Like the Warden at Shawshank prison, the scions of Seabrook House believe in two things: discipline and the Big Book. A lonely compound enveloped by acres of lush New Jersey farmland, Seabrook is far enough from civilization that residents trying to escape would find it difficult to get very far. While a few have made the attempt over the years, many eventually end up wanting to stay on just as ardently as they’d once hoped to run free. “I cried on the day my parents dropped me off there,” remembers a recent graduate, “and I cried again on the day I had to leave.”
Despite its isolation, Seabrook’s vibe is straight-up country club: forty acres of beautifully landscaped lawns, woods and gardens envelop a well-kept series of buildings, connected by a labyrinthine series of walkways. While the rooms aren’t grand and many come sans showers, the meals—prepared by “a real New York restaurant chef” who lays out elaborate spreads of steak, chicken and fish dishes, and pasta—tend to make up for that. Desserts and the “huge” salad bar receive high marks, but coffee addicts should be forewarned that caffeine is strictly forbidden.
Anti-A.A.-ers beware: Seabrook is wedded to the 12 steps. “They really indoctrinate you,” says one veteran. The environment here is pretty insular—rather than traipsing out to local meetings, Seabrook asks A.A. and N.A. speakers to come and visit. Luxury treatments—massages, acupuncture and yoga—and equine therapy, as well as summer softball games and rock climbing activities, keep cabin fever at bay.
But if residents have one complaint about Seabrook, it’s that “they watch you all the time.” Staffers are constantly making sure that beds are made, rooms are spotless, and all eyes are safely averted in mixed company. While the crowd used to be on the older side, one grad says young blood has recently infiltrated the place. It’s the 30-and-younger crowd that tends to do most of the “bitching” about the Big Brother vibe.
Ever since a liaison between two residents resulted in first a pregnancy and then the threat of a lawsuit from irate parents, keeping the genders separated has become one of the facility’s highest priorities. Chatting up a member of the opposite sex will get you written up; two write-ups means expulsion. Since the opening of a new building last year, men and women now sleep, eat and attend meetings separately. Only lectures remain a mixed affair—not that an affair is likely when men sit at the front and women are “brought in later and kept at the back.”
Despite the rehab’s hyper-vigilant atmosphere, former clients routinely praise the staff with words like “stellar” and “super-compassionate.” Counselors, mostly in recovery, “don’t give textbook answers” says one ex-resident, while another notes that the full-time nurses “make you feel like you’re the only person they’re caring for.”
Educating previously clueless family members about alcoholism is a crucial aspect of the Seabrook program. After a seven-day “black out,” where clients shut off contact with loved ones altogether, family members are invited to come on site “so they can learn about the disease.” Only then are they allowed to visit on weekends, usually in a workshop scenario, with only about half an hour at the end to “just hang out in private.”
While some find the whole experience a bit regimented, most graduates are satisfied. “They really were kick-ass and into enforcement,” says one, “but the truth is, a lot of us need that.”