A quest to tame technology-driven interruptions and distractions in my daily life.


Just about four months ago, I got some news that knocked me over. We learned that a brother—who had been increasingly distant and irresponsible and with whom I hadn’t been close since we were kids—was very addicted to a very dangerous hard drug. It was a friend that messaged us and between what he revealed and our research, this was going to kill him within a year. 

It was at once totally shocking and it completely made sense. He had been struggling with his finances, had relationship trouble, and had been really dishonest and duplicitous with our mother especially. After ditching a short-lived plan to ape the Intervention TV show and show up at his place, we came to our senses and consulted professionals. We heard on Monday night and by Saturday morning we had a recovery center lined up and a professional interventionist identified and I went over to break it to my mom (age 76)—who was our key to the social security and insurance information we needed to establish how expensive this all might be.

All things considered, she handled it pretty well. We made our arrangements and by Tuesday night, we were en route to rendezvous in his city. There, in a economy hotel room, we composed our intervention letters each on our own and helping my mother edit her’s. We picked up my brother’s good friend at the airport who flew in with several hours notice then were up and meeting with the interventionist by 5 am. 

What happened over the next 8 hours was miraculous, horrifying, and in many ways incomprehensible. If I live to be 100, I will probably never process everything I saw, heard, felt, and spoke. I can only compare it to the last great thing my brothers an mother did: to surround my father fifteen years ago as he died at home of multiple myeloma. We sat around him and told stories and tended to him. The last thing he said before he passed on (two days later on Christmas Day, actually) was “it was such a pleasure.” I reflect on the experience like a slow motion car wreck—something we all saw coming but wandered away from bloodied and disoriented. Still, we all consider the experience a privledge.

Back to the intervention. Essentially, it all played out like it was supposed to. We suprised him at his apartment. He sat down. We read our letters. Everybody cried. And it was clear he was—along with many other complex things—ready to go and glad we came. We then followed our plan to scrub his place of electronics, drugs and paraphanalia, and we changed his locks and gathered his essential papers/identification not knowing how long he would be gone.

Naturally, I suppose, things got dicier once we handed him over. His detox and abbreviated stint in recovery were fraught with accusations, manipulation, paranoia for everybody, and a whole lot of waiting. Right or wrong, I had made it my responsibility to be the hub for communication between loved ones and the professionals as well as trying to sort out his computer and bills in the interim. I told myself that I wouldn’t make decisions for him but I would try to make sense of things and to filter out triggery emails.

When you have a loved one in crisis (or rather when I do), there’s a tendency to want to rush in to fix everything. I was worried, frustrated, angry, and disappointed—and more than anything, I wanted to protect my brother. There were frantic text exchanges and obsessive voice mail checking. But with no way to see or contact him while in rehab, I set about trying to investigate the logistics of his life so I could help facilitate key transactions and decisions. When and how was rent due? Car payments and insurance? HR at work. IRS situation. And on and on and on. Then there were emails with drug connections and other things I won’t go into here. I started filing emails so he wouldn’t come out to temptation. Then I started unsubscribing him from nefarious services. Then I was obsessively checking his email for trouble or for action items. 

Then I realized I was addicted.

If you’ve never had a loved one with an addiction, here’s the punchline: you cannot control what they do. At all. Not even a little bit. All you can do is to decide what you require of them for your participation in their treatment or life. And then stick to it. In the days and weeks that would follow, my family would attend family therapy without my brother, group therapy with him, Al-Anon, and we sought individual therapy—some of us for the first time ever. 

The whole thing was a wake up call. Whether it was my brother’s life. His internet accounts. Technology in my life. Our employees. My wife. Whatever… I have no dominion over any of it really. My brother in recover and my mom and I went to some AA meetings. While a lot of the higher power stuff isn’t my bag, there were a few tenets that really helped:

  • We admitted we were powerless over [whatever]—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

The process helped me remember not to overreact to external stimulus and that worrying is fruitless. It also made me recognize the addictive and compusive habits of technology in my own life. And it made me really look at things clearly.

I’m pleased to report that by all appearances—rather miraculously—my brother is doing very well. He’s not using and seems to be on a path of self-realization, healing, and improving his broken relationships. Cautiously, I can say for the first time that we’ve got a real shot at a meaningful, grown-up relationship. If not, that’s okay, too.


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