Confronting My Reflection in the TV Show ‘Intervention’

Note: The language around self-identification in the context of substance use disorder is evolving, and The Wagon respects individual choices in self-identification. While some individuals may prefer not to use the term “alcoholic,” I personally choose to identify as such and will use this term to describe myself in this post.

When I was in active addiction, I thought the TV show Intervention was the best thing ever. Not because I identified with or cared about any of the people I saw on the screen. Rather, it served as a wonderfully effective way to justify my drinking. I could point to those live-action bottom hitters and say, “Look, ma! They’re WAY worse than I am!“

This trick worked well, and I used it often on my husband to minimize the truth about my drinking. Once he noted that I wasn’t nearly as bad as those people on the screen and that my family was going overboard for suggesting that my problem was serious. A sly grin spread across the face of the scheming, sauced-up Susan inside me. I had him. Tighten my grip.

Essentially, the reality show helped me legitimize my status as a “functioning alcoholic.” That worked for a while until life just got too overwhelming (my dad died, my intake doubled, and I became physically dependent to a frightening degree) and I could no longer keep up the facade. And because I assumed you had to go to rehab to get sober, I decided the best choice for me was a facility I saw advertised during — you guessed it — Intervention.

The rehab was a totally legit institution but: 

  1. I wasn’t ready to stop drinking — I was just doing it to get my family off my back.
  2. I picked it out myself, dialing the 800 number at 2 a.m., swigging vodka from the bottle as I chatted about my intake with a lovely guy named, I believe, Bob (FYI: Every guy is named Bob when you’re drinking vodka out of the bottle at 2 a.m.)
  3. It was March in New York City, I was sick and tired of the winter, and really, I just wanted to go to Florida to escape the cold.

I lied to everyone about how I found the place (“my therapist recommends it highly!”). Meanwhile, I told my therapist (and the majority of my friends) that I was going on a 30-day yoga retreat. To this day, I still can’t believe I did that. Like it was nothing. Like it was true. In fact, I kind of believed that it was true. I mean, they did offer yoga at the rehab. Crazy alcoholic thinking.

But by that point, all I cared about was getting a safe detox, getting some sun, and getting AWAY. And hey, if Ken Seeley brought people to this place, that was all the vetting I needed.

Our schedule was packed with classes about the psychological and physical aspects of the illness. I liked being in a learning environment and I excelled at being the perfect rehab student. And I learned A LOT about the disease of addiction.

I learned, perhaps, the most important thing an alcoholic needs to know about this disease if they plan to get sober: That it’s progressive, so you can’t just take some time off and get your tolerance back. (Damn!) It will keep getting worse, each time you pick up. 

I chose to ignore this piece of knowledge when I left rehab and began drinking again after just a couple of weeks, but this was the first time I actually heard it. It was the first time I felt a slight tightening in my stomach and a tinge of worry in my heart. And it was the first time I felt a little bit afraid of my habit, but mostly of myself.

I brushed off my fears and worries and returned from my month-long stint looking healthy, feeling great, and sporting a fresh, Florida tan. I went to two or three AA meetings, decided, again, that this wasn’t for me, and that a glass of wine here and there — with the people who weren’t worried about me, of course — wouldn’t be a problem. I’d be very careful this time, and now that I knew all about alcoholism, I’d work diligently with the disease to make sure nothing went awry.

Turns out, not only is this a common alcoholic hope, it’s also as wrong as wrong can be.

Within five months, I was consuming copious amounts of vodka on a daily basis, hiding bottles in my closet, my dresser drawers — even in my shampoo bottles so I could sneak shots while I was in the shower.

And one night, sitting on my couch, alone in my apartment with a martini glass in hand, I once again watched a very real Intervention. And I realized in a flash — I no longer looked very different from the subjects on that show. And when I really watched and listened, I felt quite a bit like them, too. But no. No, no, no. Not me. I can’t fail again. I can’t be that girl. So I promptly changed the channel and took another soothing swig of my liquid elixir.

I did not want to believe it. I just wanted to escape.

Are you a fan of Intervention? Do you have a favorite episode or interventionist? Share with us in the comments!


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