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Blog: Life at the Betty Ford Center

A trip to The Betty Ford Center proves to be a life-chaning experience for a scared little alcoholic like me.

Looking back on it, I’m amazed I had the courage to drive from Manhattan Beach to Rancho Mirage by myself and walk through the doors of the Betty Ford Center. My estranged husband Jim had come up earlier in the day to pack up the dogs and lock up the house for the next 30 days as he was currently living in Orange County getting sober the old-school way—by attending AA meetings and working with a sponsor. My mom had been staying with me while I waited for Betty Ford to call and confirm they had a bed for me. When they did call, she helped me throw a few things into a bag and literally walked me to my car. Then she hopped in her car and followed me until she took a detour to San Bernardino and drove home. From there I was on my own. I’ll be forever grateful to two loyal girlfriends, Katie and Leslie, who called me on the road to send me their love and tell me I was doing the right thing.

Many old-timers talk about how they had their last hurrah before they got sober, or how they arrived at rehab drunk or high. That was not the case for me. Since Mom had been babysitting me for several days, I was as dry as can be when I checked in with the nurse. I’m glad, because I remember feeling at home from the minute I arrived. I cried, I felt such relief. In fact, I cried every single day I was at rehab because it was such a tremendous relief to finally feel like I belonged—that I was with other people who understand what I was going through. I even cried when I met Betty Ford, who was a frequent speaker and visitor to the center back then. She said, “Don’t worry, dear. Crying is good.The tears wash away the pain.” And then she gave me a hug.

It’s hard to adequately describe in a short blog what rehab at Betty Ford is really like. It’s a little like dorm life, where you share a room with few amenities and you eat in a cafeteria. You also attend lectures and classes where you learn about your disease and have homework assignments. But the homework assignments are all about you, and they are read by a team of experts who then provide positive and constructive feedback. At what other time in your life do you get to spend 30 days just focusing on you and your issues, and then get advice from professionals on how to handle your situations? What a luxury!

The atmosphere is also a little like camp. There are arts and crafts projects (again, related to you, like telling your life story in poster form or a painting), team sports, talent nights and special “medallion ceremonies” complete with a rendition of Amazing Grace for departing residents. And finally, yes, it is a little like a hospital, because many of the residents are detoxing and must be monitored both mentally and physically, among other reasons. 

For me, the experience was life-changing because I finally learned how to shut off my head.  You see, that’s one of the reasons why I drank and used drugs—to escape and have some peace from the obsessive thinking that would go on and on and on in my brain. At Betty’s Camp, I learned the secret: I learned how to finally surrender and accept life on life’s terms.

For some of you reading this, you may say ‘But that’s so easy!’  And I’m glad for you if it is easy. 

But that wasn’t the case for me. I learned to surrender and accept by sharing my feelings in a journal, in a one-on-one session with a therapist, and in a group setting with peers who suffered from the same disease of addiction as me. Imagine getting up in front of a crowd of 50 or more people and sharing something personal and embarrassing like the fact that you met your spouse while you were drinking alone at a bar. It’s easy for me to do it now, but I was literally shaking the first time I did it at rehab. That’s one of the things they teach you at Ford: how to share your secrets with a safe group (like your rehab peer group or the folks at an AA meeting) and then release them, because they no longer hold any power over you.

Surrendering, acceptance, sharing…these were three very important gifts I received at Betty Ford, and I would have been happy with just this much.  But there’s more to come!  Stay tuned for the final installment.  



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jill smith February 19, 2013 at 08:39 AM
Dan, sorry I offended you. In your statement above it sounds like you are describing obsessive compulsive disorder. In my opinion unless there is something drastically altering the brain, it is a cop out to say choice does not play a part in being an addict.
Constant Comment February 19, 2013 at 08:52 AM
Why are you sorry Jill? I think that Dan knows that he's wrong is now just huling insults around. You have nothing to be apologetic about. Bye now! }~)
tiny February 19, 2013 at 02:37 PM
Just read some of the above and the divide is this: Dan says alchoholism was historically considered a crime, but it is a disease, and classifying it as such is more accurate and a more humane approach. JustUs says it is a choice and not like say colon cancer. This is your classic Liberal vs moral responsibility divide. In the blog Alison says: At Betty Ford you attend lectures and classes where you learn about your disease. For me, the experience was life-changing because I finally learned how to shut off my head. At Betty's Camp I learned the secret of surrendering and accept life on life's terms. One of the things they teach you is how to share your secrets with a safe group and then release them, because they no longer hold power over you. Surrendering, acceptance and sharing were gifts I received. It seems to me by the above description that the treatment at Betty Ford deals with addiction issues that are more psychological and moral rather than a physical. And so when Dan said historically alchoholism was considered a crime, well probably because historically people also looked at addiction more as a psychological and moral issue.
JustUs February 19, 2013 at 02:58 PM
"I am the Walrus! }~)" "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together." Rumor has it that Elvis was seen visiting Orange County in the last few days. Any sightings out there?
JustUs February 19, 2013 at 03:13 PM
IMO alcoholism is called a "disease" to relieve the alcoholic of guilt and to help him or her in their recovery. Otherwise, the disease concept could pretty much be applied to any compulsion or obsession or addiction. If I need a handful of chocolate bon-bons in the morning to get through the day, I guess I have a disease. If I need to go out and run 3 miles every morning to feel good I guess I have a disease. Now don't get me wrong. I don't care what they call it. I don't care if they call it a 'banana' for that matter. If it helps someone turn their life around, then I encourage it. Names and labels never bothered me in the least. They are merely words. Sometimes the labels they come up with are amusing to someone who sees through the hype....but I guess if I snicker over it I'm being 'intolerant', 'insensitive' or a 'bigot'. So to appease all the hand-wringers if I laugh I'll try to laugh in private, or at most in front of my dog. But I sense that he thinks it's funny too. When I laugh he usually wags his tail. That's how I know. So let's all recognize our individual 'diseases' and do our best to overcome them and make the world a happier place. And if you want to spend your money (or your insurance money) letting the Betty Ford people help you with whatever 'disease' you suffer from - may the good Lord bless you until the cows come home.
JustUs February 19, 2013 at 03:33 PM
As long as you disagree with me and maintain your vitriolic and angry expressions at me I know that I am on the right track, Dan. Thanks for your feedback, sir.
Becky Honkington February 19, 2013 at 03:50 PM
The medical community categorizes alcohol and drug addiction as a disease. Medical Definition of DISEASE : an impairment of the normal state of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions, is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms, and is a response to environmental factors (as malnutrition, industrial hazards, or climate), to specific infective agents (as worms, bacteria, or viruses), to inherent defects of the organism (as genetic anomalies), or to combinations of these factors : sickness, illness—called also morbus; compare health 1 Susceptibility to addiction is the result of many interacting genes. Social and environmental factors contribute to this risk of addiction. It is becoming increasingly clear that genetic factors also weigh in. Like other behavioral diseases, addiction vulnerability is a very complex trait. Many factors determine the likelihood that someone will become an addict.
Becky Honkington February 19, 2013 at 04:14 PM
I would also like to add that many people disagree with JustUs and Constant Comment. We just don't bother engaging with them because it usually turns into a personal attack. Words matter and no one likes to be belittled.
JustUs February 19, 2013 at 05:02 PM
"The medical community categorizes alcohol and drug addiction as a disease." Of course. That way insurance has to cover it. Pretty smart financial move by the medical industry if you ask me. Plus, if I am a drunk I can just say that I have a 'disease' and it relieves me of my guilt. It makes recovery easier for some. However, for others it may perpetuate the problem, as they can claim to have a 'chronic disease' and consequently take no personal responsibility for their problem. So it's kind of like a double edged sword, depending, of course, upon who the drunk is. Am I making sense? "I would also like to add that many people disagree with JustUs and Constant Comment." That's fine. I embrace disagreement. I engage in some of that myself on occasion. I mean, what would discussion boards be without disagreement, dear? Quite boring. Wouldn't you say? Enjoy your day and don't get wet.
Dan Avery February 19, 2013 at 06:24 PM
Oh so you don't question what people say? Seems like you do from what you just wrote. You smoked for 40 years and don't know how hard it was to quit? How many packs a day did you smoke? I smoked three for about that long. Quitting was damn hard because, as science tells us, nicotine is the most addictive substance on the planet. In those 40 years your smoked the tobacco companies increased the nicotine levels several times. Why do you suppose they did that? Oh right it's not for you to question. Quite an approach there, not questioning when people are being disingenuous to you.
Dan Avery February 19, 2013 at 06:29 PM
Well, Becky, like I said once upon a time they were too busy working on an assembly line and didn't even know these sites existed. Now they think because they are breathing they have something worth while to say. And if you disagree they belittle and claim you're the one who started calling names. The Patch's stated mission is to start a dialog in the community. It will fail for two very simple-minded and stupid reasons: they allow anonymous logins and there actually are such poorly educated people like the two you named who actually think they are smart. Meanwhile they just proved to anyone who has struggled with addiction just how stupid and ugly their souls really are. It's people like JustUs and Constant Comment who remind me there really is a hell. You don't go there for your "sins." The stupid and ugly souls live there.
Dan Avery February 19, 2013 at 06:32 PM
Hey tiny, did you ever find my article on Obama again? It's here: http://missionviejo.patch.com/blog_posts/presidential-whack-a-human So what did you think of it btw?
JustUs February 19, 2013 at 06:35 PM
I don't think I've ever observed more self-indulgence and self-pity coming from one poster on a comment board before. Maybe I have. I just cannot recall him or her at this particular moment.
Michelle Mowad (Editor) February 19, 2013 at 08:01 PM
Well put.
Martha L. Bridges February 19, 2013 at 08:59 PM
Oh, but I do believe in spirituality and a supreme or supernatural being. And anyone saying otherwise in these comments doesn’t know what they are talking about. You cannot possibly know what is in someone else’s mind and heart regarding all their personal beliefs. I just don’t accept that most established religions - either big or small - which have been created by mankind are truly representational of that being or spirituality. In most or many cases these religions are fraught with flaws, ambitions, self-interests, political struggles and terrible destructive practices. The history of mankind clearly tells us that is so. And, I think that a person’s faith or religious beliefs should remain personal and private. Using the god or God word is so often just a cop out - just as you are using it in this thread.
Dan Avery February 19, 2013 at 09:11 PM
self-pity? where? In your mind maybe. I wrote that while laughing. You really don't get "persona" do you JustUs. Oh wait, I am sorry you admit you don't have much formal education and that you don't have much use for it. My bad. Never mind. Carry on in your blissful ignorance that someone is exactly like the voice they created to deal with the likes of you.
tiny February 20, 2013 at 01:52 AM
Saw it. Perceptive. Ya, I've heard decisions are being worked to let the quantitative easing end. Which means, if conditions stay as "to be", the 30' in Europe, not FDR.
Dan Avery February 20, 2013 at 04:13 AM
Thanks tiny. That was good feedback. Appreciate you taking the time.
Johnny Utah February 20, 2013 at 10:54 PM
I am going to go with Just on all the comments here. I totally agree. Like I said, I am glad I have no kids nor want any.
RATSJ February 21, 2013 at 06:59 AM
Dan Avery....I smoked anywhere from 1 - 2 packs of cigarettes per day and I tried several times over many years to quit but was not successful. I quit cold turkey the day I was told I had thyroid cancer. The cancer was not caused by smoking, but I didn't want to add any more "fuel to the fire!" The last couple of years was a struggle with 2 surgeries 3 months a part. Chemotherapy treatments and 6 and a half weeks of intense radiation treatments. I could not eat by mouth for 9 months and was living on ensure through a feeding tube. I am happy to report that I am now cancer free and doing very well. I have learned to respect life and other's opinions. Sorry, I got off subject here.
RATSJ February 21, 2013 at 07:03 AM
By the way, Tony Gwynn and I had our radiation masks hung at the same treatment lab. He was going through his struggles around the same time I was.
Dan Avery February 21, 2013 at 05:41 PM
When the doctor put my mom on oxygen because she had just been diagnosed with emphysema, he said "Well, June, today is the day you stop smoking." My mom's reply was "you really don't know very much about addiction do you, doctor?" And many of the recovering addicts reading this thread just had a smile spread across their face. You describe all of this as a "habit" three times in another comment. A habit is quite different than an addiction. The language we use betrays more than we think.
Dan Avery February 21, 2013 at 05:42 PM
And we are all a little dumber for having read that.
jill smith February 26, 2013 at 10:59 PM
The following are your words Dan. You need to understand there is a difference between between being analytical and verbally abusive. Dan Avery 8:08 pm on Monday, February 18, 2013 JustUs you are one of the most reprehensible, ugly, soulless wastes of human flesh I have ever come across. You just love to try to demean and intimidate. And notice, you fool, how it isn't just me that says so. On every thread you've ever commented on several people have shared that assessment with you. I truly wish you were employable so you could return to whatever brain-numbing assembly line job you thought you were good at and leave us alone.
jill smith February 26, 2013 at 11:05 PM
Your words are abusive Dan Avery........ enough said!
jill smith February 26, 2013 at 11:32 PM
A person like you Dan, that can take absolutely no criticism has low self esteem. You make excuses for smoking and you make excuses for your mom WHO JUST as you put it" had a problem with alcohol and pills." She chose alcohol and pills regardless of having a child, and apparently verbal abuse too, as evidenced by your behavior. You seem to feel talking to people in an abusive manner is acceptable. Time to grow up Dan, stop making excuses for your mom and your extreme rudeness.
Michelle Mowad (Editor) February 26, 2013 at 11:34 PM
There is a difference between calling someone stupid and calling someone's ideas stupid. No personal attacks. Please show respect for fellow commenters.
jill smith February 26, 2013 at 11:41 PM
You stated you smoked three packs a day and went on to blame the cigarettes, how ridiculous. Dan who taught you these things just happen?, well they do not , they are a choice. Pills, smoking choosing alcohol over a family, verbally abusing children, these are a choice. It is painful to admit, but the sooner you do the easier it will be for you to take responsibility for your own actions.
jill smith February 27, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Agreed!
jill smith February 27, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Agreed!

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