By John Southworth

Episode six of the Recovery Unscripted podcast featured renowned interventionist John Southworth, recorded during the 2016 Recovery Results conference in Dallas. Southworth passed away in late 2017, but he lives on through the knowledge he so willingly shared. Expanding on his conference presentation, “Transforming the Past into Powerful Recovery Today,” he spoke to us about how adverse childhood experiences and trauma can alter someone’s perspective.

The first obstacle to overcome is recognizing that the trauma even exists, Southworth says, because “in a dysfunctional family, you don’t even know you’ve gone through trauma ’til you start looking at it from the other side.” In other words, “If you’re living in a cave your whole life, the cave is very familiar to you … and you adapt.”

If anyone is an expert at transforming the past, it’s Southworth. In his hands-on work as an interventionist, he drew on his four decades in the field as well as his own personal experience with addiction and recovery. Following in his father’s footsteps, Southworth abused alcohol from an early age. There was a series of consequences, including multiple DUIs, but he still managed to open a chain of office supply stores that made him a millionaire – all while continuing to drink.

He sought help for his drinking, but marijuana and cocaine abuse followed. Southworth eventually sought treatment five times. When he left the program the last time, he got involved with Boise State and became a DUI evaluator. Other opportunities followed. By 1992, he was asked to take over a program in Idaho for impaired doctors. Contracts to work with addicted dentists, nurses, pharmacists, judges and attorneys came next. From there, he began doing intervention training, consulting and worked as an interventionist through his own company, Southworth Associates.

As he neared 80, Southworth showed no signs of slowing down. The week he sat for this interview, he had been to Shanghai and Bali, stopped in Denver for the conference, then he was off to Boise and Atlanta before heading out to Palm Springs. At the time of his death, he had 35 years of sobriety.

Southworth was a strong proponent of family involvement in the intervention and treatment process. In order to transition from a positive intervention to an environment of lasting recovery, he’d say, it’s critical to get the whole family involved. This involves everything from preparing before the intervention to ensuring that the family is engaged and held accountable for the long term.

“It’s like taking a growth of cancer out. If you don’t deal with the families, you’ve only taken a third of the growth out,” Southworth explains. “How well are they going to get? The cancer’s going to grow.”

Families are very crazy a lot of the time, Southworth says. “They’re wonderful people, but they’ve been so involved in that disease for so long … the family is focused in on the disease so much that they feel a loss.”

Alcohol, drugs, food, sex — any of those things can be used to relieve emotional or physical pain. That’s why it’s so important to get to the root cause or causes, Southworth would insist.

And anyone can do the work. You’re never too far gone. Southworth admitted that he’d faced a lot of problems, but one thing he never did was give up. He just wouldn’t give up. And that’s what the message he most wanted people to hear: Do not ever give up. There’s hope out there.

You can listen to the Recovery Unscripted podcast or read the entire transcript HERE.

John Southworth