Episode 82: Brandy Ledford, Drug and Alcohol Addiction and Recovery
In this episode, Karen speaks with Brandy Ledford, an actress, dancer and former model. Clean & sober since 2012, Brandy speaks candidly and regularly about her addiction to drugs & alcohol and her recovery from trauma. A prominent member of the community, Brandy is on several Boards including the Red Songbird Foundation and is involved in numerous fundraising events for various causes.
Intro Voices 00:04
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me? This is You Matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Campus Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Campus Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Brandy Ledford. Brandy is an actress, dancer and former model, clean and sober since 2012. Brandy speaks candidly and regularly about her addiction to drugs and alcohol and her recovery from trauma. A prominent member of the community brandy is on several boards, including the red songbird Foundation, and is involved in numerous fundraising events for various causes. Brandy, welcome to you, Mater. Hi, Karen, thank you so much for having me. It's my pleasure. I'm so glad to see you in person. I'm so happy I'm able to be here. Yes. Tell me about your life prior to getting into the entertainment industry.
Brandy Ledford 01:45
Well, I have to say, as you were reading my introduction, I was sitting there going, Wow, that's amazing. Like, that's all true. And you know, yesterday, I've been in New York for a week and yesterday, I walked by my old brownstone that I used to live in when I was modeling here in New York and really heavily addicted to drugs and acting like an insane person. And then I was thinking about this, you know, what was my life like, before the entertainment industry, I was really a student. I mean, I graduated from high school, and went right into the entertainment industry. I was a dancer. And then I moved to New York and modeled. And so my life before was really I was a child, I was a teenager, so
Karen Ortman 02:25
So when did you start consuming drugs. And with that was alcohol.
Brandy Ledford 02:32
So I would I always say because it's true that when I was 11, I smoked pot for the first time. And that was when I knew I liked feeling different than I was feeling. And then I didn't smoke pot regularly after that, but when I was 14, I was introduced to cocaine. And I loved cocaine. And so, I did a lot of cocaine for 10 years after that. And I started drinking around the same time. So as a teenager, by the time I was 15, almost 16 I had been in jail for a DUI. And then 17 I was in jail again for drunk in public. So, I had been drinking alcoholic Lee as a teen. Wow. Okay, so.
Karen Ortman 03:14
So, you started smoking pot at 11? What introduced you to pot?
Brandy Ledford 03:21
A girlfriend of mine had an older sister who had it, and we were either going to take her birth control pills, or smoke pot.
Karen Ortman 03:32
Okay. So, you had two choices?
Brandy Ledford 03:37
I mean, when you want to do something you find a way.
Karen Ortman 03:41
Let me ask you this. Going back to the age of 11, which was a decade or two ago, at least, do you recall how you were feeling that sort of made that trial so appealing? Was it escapism? Was it just you were looking for something fun to do? You know, what's your why, if you will?
Brandy Ledford 04:20
I think I just didn't think to say no, I didn't have any boundary or limit. I didn't. I didn't have anything stopping me. What continued for me was that I really liked the feeling. I liked the effect produced by drugs and alcohol. I didn't have any safeguards in place to even think, and this is true for most of my young adult life for really bad decisions I've made. I didn't have a safeguard in place to say, Oh, I shouldn't be doing that. I literally just did whatever I want. It wasn't peer pressure. It wasn't I don't want to feel the way I'm feeling, it was just let's smoke pot. Now and then once I liked the effect I kept finding other ways to find that same effect.
Karen Ortman 05:04
Yeah. And you tried cocaine at 14?
Brandy Ledford 05:07
That was a little more peer pressure. I was with a bunch of seniors at a prom. A senior boy asked me to prom. And they were doing cocaine in the limousine. And I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be like them. And so yeah.
Karen Ortman 05:19
And do you remember that first time you tried it?
Brandy Ledford 05:21
I remember. like it was yesterday. Yeah.
Karen Ortman 05:24
And what do you recall?
Brandy Ledford 05:28
Feeling that I was cool now. Yeah, I remember being really, really high, like speedy. And I remember really liking that feeling. I don't remember much else of the night except when I did get home, I did feel shame that I had done this thing that had crossed some line. But I didn't have sex with the senior boy that night. And I felt proud of that. And it was a little bit of a mystery to me how that happened. I thought that was what was natural. And but I was just a freshman. I was young. So, it was this weird, like, oh, that was good. Oh, but now I'm on cocaine. And I can't sleep. Now as a mom, and as a woman; a 14 year old is young. And I felt so old and cool hanging out with the cool older kids.
Karen Ortman 06:20
Now, after you tried cocaine for the first time at 14, did it become a habit shortly thereafter?
Brandy Ledford 06:28
Shortly thereafter, maybe the year or two later, I started finding the kids who were doing it and I hung out with them for a number of years through school. And I was dancing and my drill team, my same dance team that I'd been on since I was 10. But by the time I got really kind of into the drugs, I stopped even the dance, which was my love, my life, my savior. It saved me through school and through my childhood, dance. But I stopped doing that when I was 15.
Karen Ortman 06:52
What did your family say? Did they know that you changed, and I'm making an assumption based upon starting using cocaine at 14? It became a habit at that point. Correct?
Brandy Ledford 07:07
It started slowly as a habit. I mean, a habit I think is something you can't live without every day you think about it every day. So, it wasn't a formed habit from the beginning. But it was something I chased. Later, my family didn't really know until maybe I was 16. And I started when I was in jail for the first time. You know, my mom had to get me out. She was very worried. But they didn't know the extent that I was using and the extent that I would go to get drugs and to make sure I was getting alcohol. My mom worked a lot and my dad wasn't there. So when, you know, I'd have a lot of parties at my house. And all the people were always at my house. Yeah. And yeah, I honestly don't think my mom really actually knew my dad definitely didn't know he lived in a different state. But my mom was worried but didn't really know exactly what I was up didn't know what she was worried about. Yeah.
Karen Ortman 08:01
Okay. When did your use of cocaine become a problem?
Brandy Ledford 08:10
It got to the point where there was a night where I just couldn't breathe. I didn't think I was gonna make it through the night. I was still a teenager, I think was a little bit older. And my heart was racing. And I didn't think I was real. I didn't know what to do. I was so scared. I didn't know what to do. But I made it through that night. And the next morning, I still wanted that feeling. And I didn't know it then but that is when it became a problem. You know, a person who's not an addict, a person who's a little more rational in their thinking might realize that feels terrible and never do it again. But I and alcoholics and addicts I know, you know, you hate that feeling, but you know, minutes later, hours later, the next day, maybe you still want that substance. Even though you know that it's going to create this terrible feeling. It's a real addiction. It's a real problem. It's insanity.
Karen Ortman 09:09
So along with the cocaine, was there alcohol,
Brandy Ledford 09:14
Always alcohol. Yeah. Mostly alcohol. For me, it was easier to get when I was a younger student. And it was always alcohol. There was always blackouts, that was early on to 15, 16, 17 - just blacking out.
Karen Ortman 09:32
Well, at some point, during the course of these years, your mom or your family may not have known early on but at some point somebody had to know something.
Brandy Ledford 09:43
Well, like I said, I was in jail twice as a minor. So of course, they knew.
Karen Ortman 09:46
Right. But did they ever understand the gravity of the situation?
Brandy Ledford 09:49
Karen Ortman 09:50
Brandy Ledford 09:52
Actually, not even up until eight years ago. So, I'm 52. So, eight years ago, is when it really became - wow, Brandy really has this issue. They knew, you know, I had a long period of time that I didn't drink or use any drugs. But it was just enough, you know - oh, now I'm not drinking. It wasn't a really big deal. And although looking back, it should have been, being in jail twice as a minor should have been a really big deal. I was just rebellious. and I was a real you know, I did whatever I wanted. And then I left home when I was a teen, and went to New York. I went to Japan, and I danced, and I was drunk all the time there. But no one knew I was there with friends alone. Then I moved to New York. And I had friends I partied with, but my family wasn't aware in a way that they could intervene. And even if they were aware in a way that could intervene. You couldn't stop me.
Karen Ortman 10:54
Yeah, I understand. So you graduate from high school? You go to Japan, at 18.
Brandy Ledford 11:03
Karen Ortman 11:04
And how many years are you in Japan?
Brandy Ledford 11:06
Karen Ortman 11:06
So, you're in Japan a year? Then you move to New York at 19?
Brandy Ledford 11:10
Yeah, at 20. And what was your profession when you moved to New York? I was modeling for penthouse magazine. I was the penthouse pet of the year. And so, I moved out here to live in the mansion over on 1416 East 67th Street, I was just there the other day, it's wild, wild to go full circle to know that's why, and it's all under construction now. So, it's an incredible metaphor for my life, today, and knowing that I was coming here to talk to you about recovery. It didn't make me super emotional. It just makes me really feel good. Which is a rare feeling for me. But anyway, that's what I was doing. I was the ambassador for the magazine. And so, I was really traveling around the world.
Karen Ortman 11:53
And what was that like?
Brandy Ledford 11:54
It was fun. I was always using and drunk and on drugs at that time, because I was using speed to stay awake to travel and Halcyon back in the day, which is like Ambien to sleep and just drinking because it was a party. It was fun.
Karen Ortman 12:12
So, it was fun. And you were in a prestigious position.
Brandy Ledford 12:20
Karen Ortman 12:21
Representing Penthouse. Did the drug use the alcohol ever impact the role that you had?
Brandy Ledford 12:33
No. It just was part of my life. You know, it was part of what I did. What everyone around me was doing.
Karen Ortman 12:41
In your circle and my circle? Yeah. You know, you find those people, right? Sure. Yeah. You gravitate to people who have similar interests as you right? At some point, though, you recognize that substances were controlling your life. When was that?
Brandy Ledford 13:07
So, I moved back to LA and I stopped modeling, I became an actress. And I couldn't stop drinking, I was drinking a lot and doing cocaine. This was in my early 20s. And there was a point where I recognized that I was hiding it, and I was being controlled by it, that I couldn't go without it. And that I was thinking about it so often. And that's when I knew it was controlling my life. And that's when I knew I needed to get some help around it. But I didn't know how I was going to do it. And at the same time my boyfriend and I got pregnant. And there was something that clicked in me. When I became pregnant with my now older son, he's 25. I knew I had to be healthy for this child. And for this baby, and I immediately stopped doing drugs. And I probably drank and did some cocaine before I knew I was pregnant and while I was pregnant, he's fine. But that's how out of control it was that it took something so incredible like that, really. And a lot of women don't, a lot of women get drunk and high while they're pregnant. For me, it was just really important to stay healthy for this child.
Karen Ortman 14:17
And you did for?
Brandy Ledford 14:18
I did for a number of years. 10 years? I did, but I just was working instead. And then that boyfriend and I got married but then we got divorced. So, I was obsessing over work and chasing that dream, which was super great and successful. But I was also sort of escaping with men and that sort of addiction to other things. And so, you know, it wasn't, I talked about that time of my life where I was dry and I was sober, and I wasn't drinking and I didn't consume any drugs. But I was definitely acting from a place of self-will run riot and selfishness and self-centeredness and greed and doing again, whatever I wanted. So, it was this immature part of my brain that was in a survival mode. So, when I say dry, it's that sure you can go for however long you want to go for without drinking. If I didn't have some type of accountability for my actions, and I was still acting alcoholically. So, I was addicted to work, or I was addicted to whatever boyfriend at the time was, you know, I was obsessing over. And it took a really hard relapse after that. And then my sober life today, which I'm going on nine years.
Karen Ortman 15:35
Brandy Ledford 15:36
Thank you, well, in July, it'll be nine. God willing. But it took me that maturity and that lifespan and that time to go - oh, sober life isn't just about not drinking and doing drugs.
Karen Ortman 15:49
Brandy Ledford 15:50
It's about a different way of thinking, an exam processing. And I had to reparent myself and learn how to repair it my older child, and now my young son, the whole thing for me.
Karen Ortman 16:02
Yeah, it's interesting. And you already answered the question, because I was going to ask you about the statement, a statement you had made in previous interviews about being dry for 10 years, but you were still acting like an addicted person. And you explained how that was the case. And it's interesting, because I've interviewed a lot of people on this podcast, I've interviewed people who were alcoholics, who also commented that they stopped drinking and thought that was the cure. But it's so much more than that. Because they too, were acting like the alcoholic person, even though they weren't consuming the alcohol, you know, the alcohol changed to, you know, consuming something else in a addictive sort of manner. And there's such a holistic sort of approach, it seems, that has to come along with addiction. It's not just stopping.
Brandy Ledford 17:09
Now, because you still have to deal with, you know, anybody who has been through trauma or had any issues in their life doesn't make them an alcoholic. I think we're born as an alcoholic, right? There's a genetic function to it. But you have things happen to you along your life, right? Especially if you're drinking and drugging all the time, there's some stuff going to happen, right? So, you take away the substance, you still have to deal with those emotions, but I've only ever known how to deal with them with drugs and alcohol. So now I'm left with all this stuff I have to deal with. And without the substance to mask it or escape to, I have to deal with the issues. Well, now I have to relearn how. It was such an escape not to have to, but now, I have to. So, what I do differently now, is if I'm going to make a decision that might affect other people, I talked about it with someone. Before I didn't know how to ask for help. I didn't know how to say what I needed. I didn't even know how to say yes, I didn't know how to say no, I was a people pleaser. I still am a lot. But so, it's still it's a progress, right? There's still so much to deal with. But I'm learning a design for living, versus just do whatever you want.
Karen Ortman 18:15
You also mentioned previously that you got the idea that you could drink again, like a lady. And I have that in quotes. When was that in proximity to? When you said after your son was born, your older son was born, you got matters under control for a period of time. Is that the timeframe we're talking about?
Brandy Ledford 18:49
No, it was after that. It was the decade after that. Okay, when I decided I'm older now I said, you know, in my early 20s I was young I had this new baby. I was ambitious with my career. I was drinking an excess. Now I'm 40, I think I was like 38 or so - oh, now I'm I can drink different and I'm married to a real stable person. I am doing really well. I'm older now. And that's when I decided that I could drink like a lady. And the mistake with that is that I progressed exactly from where I left off. And that immediate downward spiral rolled from there, no stopping him. I never want strength like a lady. So that the moment I said to myself, look, things are different. I can drink like a lady and I started drinking vodka out of the freezer.
Karen Ortman 19:40
How old was your older son at this point?
Brandy Ledford 19:44
Well, he was 16, 15 may be okay.
Karen Ortman 19:50
And then you had a smaller son?
Brandy Ledford 19:51
Karen Ortman 19:52
Brandy Ledford 19:53
He's the gift to my sobriety. When I said oh, I can start drinking like a lady. And then I was abusing pain pills. And definitely not drinking like a lady. There was about a year and a half between that day, and the day that I ended up in the hospital, which was the night of my last drink. And that was about a year and a half of me abusing pain pills doctor shopping and getting a dealer sneaking alcohol, and nobody at that time, I was married to my now husband, and nobody knew what I was doing. Not one. Well, one friend, because she was helping me. She was co-signing my bullshit. She was giving me drugs and we were drinking together. But nobody else knew I was hiding it the entire time.
Karen Ortman 20:44
Is she still your friend?
Brandy Ledford 20:45
She actually is. And also she just celebrated six months of sobriety for the first time in her life. So...
Karen Ortman 20:51
So good for her. What was your husband's response to the overdose? He clearly didn't know that you were addicted to pills. What was his response to all of this following the overdose?
Brandy Ledford 20:52
Oh, my God. Yes. A miracle. She wasn't for the last eight and a half years though, friendly. You know, she's been in my life forever. But I did distance myself from her in this newfound sobriety, I found that I couldn't. There's a saying if you go spend enough time in a barber shop, eventually you'll get a haircut. And I seriously believe that and so I've changed my friends.
He was so scared and terrified for me and did everything he could to make sure I'd get into rehab and wanted to make sure I was taken care of and that I was protected and safe and healthy, supportive, extremely supportive, and I had hurt him tremendously. We were probably on the verge of divorce. I hurt him really tragically. And so, it was a huge betrayal. But when he saw me in the hospital, I was handcuffed to the gurney, I was belligerent, I was really suicidal. And he just did everything in his power to get me on a plane to rehab the very next morning and I went.
Karen Ortman 22:17
Wow, yeah. Sounds like a great, man.
Brandy Ledford 22:21
Karen Ortman 22:23
So you finally got into treatment? What timeframe was that?
Brandy Ledford 22:31
That was eight and a half years ago, a little over eight and a half years ago. It was June 2012.
Karen Ortman 22:37
Okay, and was the catalyst to your recovering?
Brandy Ledford 22:44
It's funny, because I just wanted everyone to stop begging me to go to rehab. I was in the hospital. I was really drunk and high. And so, but I woke up the next morning and I agreed, I said, fine, I'll go, leave me alone. I'll go. And so, it was a catalyst. But I wasn't quite really understanding what I was doing. And when I got to rehab I learned about alcoholism. And I really understood the disease. And after I detoxed for a number of days I then became willing, I was willing to just go and get everyone off my back and maybe make my marriage work. But I was 100% all in when I discovered that I'm really, truly an alcoholic, and to know what that meant when I really understood what that meant. In terms of I have an incurable disease, and I need to get help. And I learned how to do 12 step work. And I learned how to have a daily prayer, meditation life and how to have a life of accountability. And a life of turning my will over to a higher power and not just doing what I want to do all the time.
Karen Ortman 23:55
But there's got to be some level of buy in to what the rehab is teaching, which is difficult for some people.
Brandy Ledford 24:05
90% don't get sober after leaving rehab.
Karen Ortman 24:09
Why did it work this time for you?
Brandy Ledford 24:11
That might even be an inflated number. It might even be more than 90%. I don't make it. It worked for me. I don't know why we say it a lot. I don't know why it works for me every day. I don't know. It's a miracle. And it's a gift I don't take for granted because it's only working for me one day at a time, right? I am willing, I do understand it. I admitted that I'm an alcoholic really shamelessly. I do all the work. I never let up I don't rest on my laurels. I have a real strong connection to a spiritual power. A lot of people do and they still drink and use also. They do all the same stuff and they still drink and look I'm not perfect. I make mistakes all the time. I act out in ways I shouldn't as well. And a lot of the stuff I'm still learning I'm still processing how to not obsess and try to control and live a righteous life. And be true to myself and to others. But I just know that there's no drink or drug that's going to make anything better. And I just know it's gonna make everything worse. And I am 100% committed to that knowing.
Karen Ortman 25:20
Brandy Ledford 25:21
That's what I do. You know, and I think a lot of people I know who can't stay sober for days in a row, think they can drink again. They think they can drink like gentlemen, or ladies, they think they can just do one glass of wine or snort it this once, just one they think, you know, and I just know that I tried it. I know that I tried to just drink a little bit of wine with dinner, tried to do a little cocaine. And none of that works, right. I can't abuse pain pills. I have had two major surgeries in sobriety. And I had to take narcotics, and I was so crazy responsible about it, because I am aware that I'm easily susceptible to getting addicted again to prescription pain pills. I love the feeling of prescription pain pills. So, knowing I had to take them, I gave the bottle to my husband, I let my best friend and my mentors know, this is what's happening. My doctors are all the way, you know, just super responsible. I have so much respect for this disease now. And I know I can't take one I'm not supposed to take I know I can't do a line of cocaine. I know I can't drink a glass of wine with dinner or take a shot of a fun tequila. Those things I'll end up right where I left off, which was handcuffed to a gurney in a hospital throwing up on myself. I don't want to be there.
Karen Ortman 26:38
Right. You seem to have achieved a wonderful level of awareness about yourself and what these substances do to you. Are you ever tempted?
Brandy Ledford 26:59
Thankfully, not by alcohol, but still. There are times when having said all that about prescription pills, when I'm in a little bit of pain that a Tylenol could take care of. I immediately think oh, I need it. I couldn't. And I had about a year's worth of chronic pain in my neck. And that was really tough. I didn't take a pain pill. It wasn't enough pain that I could have gotten a prescription. I mean, you could get anything you want but that was a very hard year for me because I cried every day about wanting prescription pain medication, but the Tylenol or the Advil, it always worked to take away the pain. And I knew that I'm not in enough pain to justify a Percocet. But I wanted a Percocet every day. I mean, even now, if I get my period, or even if I get like a little hangnail, I'm like, I need a Percocet. So, I got to be honest, I’m tempted not to drink it's disgusting to me, but during my surgeries, when I actually got to take the Percocet, it wasn't so fun. Because I was in legitimate pain. It just took the pain away, maybe sleep. It's funny, because it's just an addiction, you know, I'm addicted to that euphoric feeling. There are other things I'm tempted to act out on that I really understand struggle with temptation. And so, when I am in those moments, I tell someone, that's the difference between my dry sober life back then. And anything I'm doing now, I'm tempted in ways. And I just tell someone. I have a mentor and I have best friends now who I'm not ashamed to tell everything to its- I'm nervous, I don't want them to know I'm struggling, but I have to save my life. I tell my husband a lot more than I ever told him in the past. And I say - to you - I mean, on podcasts, I talk a lot about that now, only because I don't find it shameful anymore.
Karen Ortman 28:58
Brandy Ledford 28:59
I don't find alcoholism, drug addiction, recovering from it, struggling with it, relaxing from it. I don't find any of it shameful. It's the human condition.
Karen Ortman 29:08
That's the point of this podcast is to talk about all of these things that people find shame in and whisper about and need to be spoken about out loud.
Brandy Ledford 29:19
It breaks my heart. I'm glad you have this podcast because I also mentor a lot of young girls and a lot of people and I hear them all the time saying I don't want to tell anyone, nobody knows. And they're all saying the same thing. And we need community around this because we're all in the same boat.
Karen Ortman 29:35
Absolutely. How did how did the alcohol and drug use impact your career, your entertainment career?
Brandy Ledford 29:46
I have to say I don't think I did. Honestly and not because the entertainment industry everyone thinks everyone's on drugs or drinking - every industry everyone's on drugs or drinking -it's not just the entertainment industry. I worked a lot when I was working, I worked all the time as an actress. During that stretch that I wasn't drinking might have been 12 years. I always mix up the time because I wasn't really honest about it for a long time. I worked the most when I was dry and when I wasn't drinking or using drugs. And so, a lot of people who knew me during that time also don't understand why I'm an alcoholic, because I wasn't using them, but I was workaholic. I just spent less time with my son because I was always working. So, I can't say it impacted my career.
Karen Ortman 30:33
Okay. Yeah. All right. How do you share your story with your kids?
Brandy Ledford 30:40
So my young son is seven, and I plan on talking to him about it whenever he wants to know, he knows I go to meetings now. And he doesn't really know what that is. But he knows I do it so that I can stay centered and be a better mom. And so, we talked to him about it like that. My 25-year-old, when I was in rehab, I was there for three months, and they did a family program. And it was in Texas. He flew out to do family program with me. And he learned a little bit more about the disease and understood why I had acted the way I had acted because I also hurt him deeply and scarred him for life as an alcoholic mom. And so, he learned about that. And we together learned. It’s always hard, learned about forgiveness. I was so young when I had him. I learned how to reparent myself. I learned how to reparent him. I learned about the depth of love because he forgives me and I learned how then to forgive me. And he learned how to set some boundaries for me, and learn how to say - hey, mom, I need you to stop doing this and that. And to this day, I've never done it. And so, we are now, I mean, he calls me every single day. And I talked to him, we're like best friends. We're so close. And I talk to him about - actually drugs and alcohol was easier to talk to him about - than my past life as a naked model. That was hard. But anyway, I have no shame around that either. So, I say look, this is what I did, this is who I am, this is your mother. And guess what? Because I'm the most nonjudgmental, loving, open minded supporting mother. And I'm your only mother, I'm always going. So, he comes to me with everything.
Karen Ortman 32:32
Brandy Ledford 32:33
So, I just tell him the truth.
Karen Ortman 32:35
I think the biggest gift you can give him is your honesty.
Brandy Ledford 32:41
Yeah, that's just it. I was not honest. Growing up, I wasn't an honest person. And I'm learning how to be honest. But you are now. Yeah.
Karen Ortman 32:46
Brandy Ledford 32:47
I am with him. Yeah, he knows everything.
Karen Ortman 32:51
I think that's great. What gives you the courage to share such a personal story? We've spoken about how there is such stigma associated with addiction. And you're brave enough to tell your story and speak your truth to not only me, but you know, podcasts throughout the country. How do you do it?
Brandy Ledford 33:21
I have no choice. I don't want my experience to be wasted. My pain and trauma can't be for nothing, or what have I done in this life? I'm on TV, I raised kids, like I want my life to be meaningful. And the only way I can think to do that is to help others. And I don't really feel like it's so courageous. It's just the truth.
Karen Ortman 33:50
But do you know how many people have lived your story, and have not shared, even with themselves?
Brandy Ledford 33:59
Yeah, okay. Yeah, I do recognize that. I mean, I'm aware of that. I want to help others. I want to give back what's been so freely given to me. If I can help one person, even for one day, then all of the stuff I've been through will have not been wasted. But I think the way that I can combat what people go through when they don't want to tell someone, to me again, that sounds like shame. It sounds like fear and not to overuse the word shame, but it also just sounds like fear. Fear of not being true to who you are, fear of what other people might think. And so, for me, I'm not really afraid of what other people might think, I'm afraid of what might happen if I don't share it with other people. And also, it helps me to talk about it. And I've forgiven myself, I still work on forgiving myself for a lot of stuff but I have forgiven myself enough to say -okay. And the fact that what you said is true, the fact that there is a stigma around alcoholism is, I think, what needs to be changed. We all picture that homeless guy down the street, you know, with his pants half down and drinking out of a paper bag. Like today's alcoholic looks like the mom dropping her kid off at preschool. Because let me tell you at 8:30am there are so many drunk moms. And they are all decked out and you look at them, and they're Lulu Lemons. And yeah, you don't realize she's the drug addict. She's popping pills. She's on Xanax. She's drinking vodka with her breakfast, or the college student. Or you know, the professional, the lawyer, the judge, the doctor, the politician, the dad, you know, it's with the successful with the non-successful so that we're all in this human condition. And so there should really not be a stigma around alcoholism or the alcoholic. But I think it might be the same with other things. So, it's not the same, like that with cancer. Anyone who has cancer doesn't feel ashamed to say they have this disease, you know, illness? I think if we understood that alcoholism and drug addiction is really an illness, there would be less of a stigma around it.
Karen Ortman 36:18
Well, I think that, you know, when somebody has a cancer diagnosis, I do think there are some who are afraid to open up about it, because it's almost like there's something wrong with them, like, what did I do to get this? But there's also an empathy or sympathy that people have when they hear someone has cancer.
Brandy Ledford 36:39
Karen Ortman 36:40
You know, but when you have someone who says that they are an alcoholic, or they have a drug addiction, people are not sympathetic or empathetic.
Brandy Ledford 36:48
Sure, I think that's right, that you're afraid that people won't be sympathetic, empathetic or compassionate. Their fear when you, especially as a younger person, you know, that's why I hid it. I couldn't, I was afraid to tell people when I was in it. But I feel like once you are asking for help, that does take a lot of courage to ask for help. It takes so much courage to ask for help. And so there's that line in between knowing you have this problem and asking for the help. But then once you've, you know, gotten some success and recovery and some day without drinking or using or obsessing or addicting, or overeating or shopping, or gambling or whatever, all these things that we're addicted to, if you can get the day without that. I mean, that's something to be proud of.
Karen Ortman 37:41
Brandy Ledford 37:41
And share how you did it so you can help others.
Karen Ortman 37:45
Is there anything that an adult could have said to a younger Brandy that would have made a difference in the choices that you made?
Brandy Ledford 37:54
I often wonder that. I do wish there were more adults in my life, my young life, who would have said - stop and think about how that might make you feel. And I do wish more adults would have stepped in and said - okay, but let's work this through in this way. I had a very awesome person when I was in my young 20s say to me, you are addicted to alcohol, and I'm there. I don't recommend saying this to anybody. But he was saying you're an alcoholic, and you drink so much that one more drink might kill you because of what it will do to your liver. So just think about it. One more drink might kill you. And he scared me and I still drink. So, I'm not sure anybody could have said anything to me until I had hit the rock bottom. I needed to hit to see from the bottom up that I needed to change my life
Karen Ortman 38:49
Was your rock bottom when you overdosed, and you were in the hospital handcuffed to the gurney?
Brandy Ledford 38:56
Yeah, very much so. But everybody's bottoms are different. Some people have high bottoms. A bottom is a bottom though and for me, you know, I had hurt my family so deeply. That was it.
Karen Ortman 39:10
What would you say to a listener who is you, and has not hit their rock bottom, any words of wisdom?
Brandy Ledford 39:23
Become willing. No, try to become willing to really get the help, to tell somebody, to tell somebody, preferably a sober alcoholic. Call, you know, a 12-step program. There's a saying I like which is - I can't, God can, so let him - and God could be any God of your understanding. It doesn't have to be my God. We all can have a higher power of our own understanding. But if you ask for help, I believe you'll get it but you gotta take that first step of acknowledging you need the help. And even if you don't want to, just act as if, even if you can't, I know this is a podcast, so you can't see me, but I like to hold my hand out to whatever spiritual being or universe or God or Jesus or heaven or the doorknob or whatever you believe in, that might be a little stronger than you are today. You just say, please give me what I need and take what I don't need out. And, you know, give me what I need and take that that doesn't serve me. So, it's just like, just saying, I don't know, but there's got to be something out there. It's got to help.
Karen Ortman 40:42
Did you ever seek resources while you were in your addiction, just to see if it would be helpful?
Brandy Ledford 40:54
I did not. No, I was so in it. Yeah, I was, it was all I thought about how to hide it, how to take it, I would travel with my husband, and I didn't want him to know. So, it was a bit of a game of like, how much, and then if we were traveling overseas, I didn't want to bring too many pills in case I got searched, like it was this constant thought of how not to get caught. I never said no. I would really say to the young me or the person who's relating to anything I'm saying, don't do that. Seek help, tell someone who can maybe help you. Even if you admit it to yourself. I didn't even say to myself that I might be having a problem. And I mean, if you're listening to this, this is the first step. I didn't even listen to anyone wiser than me.
Karen Ortman 41:48
Have you learned of resources since your recovery that could be helpful to someone listening, or are now helpful to you?
Brandy Ledford 42:00
I have actually, for one thing, I'm on the board of a foundation that helps get people into treatment with scholarships, it's the Red Songbird Foundation.
Karen Ortman 42:07
Okay, and what is that?
Brandy Ledford 42:08
That's at redsongbird.org. It's a foundation that we provide scholarships to people to help get them into treatment or therapy for trauma, mental health issues. We provide resources for anybody who's struggling, and helping them heal from the trauma of their past. And so that's one area. You know, I also think if you go online and look for any 12-step program, there's a 12-step program out there for anyone basically struggling with anything. And you can call that number, there's a phone number, you know, anyone dealing with any kind of suicidal ideation needs to call suicide hotline, and just talk about it. Because even speaking your story out loud to a perfect stranger is better than not saying anything. And I learned about that real early on. There's also a lot of literature that every single morning, I do an hour's worth of reading of literature that's out there. Emmet Fox writes some really great books. I really like recovery literature, sober, literature. I think there's just daily devotionals and reflections that are really helpful. And then your friends. You know, our friends are incredible resources for us. Because odds are, they're struggling too. And they're not sharing it with you. And so, you can get together with somebody and say -hey, I think I'm having an issue.
Karen Ortman 42:49
Yeah. Does your husband become concerned when you're apart? Do you think that he has a fear of the decisions you might make with respect to your recovery?
Brandy Ledford 43:51
I think it would be really rational for him to have that fear. But he had it more in the beginning of my recovery. And now he has seen over eight and a half years of me daily working a really dedicated program of recovery. And he knows I'm doing it even while I'm here in New York, you know, we've been apart many times and, and he sees me doing it. He knows I'm doing it. I had a really cool, interesting experience last night. During the pandemic, I had been attending zoom 12 step meetings, and I go to the ones in New York because they're at eight in the morning New York time, and I wake up early in LA and so it worked out perfectly for me while I had to homeschool my young son. I kept going to the same meeting and I kept seeing the same people and it was in Chelsea. So, these really cute boys are all like, you know, I love it. And last night, I got to meet one of these guys in person and it was such an amazing, cool experience. And first thing I did is call my husband to talk to him, I really wanted to share that with him, that the meetings on zoom have helped save my life during the pandemic because that was the whole hardest part of my, during my sobriety, this pandemic was hard on everybody. Yeah, really hard on alcoholics and drug addicts. Our numbers have skyrocketed, deaths, overdoses relapses. And so, to get to meet one of these guys. Oh, that's wonderful. Yeah. Wow. But so back to my husband, you know, I wanted to share that with him. And he's seen me doing that. And so now it's, I'm sure he's always worried I would be terrified, right, like God he saw me in the hospital, and I have his child now. I got pregnant, right when I got out of rehab. But he's seen what a strong incredible mother I am really, a really dedicated, strong, sober mom. And so, I think trust is earned. And, I've shown them, you know, that I'm working daily. It's just one day at a time.
Karen Ortman 45:49
Brandy Ledford 45:51
Karen Ortman 45:51
I think you're a superstar. I'm proud of you. I'm sure that this recovery is going to be lifelong for you. Knock on wood. That's right, we'll knock on wood. Is there anything that I have not asked you that you would like to share?
Brandy Ledford 46:13
I just want everyone to know that anybody who might be listening, that there's help, there's resources, there's help, you know, I've had people reach out to me on Instagram. If you want to reach out to me on Instagram, I'm happy to speak to you and be here for you even anonymously, and I'm at Brandy Ledford on Instagram. It's always a pleasure to talk to somebody who needs help.
Karen Ortman 46:36
Thank you so much for offering that. And thank you, once again for coming and talking to me on You Matter. I know that your story is going to be impactful for others, and that you are going to help people. So, thank you.
Brandy Ledford 46:49
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Karen Ortman 46:51
So once again, thank you to my guest Brandy and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Campus Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to You Matter on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Tune in or Spotify.