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.