It's a Family Affair at the Betty Ford Center

The Betty Ford Center saved my life and my marriage during my month-long stay in 1993.

In my last blog entry, I talked about how the Betty Ford Center was part dorm life and part camp life wrapped in a subtle hospital setting. I hate to use the word “hospital,” because the accommodations were really much nicer than that. Two of my favorite spots were the duck pond, where you could take long walks with visitors or fellow residents, and the serenity room, where you could spend time with your “higher power.”

At Betty’s camp, everyone defines their higher power for themselves. For many of us, it is God in the traditional sense. For others, it might be the energy in the room. It might be the power of the group. It might still be a mystery altogether. The serenity room, which is very quiet and calm and relaxed, also allows you to just be. As someone whose mind is always racing—I particularly like to “future trip”—it’s a blessing to find a place where you are encouraged to just be.

Speaking of future-tripping, my mind went into overdrive as we neared family week. Held during the last week in your 30-day stay, it’s a chance for your loved ones and you to confront each other in an open and honest forum—moderated by a very savvy Betty Ford therapist. During the first four days, your family members attend their own lectures and courses, during which they learn how to live with an alcoholic (I highly recommend it for all you co-dependents out there). On the fifth day, normies and alkies come together in one big meeting room.

I was so nervous about these individual confrontations between my mom, my dad, and my husband, Jim and me. I had very different issues with each of them. Mom wanted to live vicariously through me; Dad resented me for taking up so much of Mom’s time; and Jim—well, he was the love of my life, my soul mate, my partner in crime, so to speak, and in my mind, he had abandoned me. We weren’t even sure we were going to stay married. I later learned that my mom had begged him to come to family week, so that’s why he did—out of guilt and loyalty to her.

The week got off to a rocky start during an introductory breakfast where we all met up. My parents, who had loved Jim up until this point, blamed my whole alcoholism troubles on Jim. “He must be a bad influence, right? After all, you never had a problem before!” Little did they know—or want to admit.

But four days later they were changed people. Betty’s team had worked miracles! The three of them were laughing and talking with each other and with the other family members in our group. They looked at me with some understanding in their eyes instead of hurt and confusion. Now came the moment of truth. I told my mom it was too much pressure to live for her. She told me she was worried it was her fault I had a problem. I assured it was not her fault. That she was a great mom and I loved her and I had a disease. It was no one’s fault. Phew. One down, two to go.

My dad said “You got the coat of many colors in our family and I thought you were throwing it all away!” Wow. Wasn’t expecting that reaction. It turns out he was mad because, in his mind, I had achieved more success than anyone else in the family, and now I was wasting it because of my alcoholism. “But I’ve learned so much here at Ford. I know now that it’s a disease, and I think you’ve come to the right place. You’re going to be okay, Alison. I love you very much.” Wow again. I told him I loved him, too. (Dad was very resistant to coming to treatment. He was named the “One Most Changed” by the group.) One more left.

By now, I am in tears and clutching several Kleenexes. I shift my eyes to Jim.

He said: “I just think you could do better than me, Alison.” Remember that Jim is
an alcoholic, too, with about 90 days of sobriety at this point. Low self-esteem is one of the key traits of the disease.

“I love you, Jim. Don’t you love me anymore?”

“Of course, I love you very much.”

“Then please don’t leave me.”

I remember seeing relief on his face. Relief that he had made a connection with someone who understood him and still loved him. The kind of relief I had felt the first day I stepped into Betty’s camp. Later that day, Jim and I were named the “Couple Most Likely to Stay Together” and so far so good: It’s been almost
20 years since my stay at Betty Ford!

I will end on this happy note, although I feel there is so much more I could write about the Betty Ford Center—the bonding with the women, the drama, the group therapy sessions, even the excellent food! But more than that, I’ve become the most passionate of advocates for rehab in general. Rehab is a journey in self-discovery, one that literally changes your life. I recommend it wholeheartedly for anyone who might be struggling with chemical dependency. (And because I feel so strongly about it, don’t be surprised if the subject comes up again and again and again!)


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JustUs February 22, 2013 at 05:47 PM
Joan, I had a friend who was into John Bradshaw back in the day. Once I listened to his tape as we drove on a trip. The stuff he said cut to the bone about 'dysfunctional families'. His approach was honest, direct and forced people to take personal accountability. You won't find that from most therapists. Many will string people along for 5-10 years and drain their bank accounts without providing them with the tools that they need to escape their emotional prisons. Too bad Bradshaw never opened up treatment centers. I would expect his outpatient style of treatment would last no longer than 3 months and the patient would come out a changed person for the better. I remember that old radio psychiatry guru David Viscott too. His approach to life was interesting as well. He seemed like a very honest man who didn't always tell his listeners what they wanted to hear. And that is the mark of a good therapist. I was sad to hear of David's passing. Over a decade now, I believe. RIP.
Deanne Goodman February 25, 2013 at 08:41 PM
This comment was emailed to me from Joan Clark at the Betty Ford Center: Betty Ford Center offers several pricing structures, all of which are described in detail here: http://www.bettyfordcenter.org/why-choose-betty-ford-center/all-inclusive-pricing/index.php Questions about insurance are covered on this page: http://www.bettyfordcenter.org/why-choose-betty-ford-center/all-inclusive-pricing/insurance-information.php
JustUs February 25, 2013 at 09:09 PM
Oh, thank you, Deanne. Very interesting and helpful information. The cost of a 30-day inpatent enrollment was not as steep as I thought it would be. And that goes in favor of the BFC for keeping the rates down. Years ago I recall a friend paid something like $25,000. However, he didn't need the medically supervised detox. And it really seemed to help him. But I thought it was called a 28-day program back then, not a 30-day program? Maybe they added 2 days? Since inflation has doubled the cost of most things since then I expected a much higher fee than $32,000. That's quite a bit of money to most people but probably well worth it if it helps someone beat an addiction and save their relationships and possibly their very lives. Years ago insurance used to be pretty good about covering the costs. Maybe they've cut their coverage back a bit over the years. Nice of you to respond. Thanks again.
Alison Hill February 25, 2013 at 10:05 PM
Yes, I wasn't ignoring you, JustUs. I just felt it would be better if you heard directly from Betty Ford than from me!
Vision PR CSUF March 17, 2013 at 03:22 AM
Your story is extremely inspirational, Alison. Congratulations on your successful recovery! It's wonderful that you are so open and honest about your experience. I'm sure your story and your work will (and already has) inspire many. -Matt Lardner (a student of Dr.King)


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