Sarah Groth had a full-time job and five children, ages 8 to 19, to look after when her husband said he was moving out. Sarah was “under the oblivion of alcohol every evening” and, yet, she couldn’t bring herself to admit that her drinking had brought about such destruction. She came from a traditional background, and the end of her marriage meant the end of something fundamental, something that wasn’t supposed to end, ever. “I felt so much guilt in the beginning, I didn’t take the time to attend [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings,” she recalls.
Assessing the devastation in hindsight, she concluded that some kind of timeout was what she had needed, a place to go where she could find some temporary distance from her responsibilities at home and at work. Perhaps it could have saved her marriage, she thinks.
But that revelation came later, after she sobered up, went to grad school and earned her masters’ in social work. She began working with recovering addicts and had done so for about 15 years when she founded Georgia’s Garden, named after her late mother, also an alcoholic.
There is a sociological insight behind Georgia’s Garden. For the indigent and the criminal, Groth realized, there were many halfway houses, but, ironically, for the better off, there were no long-term residential facilities available. In 1997, Groth began looking into grants and working on plans for such an institution, one that would be dignified and supportive like a home. She eventually purchased a house in Windsor, Wisconsin, about ten minutes north of Madison. The eight-bed facility is for women who have already received detoxification and primary treatment. Its mission is to help bring about “significant recovery and profound change through healing.”
For the first three months, Sarah Groth was the only person working at the facility, which was also her home during that time. With some seed money from a family trust concerned with drug and alcohol issues, she was able to hire staff and finally move out. Today there are six people, including Groth, working at Georgia’s Garden, providing 24-hour care. Over 50 women have stayed at Georgia’s Garden since its doors first opened two and a half years ago.
“Research has shown,” Groth says, “that women drink less and for a shorter period of time and become much more debilitated by their disease than do men.” The flip side of this terrible finding is that the female alcoholic is likely to be younger when she searches for help. “These are women with a lot of potential, but they’ve become around-the-clock daily users.” Once sober, they need “a place where a woman can feel supported” and find some “clear direction as to what’s next in life.” This process involves a total transformation. Not only do they need to confront their inner demons, they need to learn new behaviors, even new leisure activities.
The daily schedule at Georgia’s Garden starts with a meditation session, followed by classes on such subjects as prevention, denial, relapse, and related issues. All clients are eventually required to work part-time outside of the house. For those who aren’t working, there are 12-step discussion groups in the afternoons and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the evenings. Clients cook for themselves with assistance from staff members as part of the larger effort to reorient the women to the challenges of everyday living. Right now Groth is working on grants to pay for classes on parenting and employment skills.
During their first two weeks, the women are not allowed to leave the house. This helps them establish themselves in a new environment and break the old habits and associations of their addiction. Women can reside at the treatment center for months and even as long as a year. The length of a client’s stay, boosters point out, is a reflection of the program’s seriousness. The administration works hard to keep in touch with former clients, who often visit Georgia’s Garden for AA meetings and volunteer to help current clients.
Now sober for 22 years, Sarah Groth has a masters’ degree in social work and is a certified drug and alcohol counselor. She manages the home, provides counseling, and does all the fund raising. She aims to keep Georgia’s Garden self-paying, since insurance companies don’t cover this kind of open-ended long-term care. Clients and their families pay $1,250 a month, which covers about half of the cost. The rest comes from grants and charitable contributions. In the future, Groth hopes to add two more beds for women who are unable to pay the full monthly fee.