Betty Ford saved many women’s lives – women she never met. Thanks to her honesty and willingness to express her vulnerabilities on a national, public level, as well as to personal friends and family, more and more women have been able to admit that they too have addictions to alcohol and/or drugs. Betty Ford revealed her addiction to the public in 1978. In 1982, she, along with former ambassador to Belgium Leonard Firestone, founded the Betty Ford Center.
“Getting sober is tough, tough work,” she wrote in the prologue to her book Healing and Hope. “The Betty Ford Center has been described as a ‘Healing Circle’ where men and women can come and rediscover their journey to wholeness.”
Betty’s openness also helped other public figures come forward and share their battles. When top celebrities can admit they have a problem, everyday people feel more comfortable admitting that they do as well.
Betty Ford was very concerned with helping women deal with the stigma that can impact women still to this day. The disease of addiction impacts women faster than men, and studies have shown that when they finally admit they need help, the disease has progressed and they are pretty sick.
Those of us working in the recovery community know how important it is to help remove this stigma so women can be proud of doing this hard work of getting sober instead of being embarrassed by it. We need to shine a light on the process of recovery and celebrate the women who are brave enough to admit they have a problem and who do the work to obtain sobriety.
It’s important, especially for women who are not prone to speaking up amidst their busy lives, to find the encouragement to share. For example, a recovering alcoholic, Cathy, shares that, “Approaching another anniversary of sobriety, I have now gotten through all of my firsts without drinking: birthdays, graduations, neighborhood parties and holidays. I have learned to plan ahead when attending social occasions, sometimes bringing my own beverages. I often find myself thinking about how much more fun I am having without alcohol rather than missing it.” These are the kinds of stories other women suffering from alcoholism need to hear. Stories that show them they are not alone. Stories that show them they do not need to feel ashamed for facing their problem.
Cathy has told a few close friends about her drinking problem. When they are surprised and tell her that she doesn’t look like an alcoholic, she responds with, “What do you think we look like?” It’s common for society to look at women alcoholics differently. A man who acts out and gets drunk with the boys is typically viewed as merely acting out social rites and traditions, while a woman who gets drunk is seen as out of control and loose. But what is really going on behind the façade for women who use booze for self-medication? Women tend to take care of the people in their lives and often look out for themselves last. Trying to cope with the myriad of things to do and people to make happy can make a woman put herself and her needs last. Drugs and alcohol may seem like an instant pick-me-up and a quick fix solution when the truth of these circumstances becomes too much to bear and too overwhelming and time consuming to tackle. But eventually, a woman learns that no matter how much she drinks, the problems do not go away.
We know that alcoholism affects all people regardless of gender, class, race or background, but in January, we will be offering a conference called The Beautiful Faces of Recovery specifically geared towards women. We invite you to spread the word to anyone you think might benefit from a day of healing and sharing with other women who have been there and who are devoted to walking the road of recovery together with other women on the same path.