The last thing Bill Giery

expected was a month

in the country.

Then his colleagues intervened.

Unscheduled, unwelcome, unpleasant and unnerving, it turned out to be the most important meeting of Bill Giery's 13-year career as a Washington lobbyist.

He was sitting at his desk about 10:30 last April 29 when the call came over the intercom. It was the general counsel of the trade association he represents, asking Giery to come down the hall to discuss something. Nothing unusual in that. "Fine," Giery remembers answering into the intercom, "but I hope you can make it fast because I've got an 11:20 appointment."

He missed that appointment by a mile.

When Giery walked into the room, four people were waiting: the general counsel, the associate counsel, the president of the trade association and a woman Giery had never seen. He was surprised to see the group's president, who had flown in from Wichita. Everyone seemed a little stiff. Something was up, but Giery still didn't know what.

The office chairs and the couch against the wall formed a rough circle. The general counsel sat at one end of the couch, and the only available seat was at the other. Giery sat down.

The association president spoke first and laid it on the line: Giery had a drinking problem, it was getting worse, they all knew it, and they were there to talk about it. One by one, the others weighed in with specific instances where Giery had let them down or embarrassed them or tried in vain to cover his drinking up. His work was deteriorating, his health was deteriorating. He was often late for work, and some days lunch was his last appointment of the day.

The tone was serious, caring, firm. "Tough love," counselors sometimes call it. They weren't there to humiliate him, but to help.

Giery was stunned, uneasy -- and stuck. He didn't argue. He didn't say anything.

"You feel very defensive and yet you really can't defend yourself," he recalls. "In your heart you know they're right. You know you've been saying to yourself for years that you've got to stop. I must have given up drinking 400 or 500 times."

Bill Giery had walked into an alcoholism intervention, an increasingly popular means by which concerned family members, friends or colleagues catch an alcoholic by surprise and, in a carefully rehearsed confrontation, force him or her to face the problem.

It's an old technique that has evolved over the years, based on a simple principle: If you wait for an alcoholic to seek help, it probably will be too late.

"Years ago, we used to say that the time to intervene with the alcoholic was when he hits bottom," said Bette

Ann Weinstein, a licensed social worker in Bethesda who counsels for about 25 interventions a year.

"But by that time his liver may be irreparably damaged or he may have been in a car wreck or may have no job, no self-respect, no family," Weinstein said.

"Intervention is a method of bringing the bottom up to the alcoholic." ::

Like so many others, Bill Giery had started drinking "out of bravado" on weekends in high school. The habit took hold through college and a stint in the Marines until pretty soon he had the proverbial "drinking problem."

But, of course, he didn't think so. He wasn't like those other guys who couldn't hold their liquor. No way. He was no stumble-down drunk. He never drank before noon, never touched the hard stuff. Just beer. Mostly Budweiser (and not Bud Light either).

By the time his colleagues decided they had to confront him about all this, Giery was up to nearly three six-packs a day. A beer or two at lunch, and more often than not a couple in the afternoon. A couple more on the way home. Then nearly every evening, he'd bring home two six-packs, and they'd usually be gone before 11 p.m. At least, he convinced himself, he never let it affect his work.

But now, in a kind of verbal ambush, his colleagues were telling him that they saw right through his excuses. That was -- so far -- the most stunning thing about this confrontation. Giery had never pretended he didn't enjoy a cold beer now and then, but he had no idea it was affecting his work so obviously. Like most alcoholics, he had been under the illusion that he could control his drinking whenever he needed to.

"Your immediate reaction," he recalls, "is that somebody is trying to stick it to you. You want to say, 'No, I'm not {an alcoholic}. If you think this is heavy drinking, watch. I'll show you heavy drinking.' "

After Giery's colleagues had made their case and backed it up with undeniable examples, the woman introduced herself as a counselor from Father Martin's Ashley alcoholism treatment center in Havre de Grace, Md. She handed Giery a brochure. The details of what she was saying and what he was reading went right past him in the mind-swirl of the situation. He was still coming around to the realization that 20 years' worth of excuses, alibis and little white lies were on their way out the window.

The association president spoke again, reiterating the group's concern for Giery and his need for immediate help. Then he asked Giery what he thought. It was the first time Giery had had a chance to respond. He doesn't remember exactly what he said.

"I think I said something to the effect that I couldn't deny all this, but that I thought they might be overreacting. I didn't try to defend myself. I mean, it's like getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar."

He hadn't realized that for some time he had been sending out subtle -- and not so subtle -- signals to his co-workers that he needed help. "All these things you try to keep hidden, and they're not hidden at all -- they're laid out in front of you.

"It's like standing in the middle of the room with no clothes on."

His boss and colleagues were presenting such an airtight case that Giery had no running room. It wasn't like all those three-hour expense-account lunches on Capitol Hill that he could finesse by saying he needed the contacts.

Grudgingly, Giery admitted that, yeah, he might have a problem, might even need to do something about it, might even consider trying to get some help. Maybe he'd give some thought to the program described in the brochure. What kind of timetable did they have in mind?

Then came the bombshell:

"Now."

It seemed outrageous. Didn't they understand he had a schedule full of appointments? He had plans for the weekend. Surely this other could wait.

No, they told him. This other -- his life -- could not wait. They were adamant: Now or never. They'd take care of his appointments for him.

There was a driver waiting outside in a station wagon.

The jig was up. O.K., if that's the way they wanted to be about it, he would go for help.

They drove out to Giery's home in Vienna. While the driver waited in the car, Giery quickly packed a few belongings -- still thinking somehow that he'd be back in a couple of days. Two hours after walking into the general counsel's office, he was on the Beltway heading toward Havre de Grace, northeast of Baltimore.

It was a beautiful warm, sunny day. Giery sat in the front seat of the station wagon and didn't say a word the whole trip.

"I was still in a state of shock," he recalls. Nobody except his three colleagues and the counselor knew where he was. He was exhausted, emotionally spent. He had agreed to seek help less out of personal conviction than to get his colleagues off his back. But already now he was back to worrying about his job, the appointments he was missing, the coming week's schedule. He remembers thinking he was too important to be doing something crazy like this -- riding out to a detox center on a glorious Wednesday afternoon.

Six months later, he knows it couldn't have happened any other way.

"Even if they had given me the weekend to think it over," he says, "by Friday night I would have convinced myself to say the hell with them." ::

At age 47, Giery was increasingly isolating himself in the illusion that no one noticed or cared. His marriage had broken up years before. He rarely saw his grown children. He was afraid, and afraid to admit he was afraid.

For years, he had been rationalizing -- kidding himself and, sometimes, those around him. But lately he had put on 20 pounds and was falling out of shape. And, especially at anxious moments, he had started to get the shakes.

"I noticed it first with a coffee cup," he says. "My hand would shake so bad I was making waves in the coffee just holding it."

Still he denied having a drinking problem and never dreamed he was an alcoholic. After all, wasn't he a successful lobbyist for a large national trade association?

"Even on April 28th {the day before his intervention}, I probably would have said I could hold my liquor," Giery says. "And I could. I was never sick."

His high-pressure lobbying job -- the constant Capitol Hill meetings, the power lunches, the socializing with business contacts and government officials -- gave him ample occasion for drink.

Not that an alcoholic ever runs out of excuses.

"If you root for your favorite baseball team," Giery says, "you have a drink to celebrate when they win and a drink to console yourself when they lose. Then you start drinking when they get rained out. And then you drink during the winter when they're not playing at all.

"We have a litany of excuses. A bad day at the office, a

good day at the office -- it doesn't matter."

And as far as quitting? "There's always tomorrow." ::

The concept of intervention has its roots in the development of Alcoholics Anonymous and workplace health programs of the 1940s but was not widely used until the 1960s, when it was popularized by Vernon Johnson, an Episcopal minister from Minneapolis.

Johnson, author of numerous books about alcoholism, intervention and recovery, was an alcoholic himself for years before he finally sought treatment in 1962.

"My denial was as thoroughgoing and characteristic as anyone's," said Johnson, now 67 and semiretired as president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis.

After beginning his recovery, Johnson joined other religious leaders in a search for practical means of piercing an alcoholic's delusions and denial. They latched onto direct unannounced family intervention as the only way that seemed to work.

An intervention is not a manufactured crisis, Johnson emphasized, but a presentation of stark reality to the alcoholic.

"Nobody needs to create crises in the suffering life of the alcoholic," he said. "Those crises are there."

The upside of intervention, according to social worker Weinstein, is that it usually works -- if the right people are chosen and if they are well-prepared. In the face of "tough love" and bull's-eye honesty, the alcoholic often takes the key first step of agreeing to seek help.

The downside is that it is emotionally painful not only for the alcoholic but for the rest of the family and those who intervene.

Weinstein remembers one worksite intervention involving several corporate executives. Fidgety as grade schoolers, the men stood around beforehand waiting for the person to show up. Weinstein remarked to one of them that he seemed nervous.

"I haven't felt this anxious since Normandy Beach," he told her. ::

When the station wagon in which Bill Giery was riding pulled up at the Ashley Treatment Center -- the old Tydings estate in Havre de Grace -- the first thing Giery did was check out the windows on the building. As silly as it sounds in retrospect, he wanted to see if the windows had bars on them.

He spent the next 30 days at the center. For the first time in years, he ate three regular, nutritious meals a day. And for the first time in years, he confronted his illness and talked openly about it. But not right away.

The first night at the Ashley center, Giery went to bed "convinced I still didn't belong there." He was putting up with all this just to mollify his boss and colleagues.

Thus ended Wednesday, April 29 -- the day Giery describes as "one of the low points in my life but also the start of what now is becoming the high point." Anyone who has been through a successful intervention not only remembers the date but comes to regard it as a kind of second birthday.

In a busy routine of classes, lectures, films, counseling sessions and discussion groups at the Ashley treatment center, Giery learned a lot about himself and his disease. Those who wanted to help him finally had his attention.

"I don't consider myself gullible, but I do consider myself a believing person," he says, "and one of the things they told me was that if I continued drinking I was going to die. There's too much finality in that statement not take it to heart." ::

Bill Giery hasn't had a drink since April 28, the day before his intervention.

The last time he had a craving for a drink, he says, was about 2 p.m on the day he left the Ashley Center. "Boy, I'd love a cold beer right now," he remembers thinking. He knew his fiancee was driving and knew she wouldn't stop, but what if he had been driving? What if he had been by himself?

Since then, as a Washington lobbyist, Giery has been in countless drink-oriented gatherings -- congressional receptions, luncheons, formal and informal dinners -- without succumbing to an alcoholic drink. But the possibility still frightens him.

He knows, as the saying goes, that one drink is too many, but that after the first one, 100 drinks are not enough.

He knows he can count on support from friends new and old, from colleagues and counselors and the close-knit group he meets with one evening a week at the Georgetown University Medical Center's alcohol and drug abuse clinic.

But he knows, too, that "I'm the one who has to say no."