Jan. 25, 2008 -- Facing an addiction can be painful, humiliating, and — in the anything goes world of reality television these days — apparently entertaining.
The A&E network has a bona fide hit on its hands with the show "Intervention," and VH1 has just launched "Celebrity Rehab." And let's not forget Dr. Phil and his none-too-subtle methods.
And then there's Kristina Wandzilak. She has no television show, and doesn't believe in confrontation. Wandzilak is a recovering addict, and for the last 10 years, has been practicing her own style of intervention — something called a "family intervention."
For two days, "Nightline" was given full access to a family intervention that took place in the middle of a quiet, upscale neighborhood in Marin County, Calif.
The intervention was for 41-year-old Tim, father to newborn daughter McCay, husband to Lisa, and an alcoholic in denial. The family and friends asked that their last names be kept private.
"We love you, you're like a brother to me," said Tom, Tim's close friend. "And we just want to try to help you. And I'm also here, sorry … for McCay. My daughter's the same age, so I want them to grow up together."
"I'm here because I want my husband back," Lisa said, crying. "I want the person that I married, and that I see every once in a while, and that I miss."
Then, Tim spoke.
"Hi, I'm Tim, and I … there aren't words, really, to say what this is all about, as far as the appreciation that I have for all of you. I don't have words for it, other than thank you."
Invitation, Not Intervention
Unlike what you might expect, this intervention was not a surprise. With Tim's knowledge, the family intervention was planned by Tim's closest friends and family with Wandzilak's help. She doesn't believe in confronting alcoholics.
"Can that get somebody to go to treatment? Absolutely," she said. "But does that keep somebody into treatment? No. Do they stay sober? Not necessarily, because there could be a tremendous amount of anger that comes up because of that model of intervention and the surprise aspect."
Wandzilak thinks her method is more effective, because it's an "invitation, so he knows about it. And the brilliance of that is, that he intervenes on himself. I mean, you will see him move from being resistant, to moving towards a desire for change. Everyone in the group shares their experiences with alcohol, and how their relationship with Tim may or may not have contributed to his situation."
"What I hear you saying is, you want to learn how to drink normal," Wandzilak said to Tim during the intervention. "You still want to drink normal. Whatever that is."
"Whatever that is," Tim said.
At the first break, things were tense. Tim didn't think that he needed to stop drinking "cold turkey."
"I really, really think that things need to change, but I think we can do it in increments," said Tim. "We can, you know, make it work. I know that that is not congruent with [what] Kristina's talking about, but I think we can work things out."
His wife wasn't so sure. She was worried "because we've tried the not going cold turkey."
Everyone was worried, except Wandzilak. Wandzilak, a mother of two from beautiful Marin County, is experienced, not just with interventions, but with addiction.
'It Took Me to My Knees'
"Nightline" accompanied Wandzilak to the streets of San Francisco's grittiest area. The last time she was on those streets was when she was a homeless alcoholic, drug addict and small time criminal, who had run away from home.
"I feel … I feel so many things," she said, after a long pause. "I feel really uncomfortable. I feel torn. I feel, um, I'm amazed by how afraid I am … it's like a strange post-traumatic stress."
Wandzilak says that, during that time in her past, drugs and alcohol were the most important things in her life.
"I don't know how or when that happened, but it did, and it took me to my knees … I question it myself! Like, how did I slip from a million-dollar neighborhood to this? The darkest time I think I had, was when I was raped in an alley. And I was left there … Nowhere to wash myself, no warmth, nowhere to go. That was, bar none, the loneliest and emptiest, painful time of my life."
Since then, Wandzilak has devoted herself to helping the addicted, something her mother never could have imagined in those dark days when she thought she'd lost her daughter forever.
"It's amazing," said Connie Wandzilak, Kristina's mother. "And I've seen her work with people, and I've had her clients come up to me and just tell me how wonderful she was for them and their family. So, it's just amazing. It makes me really proud as a parent, for sure."
By day two of Tim's intervention, there had been a change. Compassion and concern gave way to straight, honest talk.
"My reality, after a night out with you, is I've had a horrible time, and I've been embarrassed, and I've been self-conscious, and it was stressful for four to five hours at somebody's house," Lisa said.
It was hard for Tim to hear.
"I'm very — I'm, I'm depressed about all this," he said. "And I wish I could get over that. I'm not getting any sleep, I'm not, I don't know."
Soon, he began to blame his friends for not saying something to him earlier.
"If I can express my opinion, it's people not coming to me first and say, 'Hey, Tim, turn this thing [around],'" he said.
"I don't think me talking to you would change your habits," said his friend Pete, who arranged the intervention. "I think Tom and I discussed this at lengths."
"That's absolutely wrong," Tim said, which made his friends angry.
"So, Tim, if it's helpful, we'll just all admit to have made an awful mistake," said Tim's friend Edward. "You're right, and we all made an awful mistake. We've been enabling, and we've been co-dependent! My fault, my problem, my mistake, Pete's fault, everybody's fault.
"We're not going to do that anymore! I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm just going to say it out loud," Edward added.
Wandzilak reigned things in and calmed the room, but after the midday break, Tim was a no show. As everyone waited, "Nightline's" cameras spotted him in the yard outside, talking to Wandzilak.
When he finally returned, no one was sure what to expect.
"I'm going, I'm going to that … that place," he said tearfully. "This f-ing kills me, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You know it's … it's inevitable. It's something I guess I have to do."
Tim agreed to stop drinking and enter rehab.
"Well, you did the right thing," said Tim's father, Tom, embracing him. "Mom would be very proud of you."
"I wish Mom was here," said Tim.
After Tim went to pack, Wandzilak cautioned the room that he faced a long road to recovery. And she heard something that's become common for her these days — thanks.
"Honestly, Kristina, you taught me a lot," said Tim's friend Tom. "You are just so powerful in your emotions, and just the way you communicate to people."
"I think it was the most wonderful statement I've ever heard," said Lorie, Tim's mother-in-law. "This has been an amazing time, I think, for all of us. It's something that I hoped would happen for a long time."
Tim's friend Pete, who hired Wandzilak, and helped convince Tim's other friends and family to participate, thought the family intervention was much better than a confrontational approach.
"The surprise method, you surprise him and you carry him away, and he's in treatment without any say in it," said Pete. "And I think this is incredibly powerful. I think we were all reluctant. I think, at first, we were questioning the method because we didn't know how effective it would be. But having gone through it for the first time, it's incredibly powerful."
Wandzilak said it is painful for her to go through this with families.
"It's cathartic, and it reminds me, it helps me solidify my decision of sobriety," she said. "It reminds me, continually, that I caused my family, my mother, my brothers and sisters [pain], and it helps me stay solid and solidified in my decision and my recovery. I feel so grateful. I feel so grateful for my life, for my recovery and the opportunity to help people. I just, if I had to live through what I lived through for this, then I guess it makes it all worthwhile."
Wandzilak was optimistic that Tim would make it. After all, she's been through it, she's earned it.