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When former First Lady Betty Ford died on Friday at the age of 93, she left behind a legacy.
The cancer awareness advocate and inspiration to those who suffered from various forms of addiction, was remembered by many, including Maria Shriver, who said in a statement: “Mrs. Ford was a courageous pioneer, a groundbreaking First Lady, and a forceful advocate for anyone suffering from addiction or breast cancer. America fought her struggles with her and learned alongside her. She was brave, outspoken and kind.”
Dr. Drew Pinsky, producer and star of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, remembered Ford’s contributions and “deep appreciation of the pain of addiction” in an essay. Read an excerpt of Pinsky’s essay below:
It is almost impossible to express the unlikelihood of a First Lady stepping up and publicly admitting to a suffering from a condition that was to that point in history completely shrouded in shame and secrecy. The history of the office of First Lady had not been kind to those with mental health issues. Keep in mind that just some 100 years previously Abraham Lincoln’s spouse, Mary Todd Lincoln was relegated to incarceration at a Psychiatric facility permanently by her own son when she developed unpleasant symptoms. Betty seemed unintimidated by this history and she allowed her mid western sensibility to prevail. In her own treatment she had come to understand that addiction is a biological disease and it had an effective treatment. Betty understood that many refused to admit they had the condition or seek treatment because of the legacy of shame associated with alcoholism and addiction. An especially biting stigma had always been reserved for women with this disorder who could only dream of a day when a revered and prominent woman would come forward to advocate on their behalf. Betty’s deep appreciation of the pain of addiction sufferers motivated her to simply put aside her fear of personal harm and tell her story.
With that one gesture of courage and honesty Betty Ford swept aside an eternity of discrimination. She knew that in doing so she would give millions of addicts and especially women with addiction, the opportunity for recovery and a flourishing life. She could not justify doing other than sharing her experience. She had seen the magic of recovery first hand. Betty knew that untold millions suffered in silence and intuitively understood that the potential for personal or political harm paled in comparison to the lives she might help transform. However I suspect that even Betty would not have foreseen that addiction would become the disorder of our time, nor that the disease would steal millions of young lives nor that her name would become synonymous with the highest standard of treatment for a disease the prejudices against which she humbly demurred.
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