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Booklist...this is a solid popular introduction to the experience of recovery from addition.
— October 15, 2003
Like the swallows of Capistrano, more than one thousand Betty Ford Center alumni return to the Rancho Mirage, California, campus every autumn to celebrate their sobriety and to express their gratitude to the place where they found the strength and tools they needed to get and stay sober. While a patient at the Betty Ford Center, each person found a community of fellow sufferers whose experiences matched her own. As they gather again on campus, they look for the people with whom they shared so much during their stay here.
I take great pride in the Alumni Reunion, which started in 1983, on the first-year anniversary of the opening of the Betty Ford Center. It's a celebration, really, a celebration of recovery. The weekend begins officially on Friday afternoon with the sign-in at the hospitality center on campus; unofficially, it begins Friday morning with golf, tennis and organized hikes in the nearby San Jacinto Mountains. Saturday morning there's a large outdoor Celebration of Recovery, the highlight of which is a chip and medallion ceremony at which alumni receive medals appropriate to the length of time they've been sober. Saturday afternoon there are all kinds of workshops where alumni can "upgrade" their recovery and life-coping skills.
The huge Saturday-night banquet is the highlight of the weekend. It's an amazing event, a huge "sober celebration." My husband and I haven't missed a single one. The spirit and energy of a thousand-plus "sober celebrants" from all over North America-and the world-gathered together in one hotel ballroom is awesome.
We're all survivors in that room. We've faced head-on, with eyes wide open, an illness that can maim-and, if not treated, kill-the mind, body and spirit.
The women we meet in this book have had their minds clouded, their bodies broken, their spirits bent by the disease of addiction. Their return to the Betty Ford Center every fall is a demonstration of their healing and their gratitude for having their lives-and families-put back together.
The men and women returning to the campus reflect a colorful spectrum of two decades of patients now in recovery. Many feelings and memories accompany them as they return "home" and wend their way through the oleanders to visit Firestone Hall where they were admitted, the Serenity Room where they meditated or prayed, the swimming pool and gym where they began to get their physical health back.
This annual homecoming serves as a metaphor for another kind of home-coming, a coming home to self. All of us feel the need to be at home with ourselves. Addiction and the addicted self cause us to lose our moorings, cut the tethers to our real selves and induce us to drift aimlessly in space with no sense of purpose or direction. The "vision quest" that women embark upon at the Betty Ford Center is a transformative process that allows them to see more clearly how their addictive selves have robbed them of health and happiness, and a future. But I will talk more about this "vision quest" later on.
Each of the women narrating her story here has carved out a different journey and each journey has a hundred different paths, byways, one ways, U-turns and, yes, dead ends. And yet they all marched in the same direction-toward home. One of the earliest female members of AA wrote in the Big Book (the formal title of which is actually Al-Anon: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism) describing a meeting she attended in Bill W.'s home on Clinton Street: "I went trembling into a house in Brooklyn filled with strangers ... and I found I had come home at last, to my own kind ... I had found my salvation. I wasn't alone anymore."
The woman had come home to herself by discovering a common shelter with others.
The women whose stories I am privileged to introduce are a representative cross section of all the women who have gone through the Betty Ford Center during its first twenty years: black, white, Hispanic and Asian; single, married, divorced and widowed; young, middle-aged and older adults; heterosexual and lesbian. Some were addicted to alcohol, some to prescription medications, some to illegal drugs and some suffered from cross addiction. Some are "old-timers." Others completed treatment relatively recently.
None of the six women in this book are celebrities-but they're all stars as far as I'm concerned! And they all received star treatment.
In the lives of many of the women, the mother-daughter relationship is most poignant and in a few cases the neglect, abuse and hurtful attitude of their own mothers prevented access to their own true natures. Most were ready indeed for treatment and subsequent sobriety when they arrived at, and departed from, the Betty Ford Center. A few were not. Those unfortunate souls had to return to their previous lives of being slaves to their disease-until they truly surrendered and admitted they were powerless before alcohol and/or other drugs.
Paula entered the Betty Ford Center for the first time in 1986. She came back for treatment again in 1994, and has been sober since.
As I learned when I talked to Paula at our Twentieth Anniversary Alumni Reunion in October 2002, she sometimes doesn't feel worthy of the "together" life she now leads. As you read the story of her life you'll be astonished to learn, fir example, that she now loves to golf. As a matter of fact, during the Alumni Reunion she and her husband played golf Friday morning in a foursome with Dr. James West, our former "tough-love" medical director (at age eighty-six, he's still our outpatient medical director and vice chairman of our board of directors!) and his wife, Maureen.
Paula's previous life still has the power to haunt her with sudden, ugly nightmares and some of the scar tissue from her long, tortuous journey to sobriety remains. One incident in particular is printed indelibly in her memory.
Now it's time for Paula to tell her story.
I was born in a small town in Idaho. My father was an alcoholic and pill addict. My mother fits the description perfectly of a "rageaholic"
Nothing could interfere with my father's daily dosage of alcohol. When he was drinking it was not unusual for him to be physically abusive to my mother and me.
One of my earliest memories is of the severe beating he gave me when I was five years old. I was playing with my sister Judy, who is seventeen months older than I, when Father warned us to stop giggling. As hard as I tried, I couldn't. His eyes clouded over. That always happened when he drank. His face got red. That was the sign I really dreaded. As he leaned over to smack me I raised my arm to ward off the blow-and managed to spill a glass of milk.
I was frightened to death. He pulled out his belt to whip me.
To this day I can hear the click of the buckle and the snap of his alligator belt as he pulled it out of his trousers and whipped it again and again across my back. Judy was terrified and fled to the living room. My mother did nothing to stop him. Finally, I scrambled around the table and escaped upstairs to my room.
My back was throbbing and bleeding from the welts. I was sobbing as I packed my doll suitcase and sneaked out of the house, intending to run away. My little patent-leather purse contained my entire fortune: two pennies.
It was snowing, and like the soft flakes tossed by the wind, I drifted aimlessly, not knowing where I was going. To this day I get a sinking feeling whenever I remember how lost I was and how abandoned I felt. Still sniffling from the beating and the open, bloody wounds on my back, I was invited into a neighbor's house. They'd seen me wandering down the street. They called my parents.
When my parents came to take me home, they scolded me. Mother took me upstairs and told me to take off my blouse, which stuck to my back. It hurt terribly when I pulled it off. Not a word of sympathy came from her, only disgust and anger about the stains, which she would have to wash out.
No one held me or comforted me. There were no apologies. The next day my hungover father looked at me sheepishly with bloodshot eyes, but didn't say anything. That's what happened after every beating.
Abuse from my mother was different, but in its own way, much, much worse. Daddy's was physical and eventually healed; Mom's was mental and emotional-and, I suppose, spiritual. Those wounds have lasted a lifetime. Her verbal abuse and barbs were like poisonous arrows shot into my soft flesh that could only be removed by painfully pulling them back out.
I was finally able to heal myself from within, but the scars remain to this day. Sixty years later my mother's denunciations of me echo in my memory, if no longer in my soul. I can hear her now: "You little bitch; you're so ugly and stupid. You will never amount to anything." I was forever in the shadow of my older sister, who was the smart one, the cute one. It was no contest, in terms of beauty or otherwise. We would fight over toys and dolls and Judy would always win, as Mom would tell me to give them to her.
As hard as I tried I could never win my mother's love. Many times when Dad was drunk he would beat her up, and she would call to me for help. I tried going to her aid, but Dad was too big for me. He would pull my hair and bang me up against the wall. One time he broke my nose, which never healed properly.
Mom never thanked me for trying to help her nor did she sympathize with my injuries. When she really got angry at me she would pull my hair, slap me, call me a bitch and scream: "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have to put up with this" Of course, that didn't make any sense, but I was too young-and intimidated to realize it.
Things continued like this for many years, and I developed new ways to cope. I was fairly popular when I was in high school, but I had to be sneaky when my dates brought me home because I never knew what to expect. Dad might stagger out on the porch in his underwear to wave me inside, or Mom would start yelling at me. If neither of them appeared, my sister Denise, who was eight years younger than I, might run out frantically calling to me to come inside, because Dad was hitting Mom.
To distract my date I would keep talking a mile a minute and make sure that he kept looking at me. One time my future husband, Robert, put his head on the steering wheel and moaned because I wouldn't stop talking. Of course, I was too embarrassed to invite him into the house, fearing Mom's tirades or Dad's drunkenness.
Mom never ceased to tell me how stupid and ugly I was. One of her favorite refrains was "I can't for the world understand how any boy could be interested in you." Whenever she had guests over she would send me to my room because, in her own inimitable words, "I'm ashamed to have them even look at you."
Mom often berated me for being either too thin or too fat. I felt like a loser, worthless, a nothing. One of my earliest goals in life was to make myself look pretty despite my mom's insistence that I was "forever ugly."
When Dad didn't come home, my job was to drive Mom around in the car with my younger sister, Denise, in the backseat, looking for him and the woman my mother said he was seeing.
One time she hired a detective to follow my father. Despite my protestations that I had to do my homework, she forced me to drive her to the motel where the detective was waiting. When he forced open the door, my mother shoved me into the room ahead of her so that I would be the first to view the sordid scene. Then she screamed at me, "Look, there's the filthy bastard, there's your father."
And there, indeed, he was, sitting on the edge of the bed in his shorts, drunk and dazed, trying to shield a frightened woman who had a sheet pulled up to her chin.
At the end of my senior year we moved to Nevada. I felt suffocated; my spirit was slowly dying. All the physical and verbal abuse convinced me that I had to get out of that house.
Fortunately, Robert was determined to marry me, even though we had dated only once or twice. He complained that I never had time for him because I was always cleaning the house or taking care of my younger sister, a task that had been delegated to me by my mother. He was persistent, though. He drove back and forth from Idaho to Nevada on weekends.
When he proposed to me it was as if Prince Charming had come to rescue me. His love and devotion counterbalanced (but unfortunately did not erase) all the negative stuff that my mother had filled my head and heart with. Robert loved me for who I was. He thought I was the most beautiful person in the world, perfect in every way, his dream gift, his Cinderella. His love stood in sharp contrast to the steady stream of criticism I received from my mother, who never turned off the spigot of verbal abuse.
When we were married, I had just barely turned twenty. I didn't mind a bit that the wedding was a comedy of errors, like a hillbilly sitcom. Of course Mom said no to a wedding dress. She claimed the family couldn't afford one. So I bought one myself. A justice of the peace married us at my parents' home. It was 110 degrees outside, and I remember that the dog was howling away in the heat.
Mom had been in charge of sending out invitations, but she didn't send any to Dad's side of the family since she hated his mother. Of course, she came anyway, which added to the already tense situation.
For the nuptial entrance my father played a Hawaiian wedding song. The record was badly scratched and made a god-awful sound. When the moment came to escort me into the living room, he tried to walk beside me instead of letting me go first. We got stuck side by side in the door. It was a scene right out of a Laurel and Hardy movie.
Despite the fiercely hot temperature outside, my father decided a roaring fire in the fireplace would add a little atmosphere to the celebration. But as he squirted starter fuel into the fireplace a huge burst of flame sent him reeling backwards onto his rump.
His escape from serious injury was the excuse for several toasts. There was plenty of alcohol since my dad worked for a leading liquor distributor. At that time I drank very little.
Mom was great at playing what I call "the secret game." She would tell me a secret and forbid me to repeat it to my sister Judy. She'd tell Denise something and forbid her to tell it to Judy or me. Then she'd try to catch us by making believe that Denise had told me something, which I was to keep secret from her. She would say that she knew that Denise had shared a secret with me and I was not to pretend that she hadn't. All these permutations made us dizzy, trying to remember exactly what secrets could be shared and with whom.
Excerpted from Healing and Hope by Betty Ford Copyright © 2004 by Betty Ford. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 25, 2011
I really enjoyed reading this book. I found the beginning a little slow and confusing, but once you sort out who is who and get to know the stories of each woman, it is well worth the read. A lot of history of the betty ford clinic, and uselful information for dealing with addiction. Great to be able to follow each woman's story from childhood through recovery!
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Posted July 8, 2011
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