From Being the Life of the Party to Having a Life
With seven years in recovery, Ford Boozer proves that he’s more powerful than his addictions, despite having a surname that, beginning in high school, made him the life of the party. Here, Ford, his mother and a close friend reveal intimate moments from the journey they shared.
The very first time Ford Boozer had a drink he was 15 years old. He remembers liking it more than his friends liked it, and, well, the taste was his constant companion for the next five years. He became an alcoholic even before he was legally allowed to drink. He admits to drinking in high school because he wanted to fit in.
“[It] made me feel confident and comfortable in my own skin,” he says. “Drinking and partying started off as a search for an identity. It certainly became an identity.”
But it was an identity his parents didn’t really know. To them, their oldest son was kind, compassionate and on track to attend college. They knew he was drinking at parties, but they had no idea the degree to which alcohol had started to control his life.
His mother, Suzanne Boozer, thought he was doing what all the other high school kids in Mountain Brook, Alabama, were doing.
During this same time, Ford suffered from depression. “[It] was severe at times,” he recalls, “and I medicated with alcohol. I tried therapists and antidepressants, but nothing seemed to work besides booze. I was always trying to escape the pain of growing up. … The funny thing is that alcohol made it worse. I would wake up with a feeling of guilt and sadness after I drank, but it never much slowed me down.”
Even after he lost a dear friend to drugs and alcohol, he didn’t stop drinking. He couldn’t. He was already addicted.
Becoming the Big Man on Campus
In the fall of 2007, he enrolled at the University of Alabama and joined a fraternity. Alabama, like many other large Southern universities, loves its sports teams, particularly football. Weekend parties celebrating the games are as ubiquitous as crimson-colored foam fingers and white T-shirts emblazoned with “Roll Tide!” Ford had no trouble fitting in with the culture.
“We drank all the time, and with a name like ‘Boozer,’ people just expect you to be a pro drinker,” he says.
Some of it was fun, he admits, and he made lifelong friends. One of those guys was Parrish Mosley. “I met Boozer in the spring of 2007 while rushing Sigma Nu at the University of Alabama,” Mosley says. “[He] was an absolute legend. He was rushing all over the place.”
The two ultimately pledged Sigma Nu and became part of a tightly knit group. “We would do anything for one another at the drop of a hat,” Mosley says. He acknowledges that heavy drinking was part of being Greek. “Not everyone took part, but Boozer and I were certainly heavily immersed in it.”
Over the next three years, freshman through junior years, the partying continued. For Ford, his addiction spread from alcohol to narcotics.
“There was something deep down inside that was ravenous at Alabama,” Ford says. “I really can’t explain it. I knew that it was there, and I knew my reputation. I knew that I drank faster and more heavily than the people around me, but I never really considered stopping.”
He started having physical health problems, which at least one doctor told him stemmed from his excessive drinking. Ford didn’t like that answer, so he went to a different doctor. Did he know he had a problem? Sort of.
“It isn’t that I was in denial that I had a problem; I was just in denial that I needed a radical solution to that problem,” he says. He thought he could control his substance use. Meanwhile, his depression raged, and he felt his life was out of control. “All the while, I was a professional at keeping a happy smile on my face.”
Losing the Light in His Eyes
In their guts, however, Ford’s friends and family knew that something was off. “I knew there was way too much drinking going on,” Suzanne says, “but I didn’t know how it compared to the other boys. I just knew he seemed down.”
She describes hearing differences in his voice and avoiding visits with his parents. She eventually called his friends to ask about him. They told her they all probably drank too much, but Ford wasn’t any different than they were.
“I let it ride for a few months,” she says, “but I just felt something wasn’t right. I wanted to believe that he was a normal college boy, but something in my mind just wouldn’t.”
In hindsight, Mosley can see how Ford’s behavior was different. “We would all get pretty wild, but Boozer was continually on a wild streak,” Mosley remembers. “He didn’t have that bright light behind his eyes and would look almost soulless at times. It broke our hearts, but all we did was just continually make sure our friend still had a pulse in the morning. I didn’t think it was my place to intervene. Looking back now, I like to think I would have at least made more of an effort to bring about positive change.”
Mosley and Ford spent hours talking about their problems and what to do about them — always with a drink in hand. Ford recalls one of those conversations during which he admitted he needed to do something. He spoke to his buddies and girlfriend about it. They naysayed, telling him they didn’t think things were that bad. He talked to his parents but only casually.