Scarvey column: The power of intervention

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 3, 2009

“A&E TV’s ‘Intervention’ comes to Salisbury.” That press release came across my desk this week, and since I am familiar with the show, I had to call to get more information. Unfortunately, all I could find out was that yes, the show had filmed in Salisbury a few weeks ago. No, they didn’t know when the show would air, but probably sometime next year.
I’m a fan of this A&E reality series, which isn’t about cooks getting sworn at while making risotto or Machiavellian adventurers scheming to get someone else voted off the island.
The stakes are higher than that. “Intervention” profiles addicts and their families and offers them a chance at redemption through rehab.
The series won an Emmy for best reality show this year, and if you’ve ever seen an episode, you can understand why.
The show provides a fascinating glimpse at the various demons that possess us ó whether it be drug or alcohol addiction, eating disorders, or an addiction to shopping. Mostly though, it’s drugs or alcohol.
A film crew follows an addict, who has agreed to be in a documentary. Friends and family members typically emerge as both enablers and victims of the addict’s lies and manipulation.
You might meet a mother who has chosen drinking or drugs over her children, or a teenager who has sunk so low that she cajoles friends and family members into lending her a car so she can sell her body for a fix.
This show makes it quite clear how much an addict’s family suffers, and what a toxic tornado of emotions accompanies life with an addict.
But there is more to the show than frightening glimpses into the vortex of addiction. As the addict’s life spirals out of control, a surprise intervention is staged by the family and friends of the addict, who are guided by a professional intervention specialist ó who’s heard and seen it all and is unswayed by the addict’s lies.
The addict is given a choice: go to rehab ó right now ó or we no longer support you.
I don’t know if anyone ever turns them down, but on the shows that actually air, the addict always agrees to treatment.
Since it’s a reality show, there are varying outcomes. Some addicts blossom during their recovery program and stay clean and re-build their lives and relationships. It’s rather astounding sometimes to see the physical transformations that take place. It’s inspiring to see the human spirit triumph as the addict gains self-respect and the sense of a future.
Sometimes, though, the rehab doesn’t work, and the demons win.
The show’s most brilliant moments are its rawest and starkest ó like an adult child tearfully confronting a parent who has failed her over and over again.
I don’t know that it would be possible to romanticize drug use after seeing “Intervention,” which shows addiction in its ugliest, most soul-sucking moments. There is education in that.
Most of us have in some way been touched by addiction. Some of us have been more than touched ó we’ve been tackled, burned or sucker-punched by it, whether through a friend, family member or perhaps even a complete stranger whose irresponsible actions while under the influence may have scarred our lives for ever.
So now ‘Intervention’ has filmed in Salisbury, and while I don’t know if the person profiled is from Rowan County, it’s very likely.
Addicts walk the grocery aisles with us, sit next to us in class, drive behind us on the freeway and sometimes give us medical treatment. They may be our parents, our children, our husbands and our wives or our dentist.
They may never hit rockbottom like many of the people on “Intervention,” but their lives are nonetheless a shadow of what is possible.
Watching “Intervention” the first time, I thought of an old college friend. This guy, I’ll call him “Jack,” introduced me to my husband and was responsible several years later for us getting back together again ó so I’ll never forget Jack.
Jack was charming, but a mooch. He was always cadging cigarettes or borrowing money and forgetting to pay it back.
Or at least that’s how I thought of him until I realized that he was, in fact, an addict, who borrowed and scammed however he could to fuel his addiction.
He owed me 20 dollars when his father pulled him out of Wake Forest to put him in a rehab program.
Until he left, I did not realize how dire his situation was, and how much money he owed people who, unlike me, would actually hurt him if he didn’t pay them back.
In an attempt to get him the help he needed, his father paid off his debts with the agreement that Jack would enter rehab.
Jack’s father, fortunately, had the courage to intervene.
I don’t know what happened to Jack, who, despite his addiction, was smart and funny. I hope he found a way to survive.
And if there’s really somebody in Salisbury who had an intervention a few weeks ago, I hope the update at the end of the episode reads: “Clean since September of 2009.” Contact Katie Scarvey at