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How Tough Can Tough Love Be?

Updated on December 30, 2013

A Phone Call from Out of the Dark

He was my best friend, but he had moved away and we had lost touch. We hadn't heard from each other in years. Then one day out of the blue, I received a note in my mailbox from him. He certainly was creative at finding things out, I must give him credit for that. He had known what town I had moved to, but not much else. When he moved back into the general area where we had grown up as kids, he ran into one of our common acquaintances who had told him the town I was living in. (It had just happened that I had run into this other friend when he was playing in a band and doing a performance near my house).

"J" (I will calll him "J" because I don't want to divulge his name, after he found out what town I was living in went to the township municpal authority and asked them for my address, because I had an unlisted phone number. Reluctantly, the municipal authority gave him the information he was looking for, but not before they made sure they had enough information to be able to track "J" down if I suddenly reported that my house was robbed or burned down or something.

The note he had left for me simply said "back in town, give me a call, here's my number....." I was excited because we hadn't seen each other for a very long time, and there were only a few guys that I was really tight with in high school and shortly thereafter. "J" and I hung out on a pretty regular basis until I moved away, and even after that until we were about 25 years old. He was the best man at my first wedding, but not long after that he moved away also.

A person with massive ascites caused by portal hypertension due to cirrhosis by James Heilman, MD
A person with massive ascites caused by portal hypertension due to cirrhosis by James Heilman, MD

Re-United Friendship

When I found the note from "J" in my mailbox, I didn't call him immediately, but I did so a few days later. A lot had changed. He told me he was engaged and living with his fiance' and he invited my wife and I to come to their place for dinner. I had never met his fiance', so I was looking forward to it, but when we got there I was slighly shocked. "J" was skinny as a rail and his fiance' (Let's call her "M") was a very heavy woman. She did seem to have a very pleasant personality though and she was also a very good cook. Maybe spaghetti isn't that complicated, but making a great sauce is what makes the dish.

We had dinner and talked about old times over a glass of wine. Then "J" decided we needed some beer too, so he ran over to the local bar and picked up a couple of six packs. It seemed like the beer was gone really quickly, even though I had only had two cans, and my wife and "M" didn't have any. Then "J" decided to break out the hard stuff and it turned out that bourbon was his drink of choice. "J" continued to drink until he passed out. Then "M" told us that "J's" drinking had become a real problem. I had never though much about it in the past, as it always seemed like "J" could just hold his liquor better than most people.

But then I remembered some of the things he used to do that maybe should have given me a clue. Once when we were at his parents' house, he stole some vodka out of his father's liquor cabinet and he just replaced what he took out of the bottle with water. Maybe his dad never drank vodka so he wouldn't notice, but this happened more than once, not always with vodka, but water was always the replacement for whatever was taken.

"M" had told us then that she had tried to get "J" into rehab, but unsuccessfully and it was part of what motivated her to convince "J" to find a job back in the area where she suspected I would be near. "J" had evidently talked to her a lot about me, and spoke highly of our friendship, and "M" had come to the realization that me being around might be the deciding factor to get "J" into rehab. But she had to do some work on herself first before she would have any hope.

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The Chocoholic vs.The Alcoholic

"M" had come to the conclusion that to her detriment she was an "enabler" to "J" and he was the same to her. When she would get on "J's" case about his over-indulgence of alcohol, he would get back in her face about her weight problems and her inability to stop abusing food. "M" decided that she was going to have to get serious and do whatever it might take to get her eating under control and lose some weight, and that's exactly what she did. The next time we visited, I could see that she was starting to lose some weight, and progressively more and more was coming off.

I had started vising them on a more frequent basis then, sometimes with my wife and sometimes just by myself. As "M" started losing more and more weight, it seemed like "J" was rebelling by drinking more and more. She had even told him that if he didn't stop, she was going to leave him, but it didn't seem to matter. The last time I visited them while they were a couple "J" was passed out drunk on the couch after having consumed an entire fifth of bourbon before ten o'clock in the morning.

I had pretty much decided I was fed up with his drinking myself at that point. If he didn't even care if he was sober enough to even know I was there, what was the point of my coming to visit at all? So, I left and I didn't contact them for awhile, but I left "M" my phone number because I knew she was worried about "J." As matter of fact, at that point, she though if he didn't get help, he might die.

The Phone Call

After awhile, I don't remember exactly how long it was, I got a phone call from "M." She wanted to know if I could come up and talk to her away from "J" and she gave me an address where we were to meet. I agreed, and when I got there, "M" was there and another lady too, but her name is faded from my memory. "M" had lost a LOT of weight by this time, and now she was ready to give "J" the ultimatum. Either he goes to rehab or she leaves him.

They explained to me that the game plan was to do an intervention. I had never heard of an intervention and I had no clue what it was, so they gave me the low-down, and explained to me how it would all play out. We were going to rehearse first with all the people who cared about "J," Mom, Dad, brothers, sister, "M" and me. We were to write out how we felt about "J" and the reasons we cared about him and how his abuse of alcohol was not only hurting him, but us as well. Then the question was asked if anyone else that had been asked to participate might have a problem with drugs or alcohol and one of "J's" brothers was asked to not participate because "J" knew he was using drugs. I found out later that he had MS and part of it might have been to try to work through the pain, but he wasn't getting his meds legally.

After a lengthy and emotional rehearsal a game plan was set. "J's" dad and I were going to go to his place of employment and "kidnap" him to bring him to the intervention. Of course, we had to let his employer in on what was going on ahead of time, but his employer knew "J" had a drinking problem too. So, we set a date and a time and everything was a go.

Drugged-High on Alcohol


"Recent data from the National Institutes of Health reports that 15% of the people living in the United States are considered 'problem drinkers.' Source:

"Alcohol abuse kills some 75,000 Americans each year and shortens the lives of these people by an average of 30 years, a U.S. government study suggested Thursday." Source:

"In 2011, 9,878 people were killed in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes. These alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 31 percent of the total motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States." Source:

Intervention Day

The day we had agree on arrived. "J's" dad and I had a discussion to prepare for multiple scenarios of what might happen when "J" saw us come into his place of employment and worked out a plan of action for each scenario we could think of. And then it was time............

We walked into the office where "J" was working and of course the first question was "What's going on?" We just told "J," "You need to come with us, it's important." I thought he might try to run away if he was suspicious about what was actually about to take place, but evidently he had never been brought up to speed about what an intervention was either.

We drove to our pre-determined meeting place where most of "J's" family was waiting along with his fiance'. We asked "J" to sit down in a chair which was basically the central chair and the rest were sitting along side him in kind of a semi-circle. We had decided ahead of time the order we would go in and it was very emotional. I had never seen "J's" dad moved to tears before ever in my life. So, we went around and everyone told "J" how they felt about him and how his drinking was hurting everyone around him, but most of all himself. "M" told him if he didn't go to rehab she was leaving. Mom and dad told him if he didn't go to rehab, he couldn't come to their house anymore and he would be totally on his own.

We had already made arrangements for "J" to go to a rehab if he agreed to go, and after what seemed like forever, he finally agreed to go, but only if I would be the one to take him. His clothes had already been packed for him (because the rules were that he couldn't take certain things that most alcoholics or addicts would try to sneak in.) So, we were off to a place called Chit Chat Lodge in Robesonia, PA.

The conventional treatment program was 28 days and covered by "J's" insurance. Plus, he was guaranteed to be able to keep his job and not lose any pay if he successfully completed the program.

At Chit Chat

We arrived at Chit Chat Lodge after dark. It was late in March, a little cold, but not too cold. They were expecting us. We got "J" checked in and they asked him a whole bunch of health questions. The first thing on his agenda the next day was going to be seeing a doctor and starting detox. They told me that while he was detoxing, probably nobody would be able to visit because he would be feeling very sick. The next week, I received word that he was done with detox and was able to receive visitors. Also, his birthday was that week. I kind of felt bad that he had to spend his birthday in rehab, but if he wasn't in rehab he might have been in the morgue by then.

I went up to visit on his birthday and brought him a gift, and I think by this time he was feeling a little bitter that he was there and he was missing his alchohol very much. He accused me of trying to buy our friendship because I brought him a birthday gift. I wasn't even an expensive gift. He made me feel as if I had betrayed him. We talked for awhile and the whole conversation was basically about how he thought that everyone else had a problem and he wasn't the one with the problem and the meetings he had to go to were a waste of time and "stupid."

A week after that I got a phone call from "J" when I was at work. He told me he had checked himself out only after 14 days in the program, and he could quit drinkiing on his own. I knew this was a bad decision and I tried to talk him into going back, but to no avail. Then asked me if I could go pick him up and give him a ride home. I had to explain to him that if he wasn't going to stay in the program, I wasn't going to do anything to help him get away from it. I'm not sure how he got back, but I felt this was going to be the beginning of the end.

After Chit Chat

One of the first things "J" did after he left Chit Chat is start drinking again. His fiance' had left him, he had lost his job, and he couldn't pay his rent, so he had to move out of his house. The bad thing was that his parents had broken down and let him move back into their house, and that was probably the worst thing they could have done for him. His mother just wasn't tough enough to force him to live on the street, but that might have been what he needed to hit rock bottom, because I've heard that unless an alcoholic hits rock bottom, it's doubtful that they'll ever be able to get back into recovery and see it to the point where they actually quit drinking.

I visited "J" at his parents house the following Christmas and that was the last time that I saw him. It wasn't long after that when I received a phone call from my mom to tell me she had seen "J's" obituary in the newspaper. He was 49 years old. The funeral had already passed and I had missed it. I was feeling guilty for not being there. I contacted one of "J's" younger brothers and arranged a get together with him, and I told him that I was feeling guilty about walkiing away after that Christmas, because I had told "J" if he was going to continue drinking, I wasn't going to visit anymore, and I kept my word to him. "J's" brother told me, that he though that if his parents had been tougher and not let "J" come back to live with them, it might have made the difference and he might have gone back to rehab. After that conversation, I believed in my heart that I had done the right thing and there was no reason I should feel guilty about it.

Drunk Driving Wreck
Drunk Driving Wreck | Source


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