Monday, July 11, 2011

Betty Ford 1918-2011

I was 24 years old when I walked into my first AA meeting. Too young?

Certainly, I already looked like I belonged there, swathed in discarded old scarves like some pitiful hippie-ragamuffin. Although it was dark, icy and cold--January in Ohio--I had walked to the meeting at St Aloysius on West Broad Street. That fact seemed to impress the people at the meeting more than anything I had actually said, which was likely a jumble of drug-addled gibberish that made no sense.

I held onto the one hope I had: too young? Am I too young?

And then, she just sort of settled into my mind. Her presence. It was like she was with me.

The president's wife, you nitwit. It could be anyone. Anyone.
A-N-Y-O-N-E. Any age, any sex, anywhere; there is no membership requirement except the desire to stop drinking.

But... but...

Shut UP, said my conscience, eager to win one for a change. Shut UP. The president's fucking wife.


And she remained there, a presence in my consciousness, a presence occupying my head without my full realization... until now. And she is gone.

Betty Ford was crucial to me, to us. She was so important, possibly the most important person in the American recovery movement save for the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Because she was Anyone. She was the respectable person who passed out at a dinner given in her honor. She was a rich man's wife who started to drink to deal with social pressures. And she wasn't Dick Van Dyke or Robert Downey Jr, either, she was a WOMAN. A lady. She had been, after all, the First Lady.

If it could happen to her, it could happen to you. (And do you know how many times I have heard that phrase, in meetings, in monologues, in phone conversations? I have said it myself, and it has been said to me.) Why do you think it couldn't? Who do you think you are? Of course it could. Luck, goodness, intelligence, class, decency, none of that means squat: you can't handle it, leave it alone. Even she had to. It could be anyone.


And how many lives were saved, all because we could point to her and confidently announce, ANYONE? Her presence, her life, became an object lesson for millions... certainly, it was very important to me, to know that she was in our ranks. See? I'm not the only girl! (In 1982, it often felt like I was.)

My deep affection and love for this woman is hard to convey. Her simple honesty and her life lessons, helped so many of us. Just her presence, in our minds, meant so much.

Her legacy overshadows her husband's easily.

Rest in peace.