Recovery Reshapes History

A Holiday Pondering: What Might NOT Have Been?

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
3 min readDec 5, 2023

By Jeremiah Gardner

NOTE: This was published for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.

Dr. Judy Chartrand

I was recently speaking with a Hazelden Betty Ford colleague, Judy Chartrand, PhD, about her other role as mayor of Lindstrom, Minn., a small Swedish enclave that borders the same lake as Hazelden Betty Ford’s original campus in neighboring Center City. Dr. Chartrand, a research director supporting Hazelden Betty Ford’s partnership with Emory Healthcare — the Addiction Alliance of Georgia — grew up in Lindstrom, and shared stories of swimming in “Hazelden Bay” and taking pride in the local treatment center with a global prominence. She then shared the story that meant the most — “my dad got sober at Hazelden in 1959” and remained in recovery until he passed away 25 years later. “My mom and I talk about it all the time. If he hadn’t gotten sober, I wouldn’t have been born.”

Wow — that sure resonated. Had I not found recovery myself in 2006, my twin boys, now 10, certainly would not have been born because I was adamantly opposed to the idea until several years into recovery.

The conversation got me imagining other alternate histories.

  • What if Alcoholics Anonymous had never gotten off the ground?
  • What if Hazelden Betty Ford had not been founded nearly 75 years ago, or if it had opened as a refuge only for clergy, as originally envisioned?
  • What if Betty Ford’s family had not intervened … twice?
  • What if my own sober friends were not in recovery?
  • What if recovery were not a reality for millions upon millions of people over the course of history?
  • What else, beyond not having my precious sons, would be different if I had not asked for help 17 years ago?

In the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey wishes he had never been born, and then his guardian angel, Clarence, gives him the opportunity to see how that would have turned out. At first, the vision horrifies George. But after learning he is still alive after all; he skips and jumps all through the town with exuberant joy and gratitude, having seen firsthand the alternative.

I felt similarly talking to Judy — the mayor, psychologist and colleague who almost wasn’t born — and thinking about my own miracle twins. It turns out that contemplating all the ripples that wouldn’t have happened, if not for recovery, is a great way to explore gratitude.

Perhaps as you ponder gratitude this holiday season, you too can ask yourself: What might NOT have been?

Henry Travers (left) as a guardian angel and Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Jeremiah Gardner is director of communications and public affairs for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

Jeremiah Gardner



Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

As a force of healing & hope for those affected by addiction, we feature insights and views from leading voices on prevention, treatment & recovery.