Monday, July 11, 2011

Betty Ford's Contribution

Let us raise a glass to the memory of Betty Ford. Yes, a bad joke. What Betty Ford did is to bring the notion of addiction into a new cultural place. Before Betty Ford, the alcoholic was the drunk, someone dirty, unable to hold down a job, living in the gutter, a bum. The addict was one of THEM. Betty Ford was the one who really created a new social space for the addict to be thought of as one of us. Alcoholism and drug addiction went from being worthy of a complete condemnation of character, a chosen life of vice, to a medical issue, something that a respectable person could have contracted and requires professional attention to be dealt with. Think of the vocabulary of clinics and treatment that come from Betty Ford's work. When something is part of upper and upper-middle class white lives, it is normal and normal makes it value-neutral, something we symbolize with new terminology that sheds the old negative connotations. This shift has made it possible to diagnose and treat people who otherwise would have been driven into the shadows or living in denial. Betty Ford's legacy is one of health and possibility, one that has directly or indirectly helped many in this culture.