NPR Intern Inspired by 'Reality'

Reality television shows are often blamed for rewarding bad behavior, and encouraging viewers to laugh at other people's problems. But writer and former NPR intern Tamika Smith says a reality show inspired her to reconnect with her alcoholic grandfather.

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Our former intern, Tamika Smith, has also seen he ravages of alcoholism up close. But it took a television reality show to help her reconcile her feelings and her relationship with the family member who had been consumed by his addiction.

Ms. TAMIKA SMITH (Former NPR Intern): Sometimes I get so caught up with life, I can't see the people around me - what they're going through and how they feel. It was like that for me and my grandpa.

But a reality TV show helped me think about him differently, and the role he plays in my life. That show is "Intervention" on the A&E cable channel. It documents the lives of Americans battling with addictions: shopping, heroin or the one my grandpa struggled with - alcohol.

The episodes all tell the story of how the people became addicted. And they end with a loved one stepping in to help. But there was one story in particular I couldn't forget. It featured an elderly man who was an alcoholic. I immediately thought about my grandpa. For years, I had seen him only as a man who drank so much it made him sick. Every time I called home to my family in Miami, he wouldn't be there. He was always in the hospital. It was always related to alcohol. That's how I saw him. To me, he was his addiction, not a person. And I cast him away.

But watching that episode of "Intervention" changed me. I gained compassion watching a stranger taking interest in the neighborhood drunk. He dressed in rags, slept in a park, and always kept his liquor in an old water bottle. But the stranger saw something else. He saw a good spirit.

Before the show had finished, I had called my grandpa. We had our first real conversation in years. He surprised me by revealing he loved country music. And my grandpa is from Haiti. I learned my great-grandmother lived to be 106 years old. He shared moments about his life living Haiti and where he went to school - history was his favorite subject - and about his life here.

He had stopped drinking. I asked grandpa questions that I would never have asked him before, like if he was a lady's man - you know they all say they were - and if he felt alone. We talked like this for more than an hour - just me and him, in the moment.

I'm going to make him a CD with his favorite music - kompa - and a little bit of Alan Jackson. And we're going to talk again. The reality show, it turned out, was my "Intervention."

MARTIN: Tamika Smith is a recent Howard University graduate and our former summer intern.

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Now, you just heard CNN commentator Jack Cafferty share his personal story about his battle with addiction, and our intern's personal story about how a television reality show helped her see addiction differently.

Now, we'd like to hear from you. Has your life ever been touched by addiction? If you like, we'd like you to tell us how you or a loved one beat the odds. To express your views about this or any other of our programs, please go to our blog at You can also call our comment line at 202-842-3522.

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