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Mom example helped Steve Ford fight addiction

lettvwithme's picture

But years after his mother entered treatment for dependence on painkillers and alcohol, spoke publicly about substance abuse and founded a rehab center, Ford found himself addicted to alcohol.

With her support, he sought help and has been sober for 19 years.

Ford will speak about addiction, his parents and life in the White House at the Doorways of Hope luncheon to benefit Alpha Home, a nonprofit that provides substance abuse treatment to women.

Ford, 56, who lives in California, worked as a TV and film actor for more than 20 years, including roles in "The Young and the Restless" and "When Harry Met Sally," but he has taken a hiatus to serve as chairman of the .

He recently talked about his experiences and his mother, who died in 2011:

Q: What was your life with your mom like when she was undergoing her addiction?

A: That was towards the end of the late '70s. We saw our mother kind of losing her life. She was spending less time out with friends and canceling appointments, and she experienced depression and melancholy. It was a very slow process. We didn't know what was wrong. And there was not the education about alcoholism and drug addiction back then. The impression of an alcoholic in 1978 was that of a Skid Row bum.

Finally some doctors said, "Listen, we think your wife is addicted to pain medication and alcohol." Thank God Dad led the intervention that happened.

Ten years later, I went through alcoholism too. You would think Betty Ford's son would know better, that I should have seen it coming, that I should have been more educated, but that's how sneaky the disease is.

Q: How did your experience compare to your mother's?

A: Mom went through an intervention, and then she went through inpatient treatment in a hospital for 30 days. I guess maybe I was a little more educated in that I probably caught it a little bit early and I did not go through inpatient treatment. I went through out-patient treatment, went to meetings, did it through (). It's funny because everyone thinks I went to (laughs). Like you get a family discount. There's not like a family wing. They actually have a rule that no family member can go to the Betty Ford Center.

A: Did her recovery inspire you when you were going through your own recovery?

Q: Yeah, it did. One thing it did is it created a great bond between Mom and I. I was able to go to her and open up and say, 'Mom, I'm afraid I might be an alcoholic.' The funny thing was, she was like every other mother, like, 'Oh no, my son can't be an alcoholic.' And I said, 'Mom, wait a second, you're Betty Ford. You can't be in denial here. You're the poster child for this thing.'

Q: How involved are you with the program now?

A: For years it was through a 12-step program and meetings, for a long time, on a daily basis. But my sobriety is through a group of guys at my own church, and we're all dealing with our own stuff and we're all trusting in God to be part of that journey with us.

Q: How do you see the state of treatment of addiction in our current health care system?

A: Not good. Addiction doesn't get the headlines like cancer and things like that, and that's probably going to always be the case, but addiction needs community. So much of the cure is about the community. It's not so much about medication and surgical procedures and things like that. It's about providing a safe haven for somebody to reclaim their life.

Q: Is there room for a woman like your mother in today's ?

A: She was not your typical Republican housewife. She was pushing for the Equal Rights Amendment for women, which at that time was really not part of the Republican platform (laughs). She spoke about premarital sex and all the things first ladies had never talked about. She got a lot of grief for it. This is where I think Mom got the respect of people.

Within the first weeks of my dad's administration, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time we didn't even say the word "breast" in public. Here you had a first lady saying, "We're going to take the shame off this disease." Then four or five years later she goes through addiction and tries to take the shame off addiction. I think that's how she related to the American people. She was one of them.