Though Led Zeppelin probably wasn't singing about the disease of addiction in their 1971 classic When the Levee Breaks, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford could now tell you that, for all intents and purposes, they might as well have been. Because you see, when it comes to addiction you can delay, deny, evade, stall, minimize, pretend, ignore and postpone but, as any addict or alcoholic who has finally been overpowered by the naturally disastrous strength of their illness will attest, "if it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break."
And in the case of Mr. Ford -- who first made scandalous international headlines for his illicit drug use and self-described binge drinking last year -- the thick walls of denial he so zealously constructed and diligently maintained were ultimately no match for the rising tide of self-destruction his substance abuse had been forecasting for some time. Publicly stating earlier this week that he was taking an immediate leave of absence to seek professional help after a new video surfaced which allegedly shows him smoking crack again, Mayor Ford's levee has, it seems, finally broken.
So why? Why now, after a full year of sustained resistance to calls for his resignation, after a full year of publicly maintaining that his frequent chemical joyrides were nothing that he couldn't control on his own, and why now when he's in the middle of a reelection campaign would he finally admit that he's got a serious problem which requires serious attention? Because over the last year it kept on rainin', that's why. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Mayor Rob Ford's world has apparently been in the middle of a heavy downpour for quite some time now. And that's what happens when you're dealing with a progressive brain disease which hijacks your thinking, overrides your choices and warps your behavior. If untreated, it progresses. It progresses and you finally rack up enough consequences or wreak enough havoc on your life that, assuming you're lucky enough to still be alive, there's no more keeping the floodwaters at bay.
It doesn't matter if you call it the other shoe dropping, the jig being up, the chickens coming home to roost, the levee breaking, or someone surreptitiously recording you smoking crack and selling the tape to the media -- it all means the same thing in terms of an addiction: it wins, you lose, and despite what you had been telling yourself all along, the score wasn't even close. And so it is with Rob Ford.
For anyone with personal or professional experience in dealing with addiction, none of this comes as a surprise. We've seen this storm brewing, we knew it would eventually make landfall. It was only a matter of when and only a matter of how. In a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live which truly defied explanation, the late night host engaged Ford in a voluntary but nonetheless agonizing game of show and tell -- Kimmel showed Ford videos of his more humiliating and offensive behavior and the Mayor, for all the world to see, attempted to tell him what was happening at the time. Hapless in the spotlight and hopeless in the face of such an awkward and embarrassing task, Ford did his best to play a good sport, to appear in on the joke and to escape the lengthy, multi-segment interview while preserving any shred of dignity. In my opinion, he didn't succeed, and I was pretty sure I could hear the emergency warning sirens warming up.
All things considered though, the events that have unfolded over the last year could have been much worse for Mayor Ford. As I mentioned, simply remaining alive in the unfalteringly destructive wake of addiction takes some genuine luck in and of itself. Though his political and professional future may at this point be uncertain, he's at least managed to avoid the more dire and permanent outcomes with which he has been so recklessly gambling.
But what's next for him now that he's made the decision to seek help? Hard to say. However, as someone who works with people like him on a daily basis -- people who have been swept from their powerful perch by the strong, polluted current of addiction that knocks at the gate and refuses to recede on its own -- I can say that he's at least moving in the right direction. Enormous amounts of hard work, introspection, self-discipline and fundamental change lie ahead if he's going to be successful, but at least that's now a possibility.
Recovery from addiction begins with the simple step that Rob Ford finally took this week by issuing the following statement: "I have a problem with alcohol, and the choices I have made while under the influence ... I have struggled with this for some time." Good for you, Mayor Ford. And welcome to the lifeboat.