The Strange Man in My Bedroom
Just over a year ago my family staged an intervention on me. It saved my life.
When you think of an intervention you think of yelling, fighting, and bargaining. You picture a junkie barging out of the room, his dirty hand blocking the camera as he refuses to be entertainment for American households. But what happens during a “real” intervention that isn’t produced by a reality show? While the drama barometer might fluctuate between different families with varying addictions and degrees of dependence, everyone can agree that an intervention is not a celebrated family event. There are no presents passed around, no “you look beautiful,” no “let’s make a toast to your new job.” No, interventions aren’t celebrations—they are we see your shit and we are raising you.
My intervention was more like a poker game than anything else. Stakes were presented, and the stakes just kept getting higher until an offer was on the table that I couldn’t refuse. It wasn’t so much of an offer I couldn’t refuse than it was my interventionist presenting me with terrible options that I could never imagine myself living. Like sitting behind a cell, sleeping on the streets, or staring at the walls in a psychiatric ward. No thanks, I guess I’ll take what you’re offering. In other words, his scare tactics worked, and I’m grateful that interventionists have such a knack for manipulating, and in some sense blackmailing, otherwise who knows where I would be today.
While my intervention was happening I didn’t feel totally immersed in its reality or in its consequences.
The day that changed my life happened October 6th, 2012. My mother picked the date because I was born on the 6th, and she thought it would be lucky and hopefully represent my rebirth. I had no idea the intervention was coming, but that could also be attributed to the fact that I was on heroin and living in a world of perpetual denial. One day when I was searching for my car keys that my mom had hidden, I happened upon a piece of paper that outlined the most effective way to write an intervention letter. You would think that would stop me in my tracks. Hey there, this is a red flag, you should probably get your shit together. But no, I thought I was invincible. Of course, not only was I on a mission to get more dope, but I quickly reassured myself that there was no real threat; she must have just printed it out.
Even though my intervention was an unexpected, guerrilla warfare attack of sorts, the night before I should have known something was up. My mother nonchalantly asked me if I had any plans for the next day, and insisted I take a shower and wash my hair, because untangling a long, curly, Jew fro is a pretty grueling task for an 80-pound girl.
If I already had a stash accumulated, the real drug festivities would begin when my mother went to sleep. I would spend the night smoking heroin and crack, fluctuating between trying to enjoy my high and getting paranoid that my mom would wake up, frantically spraying perfume every two minutes to cover up the smell. But the evening before my intervention wasn’t a normal night. My mom was frantic herself, cleaning and cooking at 3 am. I was too preoccupied running to hide and unhide my stash to realize that something was up.
The next day I awoke to the frightening sound of a stampede. Every stomp on the staircase echoed through my head, and I knew it was the sound of my impending doom. All the hurrying footsteps suggested that something was happening, and as much as I didn’t want it to be about me, a part of me knew it was. People barged into my room—my mother, my father (which is an extremely rare sight since my parents have been divorced for 17 years), my brother, and some man. This unknown man is leading the pack. He shouts, “Get the fuck up, there will be no more of this sleeping till noon.”
And I got the fuck up.
Decked out in my P.J’s, I sat up in bed, which also had heroin and coke strategically hidden between the wall and bed frame. Everyone took a seat and at this moment the rest of my life began.
The intervention wasn’t a yelling match, it wasn’t over-sensationalized crying and pleading from the people that love me most in the world. It was a discussion. But don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong-willed stubborn girl, and I had a case to present.
“Why can’t I be on Suboxone, why can’t I be involved in the decision making process? I’m willing to go to rehab, but why does it have to be a surprise attack,” I would shout back.
This was my response that sparked a debate after each family member read his or her letter. I would present this case to my interventionist and he would argue back.
“Because Suboxone is not a way out. It is an addictive substance and it’s not going to solve the problem. You need to detox and you need to go to rehab. It’s great that you want to be involved, and we’re not saying that you can’t be, but this is your option, this is your way out.”
Undoubtedly, I felt something when my mother, father, and brother read their letters to me. I wasn’t bawling and I wasn’t hysterical because I was used to living in a perpetual prison of numbness. But I did tear up because it was impossible to not feel for my dad’s desperate wish to save his baby girl. I knew I had a problem and theoretically I wanted to stop. I didn’t want to be living as a slave to drugs anymore, but I was fucking scared. I was scared shitless of withdrawals, of the physical pain, of changing my routine, of literally stepping into the unknown, even though my drug-centered world had lost every ounce of appeal.
While my intervention was happening I didn’t feel totally immersed in its reality or in its consequences. It felt like I was watching a movie, but it wasn’t my movie, it had to belong to someone else. How could this really be my life?
When the royal flush was presented to me, so to speak, I realized that I was deeply entrenched in a game of poker. A game where the stakes were higher than any game I had ever played—because the stakes were my life. My family knew I had been bluffing with a pair of 2’s this whole time. My repeated defense, “I’m not doing drugs. How could I be? I’m getting A’s at UCLA,” was beginning to seem quite trivial, and that one thing I had going for me was also starting to crumble.
After the last letter was read, and a little more debate on the topic, my interventionist said, “You’re leaving this house one of two ways. Either with no car, no phone, no money, and I’m going to call the cops and if you have anything here they will find it. And, I’m going to send you to the psych ward for being too skinny. Or, you can pack a bag, go detox for a week in the hospital, and then you will go straight to rehab.”
The game was over and even though I had a choice, I didn’t really. I wasn’t going to continue to throw my life, my body, and my mind away. I was going to take the way out and I did.
Over a year later I am here to say that that intervention saved my life. In all honesty, I’m not one to gush about the “miraculous gifts of sobriety.” While it’s absurd to say that the intervention was the sole factor in saving my life, it is fair to say that it kick started my saving. I put in the work; I experienced the tumultuous roller coaster of emotions that go hand in hand with getting sober and entering treatment. I persevered and I didn’t give up. While the people sitting in my room that afternoon didn’t and don’t make me sober today, they gave me an ultimatum: an opportunity for me to make a change. I wasn’t strong enough at the time to do that on my own. I desperately needed an intervention, and thank god I got one.
When the ecstatic pulse of living a life entirely ruled by drugs wears off, and the reality emerges behind the dirty tin foil, you realize that living as a slave is not a life at all—it is the beginning of your death. The only way to relearn how to live is to trade in the dirt and the pain for a life filled with possibilities. Even when you’re not getting everything you hoped for from your job and your relationships, at least you have your life, and if you keep that alive, no one will ever have a reason to say checkmate.
Today, I don’t have to bluff. I have been dealt a completely new hand—an actual fucking life.
Emma Stein is a pseudonym for a writer in Los Angeles