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We should all go to rehab

When Betty Ford, who died last Friday, first publicly described her addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs in the 1980s, she provided comfort to many. Naomi Alderman writes.

india Updated: Jul 11, 2011 22:57 IST

When Betty Ford, who died last Friday, first publicly described her addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs in the 1980s, she provided comfort to many. By revealing that even the First Lady of the US could suffer from addiction, she must have made thousands of similar conversations easier for men and women who’d been unable to confess to and confront their own addictions.

We still tend to think that alcoholics or problem drug users will be easy to spot. But Ford highlighted the problem of ‘functional’ addicts, the type who can deceive others and themselves that there is no problem. “My makeup wasn’t smeared,” she commented, “I wasn’t dishevelled, I behaved politely, and I never finished off a bottle, so how could I be alcoholic?”

People cared about her and were inspired by her struggle. And the Betty Ford Centre has helped thousands of people through rehabilitation.

Of course, what was once a courageous revelation sometimes seems now to have become almost compulsory. So many famous people have passed through the Betty Ford Centre’s doors. I greet news of another celebrity’s addiction with a dull sadness, wishing them a full recovery, hoping they won’t relapse, that, like Robert Downey Jr — who felt like he had “a loaded gun in [his] mouth and [liked] the taste of metal” — they’ll find a way to heal themselves.

But it’s not a surprise. It sometimes seems that everyone is addicted to something.

And it’s not just drugs and alcohol. We suffer these days from the various neuroses of abundance — not exactly addictions but compulsive behaviours in which many of us constantly return to some source of distraction. There seem to be so many things for which — like dogs with food — many of us apparently have no natural ‘off’ switch

Easy access to credit has allowed the non-wealthy to become compulsive shoppers. The flood of images on the internet has provided the opportunity for porn-compulsion. The relative cheapness of mass-produced products — which were unknown 200 years ago — leads some to hoard compulsively. And the internet itself — a source of unlimited information — can become compulsive.

One of the hardest challenges posed by the modern world is how to deal with abundance. It’s even harder to confront because admitting that it’s a problem seems spoiled. “Oh, you have too many different forms of entertainment? Are your diamond shoes pinching you, too? Is your champagne fountain too loud for you to hear your string quartet?”

It makes me feel spoiled to admit that I spend money on things I neither need nor particularly want just because I’m bored, that I have trouble turning off the internet to concentrate on work. Perhaps I could take inspiration from Betty Ford. If something is a problem, it’s all right to admit it. So I admit it. And is there a solution to these low-grade compulsions? The Betty Ford Centre doesn’t treat the compulsion to check Facebook, or to turn on the TV instead of facing your emotions.

So what are we to do with these troublesome emotions? Not flick to Twitter. Not buy something we don’t need. Not turn on the TV. Just feel them.

(The Guardian )

First Published: Jul 11, 2011 22:56 IST