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Time Is All We Have: A Month At the Betty Ford Center

By Elaine Cassel

Did you ever wonder what goes on in a substance abuse rehabilitation center? Writer Barnaby Conrad chronicled his month at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, where the rich and famous go for substance abuse treatment.

Time is All We Have (Cameron, 1992) describes Conrad's 30 days at the well-known treatment center, whose patients have included Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, and Mary Tyler Moore. More importantly, it is personal account of how one man's life came to be ruled by alcohol and how great the challenges are to living with addiction.

The Betty Ford Center is not a resort, but an amalgam of hospital, boarding house, and summer camp. All patients, regardless of status, have roommates, clean their rooms and common areas, and have kitchen detail. Treatment follows the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. Patients' days revolve around individual therapy, group therapy, lectures on psychological and physiological aspects of addiction, and AA meetings. The only reading material available has to do with addiction. Access to phones, radio, and television are strictly controlled. As Conrad found when he arrived, the Betty Ford Center is serious about treating alcoholism. And patients who are not just as serious about getting serious about their addictions are shown the door.

Time is All We Have is far more than a memoir of the rigors of treatment. It also contains much useful information about the physiology of alcoholism, taken from lectures of well-known researchers who speak to the patients. Indeed, the value of the book for psychology students is not just in its realistic account of a rehab program, but also in the detailed information about the physical effects of alcoholism. The graphic depictions of how alcohol affects the brain, stomach, and liver may be more than most readers want to know. In fact, Conrad indicates that one of the most troubling aspects of his treatment was learning what years of heavy drinking had done to his body.

This is a book that could be gently offered to someone you know who has a drinking problem. Conrad does not preach, nor does he claim any heroics in surviving the month-long program. He makes it clear that one never recovers from alcoholism or any other substance addiction--one just learns to live with it. As Conrad puts it, his days at the Betty Ford Center taught him not only that he cannot drink, but also that he can not drink. This lesson, he assures readers, must be learned anew each and every day. But, in the parlance of AA, it need be learned only one day at a time.

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