Candy Finnigan is known for her fiery, straightforward approach on the A&E hit show Intervention. What many don’t know is the woman behind all of that. Candy still gets choked up when talking about the work she does and can’t imagine doing anything else. When speaking with her, it’s as though you’re catching up with an old friend. But she is just that, a friend. To the people she helps and to those she tells her story to. Through this, we got to know the woman behind saving so many lives as an interventionist.
Adopted by a family in Kentucky, Candy lived a happy life and never wanted for anything. She met her husband, Mike Finnigan, in college and the two embarked on the life of two young people in the 1970’s. Living through that time in the music scene, they both saw many die from addiction. Fighting their own battles with alcoholism, they have first-hand experience with the struggle. Both work with MusiCares and help others get out of the cycle of addiction.
During her interview with Inspirer, many people stopped to acknowledge Candy. She says it still gives her so much joy knowing that even that type of small interaction can make a difference in someone’s life. She took us through her childhood, the struggles of learning to navigate life, and what led to her getting sober and help others do the same. Those who have been blessed to know this woman, or be helped by Candy, are so lucky. We here at Inspirer are some of those lucky people.
Did you always have a passion to help people?
In a very peculiar way, I did. As a young girl, I liked to take people hostage. I always wanted to help, I would pick someone who wasn’t as fortunate as me. Like, I would take off my dress and give it to them. I would do crazy things like that. But did I know I was helping people, no. I think, spiritually, I felt sorry for them. I was adopted as a very young baby into a very fortunate family. I always had the mentality, “well, my parent’s got to chose me.” But, I always wanted to help people, I just never knew what they needed. I’ve always been a huge gift giver and card giver, you know, remembering special days. It’s really just how I grew up. It’s interesting, I don’t think anyone has asked me that.
I don’t think many people know your story. Could you tell us a little bit about where you came from?
My mother came from a privileged oil family. Her father worked very hard, starting as a rigger at the age of 14. Her mother took over as president of the oil company after my grandfather died. My father came from a large Irish/Scotch family and his father was very successful in the dried food business. He suffered from a terrible accident in college and eventually had to be institutionalized. So my father stepped in and took over for him. They grew up in two very different worlds. My mother was beautiful, Liz Taylor beautiful. Before they adopted me, they had a child who died of polio at the age of seven. A year after that they adopted my brother, who is three years older than me. As far as my adoption, I just always assumed my birth mother couldn’t take care of me, so she found a number and called up my parents. I obviously had no idea how the process worked.
I grew up around a lot of adopted children. We were all war babies, from like 1944-48. In that time there wasn’t much of a choice whether you could keep your child. Now, I don’t know if that’s part of my story. Adoptions were all closed in that time, and I’m from Kentucky, which was one of the last states to do open adoption. But that was fine with me, because I couldn’t be confused with all of that. I never did find out who my biological parents were. I was a brat, though. I just assumed I was the replacement for the daughter they lost. They had me refer to her as my sister and I even still have her picture in my home.
When did drinking start to be a problem for you?
I had both of my kids at Cedars Sinai, because they give you champagne after you give birth. And I would have several. That’s when my alcoholism started. I felt like I had no reward system for keeping these kids alive, and fed, bathed. Mike was always on the road, but when he came home I was able to pull it together. He and I would drink together, he was a big drinker. Never had a blackout though, which I thought was too bad. But there were tragedies, more people were dying,1986 I started keeping my daughter home from school to “play with me.” Not really, it was in case I took a little “nap,” someone was there to watch my son. I had a lot of gates in my house, so no one was going to escape. In the spring, my mother-in-law partially retired, so she was planning to come stay from Valentine’s Day to Easter. I thought, rockin’ now I’ll have a babysitter. When she came it was hard to drink like how I liked to drink. I would start when I was cooking dinner for the kids. I put my kids in danger, but I never left them alone. And I swore for years I never drove with them drunk. But I would drink until 1am and then get up at 6am to take them to school. I was very “poor me, poor me, pour me a drink.” I just really felt sorry for myself. There were people in my life that would tell me to not call them after 9 and stop drinking liquor. So I started drinking wine.
What was it that made you finally realize you had a problem and needed help?
My mother-in-law finally said to me, “I see a change in you after a certain time.” She was a welfare and divorce investigator, such a great woman. Very smart. She told me she didn’t like where this was going. I would keep my wine bottles in the tank of the toilet. She called a plumber because the toilet wasn’t working right. I was out picking up my son when the plumber came. It was just the hiding it and getting caught. She gave me 65 days to figure out what I’m going to do, or she was taking the kids back with her. She lived in Ohio. But she never said anything about her son. I said, “What about him?” Her answer was, “He’s not raising my grandchildren.” I had no one to intervene. Me being adopted, and my kids are going to be taken away? I think not. So, on day 61 I had a huge fight with Mike because I drank all the alcohol and smoked all the cigarettes and pot. He was coming home from a session, and I figured the best thing for me to do was wait until he pulled in the driveway and I’ll go down the street. I went to this girl’s house; I didn’t know her very well. I knew she sold weed, though. I went into her house and called Betty Ford at 4am. I asked them to have her call me back, and left a name and number. There was a two week waiting list, where you had to be sober two weeks. That wasn’t going to work for me. I remembered seeing a commercial for a diversion program, and our insurance covered it. I went there for 10 days with only what I left the house in. I didn’t even have my purse. I don’t really know how it happened. I got involved with the 12 step, because I needed something to help me stay sober. I never really wanted to stop drinking, I wish I could have learned to drink like a lady. I would always think, “I’m just a nice girl from Kansas, how’d I get here?”
What led you to being an Interventionist?
I started hosting AA meetings at my house for women and children. There were eight kids that came every week for 11 years and five of them are in the program now. I went back to school, and felt like I had a purpose. A doctor told me about this intervention training. Mike and I were already volunteering with MusiCare, and going and picking up musicians off their couches and taking them to treatment. I figured proper training would be good at this point. Again, I have no idea how it happened, because you had to be a doctor to attend. So I went in as Dr. Finnigan. I loved the sound of that. At the end I told them I wasn’t a doctor, but they said they knew. They knew because doctors don’t care about the spiritual part of intervention. I was told I had a gift, and to never forget the message. I take on all of their fears and troubles. I don’t do the interventions, the families do. But if they don’t have a family, I’ll find one. If they haven’t found a rock bottom I’ll find one. I did a lot of different things to help, but I kept being drawn back to interventions. I have a gift of being able to tell someone, “I know how they feel.” It’s not a job for me. It’s about spiritual connection.
The TV show Intervention debuted in 2005 and in 2009 won an Emmy. How did you get involved?
Four or five TV companies contacted me about being an expert on their shows about addiction. I only did a few because I’m not an expert. I wasn’t going to tell people what’s wrong or right. And I wasn’t going to talk about people I didn’t know. When the idea of Intervention was brought to me, I was a little hesitant. They told me all about it. How they were going to film the people for five days, set up the intervention, and get them treatment. Still I was hesitant. The initial idea wasn’t helping addicts, but people that were obsessed with dressing up their dogs. It was kind of whacky. A&E were the ones that said this is the path you should take. I didn’t think they’d be able to get people to do it. I was shocked that over 200,000 families have contacted the show.
What is it like to be here after everything?
I’m a blessed woman. I got here because 30 years ago I stopped drinking. I don’t know how the rest of it happened. I quit looking at my feet. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew I was going to help people. I get to make a difference in not the world, but the world of recovery. I want to inspire other people to think that they can make a difference. If I can, you can. The spiritual part keeps me in touch with who I’m not. And reminds me of who I am. I can help keep you from dying.
I want to thank you ladies for being an inspiration to women your age. And doing something about your dreams instead of just talking about it.