Alumni Contact Program Fosters Mutual Support, Continued Growth and Enduring Gratitude Their rapport was immediate. When Betty Ford Center alumnus Ermanno D. returned to the Rancho Mirage, California, campus as a guest speaker, Brendan O. happened to sit in on his talk. Right away, Brendan liked what he heard—and he wanted to hear more. "The way Ermanno talked about addiction and recovery was right up my alley," Brendan recounts. "I appreciated his take on things, and I felt like he had some real wisdom to offer me." After the talk, Brendan introduced himself to Ermanno, and the two quickly discovered mutual interests and backgrounds. Ermanno worked in the film industry, and Brendan was a music producer and performer. "I knew right then I wanted Ermanno to be my sponsor," Brendan shares. Fast forward two weeks, to when Brendan completed his stay at the Betty Ford Center. As part of the discharge process, Brendan would be assigned an alumni contact in his local recovery community. He asked if Ermanno happened to be on the alumni contact list. Sure enough. Before leaving campus, Brendan reached out to Ermanno. The two made plans to meet for coffee as soon as Brendan returned home to Los Angeles. The Feeling Was Mutual As it turned out, Ermanno had been similarly impressed when he first met Brendan. "I'm pretty much a recovery fiend at this point," Ermanno laughs. "So, I jump on every chance I get to speak about treatment and recovery. The best part is meeting authentic, creative people like Brendan who remain true to their iconoclastic nature." Early in recovery, Ermanno had worried that living clean from drugs would mean giving up his creativity or conforming to some kind of hopelessly square new lifestyle. He quickly discovered the opposite to be true. "Addiction is not about living your life authentically," he explains. "Recovery actually delivers on everything you once thought addiction promised." And so, Ermanno was delighted to reconnect with Brendan as an alumni contact. Three years later, the two men talk on a regular basis and get together whenever they can, often at the Monday evening alumni meeting at the Betty Ford Center in West Los Angeles. "Brendan epitomizes qualities I greatly admire," Ermanno says. "He's an amazingly talented musician, and he has such grace and ease about it." Stronger for the Experience Ermanno began volunteering as an alumni contact 13 years ago, as a way to give back—or, in his words, in "grateful restitution" for his recovery. A reverse of that equation proved more accurate. "Helping other alumni is much less about giving, and much more about receiving. That's what I have discovered time and again. My takeaway as an alumni contact is far more valuable than any help I can offer." Betty Ford Center founder and namesake, First Lady Betty Ford, predicted that alumni would be her greatest legacy. It's a vision that inspired—and continues to inspire—Ermanno. Over the years, he has worked with hundreds of Betty Ford Center alumni, strengthening and deepening his own recovery in the process. Apprehensive newcomers taking their first brave steps into the world of recovery remind him of the courage and trust needed to keep moving forward. Alumni who are restarting their recovery after relapse provide lessons in patience, acceptance and life purpose. "As addicts, we have a disease that is always going to be with us," Ermanno attests. "When we are in the process of helping someone else, we have a reprieve. It's the only time we are absorbed in doing something outside of ourselves."