When former First Lady Betty Ford died last Friday, the recovery community and the nation lost an advocate, an innovator, and a fabulous gal. I met Betty when I worked at the Ford Center as a consultant, and she was an inspiration to me and countless other individuals—especially women—who struggled to overcome substance abuse and addiction.
Mrs. Ford’s legacy is a testament to the power of sharing one’s own recovery story. When Mrs. Ford spoke openly about her breast cancer, women were inspired to get mammograms and take preventative measures. When she opened up about her struggles with pills and alcohol, people were more comfortable getting the help they needed for their own addictions. In learning about Mrs. Ford’s recovery journey, the nation could finally see that addiction is a non-discriminating illness that neither status nor the White House can keep at bay.
For those of us in recovery, the decision to speak openly about our pasts is a tough one—it can cause very real roadblocks in our lives and careers. Even today, after more than 25 years clean, I wouldn’t necessarily mention my addiction and recovery in a job interview! But as Mrs. Ford showed us, there comes a point when many of us realize that sharing our recovery stories will do others more good than it will do us harm. There were certainly many reasons why the First Lady’s substance abuse wouldn’t contribute to her popularity; nevertheless, Mrs. Ford chose to be fearlessly vocal about her experience and her struggles. In doing so, she made tremendous strides toward removing shame and stigma, encouraging others to get help, and proving that people—even icons—can overcome addiction and go on to do great things.
Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House