Going Beyond the Limelight

Recovery Unscripted banner image for episode 38

Episode #38 | October 5, 2017

Featured Guest: Steve Ford

Today’s guest is Steve Ford, the son of President Gerald Ford and addiction awareness pioneer Betty Ford. For this episode, he sat down with Foundations Chief Marketing Officer, Lee Pepper, at the Moments of Change conference in Florida where he shared the personal journey he’s traveled from The White House to Hollywood to addiction and ultimately to new life in recovery.

Podcast Transcript

David Condos: Hello and welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m David Condos. Today’s guest is Steve Ford, the son of President Gerald Ford and addiction awareness pioneer, Betty Ford. For this episode, he sat down with Foundation’s chief marketing officer, Lee Pepper, at the Moment of Change Conference in Florida, where he shared the personal journey he’s traveled, from the White House to Hollywood to addiction and, ultimately, to new life in recovery. Also stay until the end for some very related trivia from this week in recovery history. Today’s question highlights the Betty Ford Center, which was co-founded by Steve’s mother, in which year: 1980, 1982 or 1984? Find out after the interview.

Lee Pepper: Steve, I want to welcome you to our 50th national conference here at Moments of Change 2017. It’s our honor to have you open up our sessions this morning with, really, an inspiring talk about your family and your personal journey. It was just so refreshing, and we’re just honored to have you here.

Steve Ford: Thank you Lee. Listen, you have a great audience, people working in the industry trying to transform people’s lives, and I’m honored to be clean and sober, and the grace of God in my life a good twelve-step program.

Lee: One of the things, as I was listening to the opening part of your talk today was, I was struck by some of your comments in regards to when you were there with your family and with your father. When you convened outside your family homes, the front door, and you rang or knocked on the door. Your mother opened the door and, I think you give a lot of credit to your father and to your family to being strong enough to just muddle their way through this– probably, an early form of intervention.

Steve: It was an early form of intervention. I mean, at that time, it was back in the 70’s. Our family, we’d never heard the word intervention. We had a mother who was losing her life and it was slipping away, and my dad found the right doctors to convince us we could do this and wake her up, basically. We went in and did that intervention, dad– gosh– beautifully, led it and just convinced mom, “We’re here because we love you. Your kids want you back, I want my wife back, I don’t want to lose you,” and we were just a wakeup call. Dad held her hand, walked her through. And interventions are tough, they are. Listen, this is hard work, but you got to start somewhere, and there’s people out there who can help you and walk you through it. Like I say, we woke her up, she did the work afterwards and it was a blessing.

Lee: I told you earlier, before we went on the air, we get so many phone calls and not just Foundations but, really, inside the whole industry. Because there’s 23 million Americans that need help. I think for a lot of people that call in, especially, family members, they have gone through this situation where they’ve been lied to, they’ve been stolen from, and I think that the words you said, that you reinforced to your mom was, “We love you.” I think that that’s where it got to start.

Steve: Yes, in our case, mom had been prescribed legitimate prescription pills for pain management. It was legitimate. She had pinched a nerve in her neck and problems, but it developed into what happens to a lot of people, you combine that with not a lot of alcohol and prescription medication. You get a cocktail that creates a life that you’re losing your life. It’s interesting, mom changed the face of addiction back in the 70’s, when the old stereotype was, it was the skid row bomb, or whatever that was using alcohol or addict. Here, you had a former first lady raise her hand, say, “My name is Betty, I’m an alcoholic.” It turned the recovery community upside down and really moved it forward to say that your neighbor down the street, the person you work with at the office, could also have these same problems. And it opened the doors for people who come and get treatment and think about it, have the courage to come in and make a phone call or get some treatment.

Lee: As you were then fast forwarding through your family’s journey and your personal journey, I was struck that, when you identified that you needed help that you took a little bit of a different path. That’s one of the messages that we try to get across to people, is that everybody’s going to walk their own path and create their own journey. A lot of times people want to reach out to us and they say, “I just want to send Johnny or Jill to you and I want you to fix them in 30 days,” and that’s just not possible.

Steve: Yes, it’s not. Mom went through a residential treatment facility when she got sober and clean. When it happened with me, not many years after mom, 10 plus years afterwards, I too was raising my hand and saying, “My name is Steve and I’m an alcoholic.” I should have known better, Betty Ford was my mother, I had enough education around me, but that tells you how sneaky a disease it is, it doesn’t care. I didn’t go through residential treatment, I just picked up the phonebook, found out where some AA meetings were and I started going to AA meetings. I went to 90 meetings in 90 days, that was where my recovery came from. So there’s a lot of vehicles. The important thing is you have the courage to take that first step. There are people waiting, there’s safety nets out there, its okay to talk about it today. We aren’t where we were 40 years ago, there’s a lot of help out there.

Lee: In your talk you referenced that everybody is– sobriety is fragile. I think you pointed to one of the side doors and you said, “my addiction is right outside those doors,” and a lot of people turned and looked, and then you said, “and they’re doing pushups.”

Steve: Yes, my addiction is a daily battle. I talk to a lot of young people, schools, prisons, juvenile detention facilities and I tell those kids, “my addiction doesn’t care that I was the son of a former president, didn’t care I’m the son of Betty Ford, didn’t care I was an actor or worked on movies or anything. My addiction is out that door every day, waiting for me, doing pushups.” And that it’s a daily process to be– it’s a community– You can’t do this by yourself. It’s a community, it’s like you have a blazing fire and you take one single coal out, put it on the mantle of the fireplace, what happens to it? It goes out, it can’t survive, whereas you stay within that community, that fire, you’ll be able to fight it every day.

Lee: One of the closing comments you had that really struck a chord with me and I think a lot of the audience members that have young kids, was this notion of are you plugged in to the right things? Today when I look at trying to raise my two boys into young men, it’s making sure they’re plugged in to those right things.

Steve: When I talk to young people, I make that analogy that, I was like a refrigerator plugged in to the wrong thing, right? I wasn’t plugged into the electricity to make it work, and I was rotting on the inside because that’s what would happen to whatever you put into a refrigerator. If you’re not plugged into electricity, it is not happening, and you’re going to rot inside. All that meat and vegetable, well that’s what I was, I was not plugged in the right thing, and a man who looked great on the outside, shiny and wow, he works in movies. He’s the president’s son; but if you open the door to my soul, I was rotting on the inside. You got to stay plugged in to the right thing.

Lee: Well, Steve, I just appreciate you being willing to come down to Palm Beach today to speak to us. Will you be speaking anywhere else on the next few months? Or, what’s in store for you and your journey?

Steve: I’m constantly traveling around a lot, I do a lot of corporate speaking but I also do events like this. There’s a lot of work to be done out there. There’s a lot of people that need help and need to get into recovery. It really is a story of hope when you think what this industry has come from 40 years ago, and it’s okay, now. It’s okay to get help, it’s out there. Doctors are finally getting trained, there are centers, there’s places for children, there’s places for adults. Well, make that first step, make a contact, find out a place you can get some help.

Lee: We’ll see you again. Thank you so much for coming here today, we’re just so honored that you shared your story and opened up about your mom and your dad too, which is wonderful to hear.

Steve: Thank you, Lee.

Lee: Great, thank you so much, Steve.

Steve: God bless you.

Lee: All right.

Steve: Yes.

David: Thanks again to Steve for joining us today. And thank you for staying for another installment of our trivia segment called, “This Week in Recovery History.” Each time, I share a question that features a different pivotal event from this week in history that has helped shape our current world related to addiction and mental health recovery.

Today’s question highlights the Betty Ford Center, which first opened on this very week, in the year 1982. As Steve described in his interview, Betty had already struggled with addictions to alcohol and prescription pills for many years by the time she became the First Lady. Her dependence on drugs and alcohol took a turn for the worse after leaving the White House, in 1977, leading the Ford family to stage an intervention in 1978.

After completing a rehabilitation program and finding recovery, she co-founded the Betty Ford Clinic in California, which continues to offer treatment services in addition to prevention and education programs for families and children. She played a vital role in the direction and leadership of this center for many years, serving as Chairman of the Board, from its founding until 2005. She also travelled the country as an advocate for those struggling with substance use, raising awareness about the disease of the addiction, and the potential for recovery. So, that’s the Betty Ford Center, opened this week in the year 1982. Stay tuned for move trivia from recovery history in future episodes.

This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today, we’ve heard from Steve Ford. For more on his work with his late father’s foundation, visit geraldrfordfoundation.org. Thank you for listening today. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please pass it along to someone else who might enjoy it as well. We’d love to have your help spreading the word. See you next time.

Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

Episode #105 | January 8, 2020

In a culture that often encourages a toxic version of masculinity, how can treatment providers help men unlearn harmful stereotypes and uncover their own trauma?

We’ll answer this with SCRC clinical director Hedieh Azadmehr on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

Cultivating an Environment of Innate Listening

Episode #104 | October 2, 2019

As the healthcare industry evolves, how can treatment professionals turn off the noise and really listen – to emerging trends, to their patients and to themselves?

We’ll dive into this with speaker, coach and founder of human connection company BluNovus James Hadlock on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

The Realities of Self-Harm and Suicide

Episode #103 | August 15, 2019

What can behavioral health providers do to better understand the realities of self-harm and to know how to respond when they spot the signs in their patients?

We’ll discuss this with non-suicide self-injury specialist, author and counselor Lori Vann on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

For more about Lori’s work, visit lorivanncounseling.com

Integrating Buddhism and the 12 Steps

Episode #102 | August 8, 2019

How can ancient principles from Zen and Tibetan Buddhism integrate with modern treatment programs to help more people build lasting recovery?

We’ll discuss this with author Darren Littlejohn on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

For more about Darren’s book, The 12 Step Buddhist, visit the12stepbuddhist.com.

Can LGBT-Affirmative Therapy Help Re-Write Internalized Messages?

Episode #101 | July 17, 2019

In a heteronormative culture, how can providers use affirmative therapy to help LGBT individuals re-write the false messages they’ve internalized?

We’ll answer this with psychologist, author and activist Dr. Lauren Costine on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

For more about Dr. Lauren’s work, visit drlaurencostine.com.