“We are unsure still about the value of interventions, and certainly sometimes it can help.]

"But we do know that unless a person really wants to seek help themselves, they may agree to go to rehab, or to anything, if it will get people off their case. But are they then truly in recovery?,” said Nick Barton, chief executive of Action on Addiction.

Christmas is a busy time of year for addiction charities, said Barton. “Often it can be the time afterwards, where people realise ‘I’ve let myself down,’ because of behaviour at Christmas.

"But many times, it’s the family that calls. And the first thing we have to say to them is ‘how are you doing, yourself?’.

"The affect an addict has on those around them can be devastating. But there is a half-way point between tough love and abandonment, and enabling.”

“Addiction Helper gets a huge number of calls on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. And it's usually emergency calls, families realising they need to get their child or parent help now, right away,” said Gerrard.

Gerrard said he has only ever had one client who did not accept treatment, a Muslim man whose family were concerned he drank, at all.

He charges a hefty set fee of around £1,500-£2,00, which he says guarantees you any follow-up needed, for life. If clients cannot pay, Gerrard says he will try and find a way to help anyway.

He rejects any idea that interventions are for those with a flair for the dramatic, and not a meaningful method of help.

“We plan very carefully, I spend time building a family tree, so I know who everyone is, their relationships, their backgrounds. I have got to know their family like my family. I speak to each of them individually and they write a letter to the addict," he explained.

“One I can recall very vividly said: 'Dear Julie, I love you, I remember the times we used to go out and have fun with our kids, I love you but I have seen you do terrible things, I have seen you drive drunk with the children in the car...'

“At the end of the letter will be a consequence. For example, I have had it where a mum used to go out with her two daughters every Saturday, shopping. And they said they would no longer do that with her. And she went to rehab. Because that was so important to her.

"In the most drastic cases, we've called police, flown people out of houses. I have had a fire extinguisher thrown at me. He still went to rehab.”

Sanders did not initially trust Gerrard. “I really did think 'well, I've tried, and if I can't do it, no-one can do it',” said Sanders. “I thought, y'know, doctors have tried, her family has tried. And he did it. To get her to go was a miracle.

“We wrote everything down, how she made me feel, what she was doing to the family. We were all there, me, her mum and dad, her brother and sister, and we confronted her when she woke up.”

Including every member of the immediate family is key, especially at particular emotionally-charged times like Christmas, said Gerrard. “There has to be a united front, unifying the family, and friends and partners. We have to make sure they have nowhere to go to enable them to keep using. So kids will go to grandparents, even.

He knows from experience that the patience of friends wears out a lot quicker. "My best friend met a girl, she told him that I was a bad influence, and he agreed that he could not hang out with me any more while I was living that life," he said. "That was a big lesson for this. But no-one can put up with it like mum. Mums are definitely the worst enablers, especially with sons."

He has sometimes spent up to 48 hours negotiating with an addict, “anything from 30 seconds, to two days. I make sure I say I am here to help, I won't charge in like American TV shows. I won't leave, either.”

Gerrard had warned Sanders to expect accusations back from his wife. “It was terribly upsetting; she refused to go to rehab.

“She had an excuse for everything but Daniel had an answer. She said it was all my fault, I was a bastard, I was evil, I was violent to her. That was so hard, to hear that from your own wife, when you know that you're not. Your own wife saying that she drinks because I beat her. Those lies, it was so cruel.

“But Daniel got through to her, how unwell she was, how she was in denial, how she would die. It was her actions, but something else was driving her to do it. That needed to be treated.”

His wife eventually said she would take treatment in a rehab centre in the Highlands for four weeks. Still, Sanders said he was hopeful but not optimistic.

“I never give families promises, it is a journey,” Gerrard said. “For me it was very painful. You will learn all you need to learn, if you chose to ignore it, and then the likelihood is that you will pick up a drink. Nothing you gain in your life comes without work.”

On the first night his wife was away in rehab, Sanders said he “felt calm for the first time in years”.

“I knew where she was. I thought, thank God she's in a safe place. I was worried she would abscond, but she didn't. She came to realise, I think that being an addict doesn't make you evil, or a bad person even, or even a weak person. It was a total education for her, and us.

“I have the most incredible wife now. The following Christmas was amazing. We had the whole family round, everyone was so happy. We went away in January with the kids, and it was so fantastic.

“We never really lived before, we were just existing.”

Some names have been changed.


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