Trivia question are among my favorite pastimes. Not too long ago, I composed the following:
- Claudia Taylor
- Thelma Ryan
- Elizabeth Warren
- Eleanor Smith
- Anne Robbins
- Barbara Pierce
Fill in (1) and (8). Either one would make the sequence incredibly obvious (at least to me, maybe it’s obvious to you anyway).
The missing names are:
1. Jacqueline Bouvier
8. Hillary Diane Rodham
They are the First Ladies from Kennedy through Bush, all of whom changed their surnames upon marriage (a common custom in the Western world) and many of whom adopted some sort of pseudonym.
I bring it up here only because they seem to be dying off in order and yesterday, Betty Ford joined the Choir Invisible. In pace resquiescat.
Politics is a dirty business but most First Ladies manage to come off as pretty good sports. With the exception of our current Secretary of State, they mostly use their celebrity to do low-key good works, and the late Mrs. Ford was the epitome of that habit. While she herself stayed mostly out of the public eye, she managed to turn a personal failing — an addiction to alcohol and pain killers — into a cause and then an institution. By founding the Betty Ford Center, she kick-started the modern rehabilitation movement.
And that has been a mixed blessing.
Addiction can be a crushing burden. An ordinary disease can only kill you. An addiction destroys your will, makes you watch yourself willing your own death. You might think that anything that can loosen the terrible grip is automatically a God-send. But I don’t know.
“Rehab” has evolved from a treatment for addiction to merely a part of the addiction cycle. It goes like this: Indulgence, then Addiction, then Decline, then Rehab, then Sobriety. Then repeat…
Rehab has become just a way station for any kind of celebrity. Even Amy Winehouse, who famously bragged “I ain’t gonna go to rehab” eventually did — and probably will again. Worse, it’s become a sort of moral car-wash, where any politician caught with his hand in the cookie jar or any performer who calls a heckler or paparazzo a racist name can call himself “an addict” and check into Betty Ford, then come out a few weeks later, not just sober but innocent as the day he was born.
Call me unforgiving but while addiction is a disease, your actions while addicted are not symptoms. Alcoholism is the desire to drink, it’s not the drinking, and it’s certainly not all the stupid but enjoyable things you do when you’re drunk. In the words of Roger Daltrey, “This is no social crisis, this is you having fun.”
I have my own questions about AA, but two aspects I unqualifiedly endorse are its insistence on the addict’s making a fearless moral inventory and its requirement he make amends. I even recommend those step for people who aren’t addicts and it’s those steps that I think modern rehab (through no fault I’m aware of on the part of the late Mrs. Ford) has evolved to dodge.
In case you’re curious about First Lady names:
- Known as “Jackie” or “Jacqueline”
- Known by her nickname, “Lady Bird”, after her nanny said she was “purty as a ladybird” (i.e. a ladybug)
- Known by her nickname, “Pat”, because she was born just before St Patrick’s Day
- Known by her nickname, “Betty”
- Known by her middle name, “Rosalynn”
- Adopted the stage name “Nancy Davis”
- Known as “Barbara”
- Known as “Hillary” or worse