Almost 10 months sober, Greta Kruger was looking for some volunteer work to keep her out of mischief. Friends urged her to call the founder and director of a new treatment center for chemically dependent women – and that was the beginning of a whole new career and life for Greta. While continuing her work as an Assistant Librarian she began to volunteer at Residence XII doing whatever was most needed. Over the course of three years she filled in as a night clerk, held luncheons to increase community awareness and networked with other treatment centers to educate them about the benefits of gender-specific treatment for women.
She was asked to become Director of Residence XII South which operated from Highline Hospital for eight years until Highline merged with another hospital which already had a treatment center. Returning to Residence XII’s residential treatment facility in Kirkland, she worked in marketing and community relations for five years while she earned her CDP (Chemical Dependency Professional) certification. For the past five years she has been counseling patients with an emphasis on seniors and patient spirituality. Now, 77 years old with over 27 years of sobriety, Greta has become an inspiration for patients, young and old, with her solid understanding of the importance of spirituality in recovery.
Her personal and work experiences have taught her many things about the shame and stigma that women addicts and alcoholics face. Attempts to protect women from the consequences of their addiction just hide the problem and only increase shame and stigma. Revelations such as those made by Betty Ford temporarily increase awareness but the issue never remains in the public eye long enough to change perceptions and behavior.
Greta loves working with senior women whose addictions have frequently diminished their perceptions of their value to the community, their families and themselves. These women want to have a purpose and legacy for their lives but their shame has prevented treatment which has limited their achievement of their life’s goals. Typically these women finally come to the Residence XII when their families, husbands and children intervene to stop the downward spiral of addiction and isolation. Because these women come from a generation that is unaccustomed to asking for psychological help, isolation can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and shame. As increasing numbers of seniors take more and more drugs for various health issues, medications for pain and other ailments are mixed with alcohol, causing a whole new set of problems.
Greta’s passion for what she does is evident by the numbers of patients, alumnae and professional peers who line up at her door, leave her messages or seek her out at conferences. Her greatest contribution stems from her ability to meet patients where they are—whether in denial or anger—so they can come to terms with their addiction and develop a sense of spirituality that will help them address their alcohol or drug addiction problems. In October of 2000 she was presented with the outstanding service award by the Washington State Coalition on Women’s Substance Abuse Issues. She has recently just returned from a state conference where she presented her ideas on working with senior women. Greta is a true hero to many in the recovery community of the Northwest, including the hundreds of women she has helped begin their journey of sobriety.
Reprinted with permission of the Tribune Newspapers – Supplement to the Everett Tribune, November 2008