People in recovery from alcoholism or other addiction will tell you that stories are very important. Telling their own story is an integral part of the recovery process, what political commentator Bob Beckel calls coming “out of the dark and back into the light.” Beckel, a former Carter administration official who currently appears on Fox News’s The Five, told his story Tuesday evening at the Recovery for Life Gala hosted by Caron Treatment Centers. “I’ve given a lot of speeches in my years but this may be the most difficult,” he told the audience. “I’ll try to get through this.” He did get through it, breaking down only once, and captivated the audience with his often troubling but moving words.
“In about four hours we will have crossed the threshold into another day, and we put another day under our belt,” he said. “Some of us have a lot of days, some of us have a few, but it only takes one. If somebody’s here tonight and quit drinking yesterday, you are no different than those of us who have been around for years.”
Beckel, who was presented with the Caron Alumni Award, did not say when he first sought treatment or how long he has been sober— a Caron representative said about 13 years—but he mentioned that he arrived at Caron’s facility in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, at the same time as another former presidential appointee, Ron Ziegler, who served as President Nixon’s press secretary, notably during the Watergate scandal. When Nixon resigned and moved back to California, Ziegler went along.
“Ron went with him and had to listen to football games with him every week, which I thought was a contributing factor to Ron’s drinking,” Beckel said. “Ron and I had been in different White Houses, we came from different parties, but we spent hours talking about drinking and life and politics. When he left Caron and I left Caron we stayed in touch, because I loved him very much.” Beckel said eventually he stopped hearing from Ziegler. “I lost track of him,” he said. Ziegler died in February 2003. “I found out Ron died from the complications of alcoholism—something, by the way, he predicted would happen,” Beckel said. “If he were here tonight like me, fortunate enough to find the light world again, he would ask each of you to provide a beacon to lead a struggling alcoholic out of the dark and back into the light.” He dedicated his award to Ziegler.
Beckel called alcoholism “a cunning and baffling disease” and described what it’s like to be consumed by the addiction. The alcoholic “wakes up sick and tired, looks out the window of his car to be sure the front end is not dented in and, worse yet, that there’s no blood on it.” He described how friends and family begin to pull back. “You get fewer and fewer invitations, which is understandable since you’ve knocked over four or five Christmas trees.” The world turns bleak. “You find yourself drifting to the only place you can: the dark world. It is full of people like ourselves, who are drinkers, who convince themselves they can stop drinking if they wanted to, but they are lying to themselves. They are all con people, but the problem was they didn’t understand I was the biggest con man in the crowd.”
Beckel said he used to frequent bars near the site of the dinner, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, at New York Avenue and 13th Street, Northwest. “Those were my friends, in these little dump bars around here, closing them up at 5 o’clock in the morning. You find yourself doing things and going to places that you could never have imagined you would have been in.”
While Beckel did not discuss particular incidents, troubling episodes from his life have made news—like attempted extortion by a prostitute who said Beckel had hired her. That incident, which reportedly happened at his home, occurred in 2002, the same year he got divorced.
“There comes a day when you finally decide you’re sick and tried of being sick and tired,” he said. “I got to Caron and I was scared and I was alone, and I began to look around and noticed that a lot of people looked scared and alone. We reached out to each other—alcoholic to alcoholic—and suddenly you realized that you weren’t alone. Your story wasn’t much different than a hundred others. Maybe one was more severe, but they all at their base were about not being able to control drinking.”
Beckel said he would not have succeeded in his recovery if not for Caron and Alcoholics Anonymous. “No alcoholic can do it alone. And there are thousands of them out there tonight desperate to find the light.”
According to Caron, 7,000 Washington-area residents have sought treatment at its centers, which are in Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania—including close to 500 families last year. The centers treat all addictions and all ages, and have specified treatments for both genders, said the group’s president, Doug Tieman. Tuesday night’s dinner was Caron’s second in Washington. The evening began with a “mocktail” half hour, and instead of wine, cider was served with dinner. The menu featured a first course of goat cheese mousse with beets and candied ginger, a main course of chicken with apple and cornbread stuffing, and a dessert of caramelized pumpkin truffle. A Caron representative said the dinner raised more than $220,000.
Beckel’s USA Today co-columnist, Cal Thomas, introduced him, calling him “a no-nonsense man” and lauding Beckel for his efforts to help other alcoholics. “Bob has visited people in the DC jail,” Thomas said. “He’s been thrown up on, punched in the face and stomach. I’ve heard him tell people he calls ‘drunks’ not to call him anymore unless they were serious about treatment.” Thomas said when he makes speech appearances, people often ask him about Beckel. “People see something in him that is genuine. In a city of so many phonies, they find him refreshing.”