Betty and Gerald Ford's Son Shares His Own Recovery
Steven Ford tells his own story of alcoholism and sobriety, drawing on his mother's strength.
For Steven Ford, addiction runs in the family. The son of former White House residents Gerald Ford and Betty Ford—who founded the Betty Ford Center after her own struggles with prescription pills and alcohol—didn't notice many signs of his mother's problem early on. But he says it became more apparent once his father's presidency ended: "After Mom got out of the White House, you know, she just started to gradually lose her life," he recalls. "I say that in terms of canceling appointments, sleeping later, some melancholy that eventually probably got into depression. It's not something that pops up overnight." It was more than a decade after Betty identified herself as an alcoholic that Steven did the same. "[My drinking] was different than hers," he says. "I would drink on the road when I was traveling. Basically, when I was home I did not really drink. So I kind of lived two lives. I had a secret life. Binge drinking in college was certainly laying the foundation for me later."
Still, Steven acknowledged his own problem much quicker than his mother did hers—in part because growing up with her made the signs familiar. He sought treatment—not at the Betty Ford Center, but through an outpatient AA program—and has now been sober for 19 years. But he still regrets that his behavior while drinking cost him a shot at marriage all those years ago. "I was 12 weeks from getting married. It was a really tough time in my life. I had to come back and be candid and transparent with my fiancee and family and tell them I had this secret life on the road—binge drinking and doing things in places I shouldn't have been and cheating on my fiancee," he says. "I had to be very transparent and that was part of my sobriety. I had to call the wedding off." Now 56, the movie actor has a new girlfriend he hopes to wed, and is also pursuing a career as a motivational speaker. Through it all, he gives great credit to his mother for having the strength to identify herself as an alcoholic, at a time when it was far less accepted. "The stereotypical alcoholic [back then] was the skid-row bum, which was so wrong," says Steven. "Here you had a former first lady who raised her hand and said, 'My name is Betty and I'm an alcoholic.'"