Harm Reduction and Alcohol? Bridget Knows it Works.

Content Warning: this story contains themes of abuse, self-harm, human trafficking, suicide, addiction and alcohol use, which may be distressing for some readers.

Bridget’s life didn’t start out as a happy one. Her story and experiences aren’t for the faint of heart, and some days she still has trouble coping with her past. But she’s still here. She’s surviving and fighting for another day, thanks to her own grit and WellPower’s support.

Trauma from the beginning

Bridget grew up through a deeply painful childhood and adolescence. The victim of abuse, she didn’t know a reality different from one of constant hurt. She experienced human trafficking from an early age and turned to substances like drugs and alcohol to cope by the time she was in middle school.

“When I was a kid, I’d tell my parents they were treating me a certain way and they’d tell me I was wrong or that I was making it up,” said Bridget. “They would tell me that I was worthless and that no one would love me. You don’t get over that kind of hurt and abuse easily, especially not if you’re stuck in that environment causing your trauma.”

“By the time I was 12, I was drinking alcohol and cutting to numb myself because reality was just too hard to cope with. The alcohol, drugs and self-harm became the only things that allowed me to separate myself from the horrors of my life.”

Unfortunately, Bridget’s trauma carried through to her adulthood. The man she married became abusive, too, and she continued to experience human trafficking. She also found herself experiencing homelessness in Denver, in and out of jail and having multiple stays at psychiatric hospitals.

Enter WellPower

“It’s kind of sad to say, but I felt safer in jail than I did being homeless,” said Bridget. “At least in jail, I got guaranteed food, a bed, medical care and counseling. That’s where I met people from WellPower who could actually help me.”

“[WellPower] saved me the day I got out of jail. They gave me places to stay safe and to live. They got me a cell phone, a purse and hygiene products. They helped me fill out my paperwork. They helped me get my food stamps. I’m trying to be more independent, and they’ve really supported me in that journey.”

Bridget has lived at one of WellPower’s residential homes and found great success there. She’s drug-free now and hasn’t had suicidal thoughts since beginning services.

“When I started treatment, I felt so much safer than when I was living on the streets,” said Bridget. “I’ve been through the program at Second Street with sober living and they’ve helped me understand that I’m a good person and I love to give. My treatment team has helped me to understand that I can’t give everything of myself all the time, though. I need to value myself as much as I value giving to others.”

Going through treatment with WellPower has also helped Bridget know that her journey doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing with alcohol use. She occasionally still drinks to help her calm her inner thoughts, especially when traumatic memories resurface.

 Bridget found harm reduction approaches more feasible for her recovery, rather than abstinence from all substances. “A harm reduction framework, which WellPower embraces, focuses on the person’s goals for their recovery from substance use, rather than defining what recovery looks like for them,” said Ellie Carpio, LPC, LAC, an assistant program manager with WellPower’s Adult Recovery services. “With this approach, any change in substance use toward health is a positive change, as it reduces the harmful impact of extreme use.”

“I don’t get drunk anymore,” said Bridget. “I’ll have alcohol from time to time because it helps my mind quiet down when I feel the terror start, but I don’t get belligerently drunk like I used to. I’m proud of myself for that.”

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “A large body of evidence suggests that treatment and recovery strategies that reduce heavy alcohol consumption and alcohol-related consequences without complete abstinence can be effective for mitigating the harms associated with alcohol misuse for many individuals.”

Basically, reducing drinking can be just as effective for some people as completely stopping. In Bridget’s case, this harm reduction method helps her keep going on her recovery journey.

Hope for a better future

Bridget’s life has been tough, there’s no doubt about that. And she has shown her resilience repeatedly, especially in maintaining her hope for a better future for herself.

“Ultimately, I want a fresh start in a new place,” she said. “I want a future where I’m surrounded by different faces. For now, I’m staying off drugs, keeping my housing and keeping my drinking to a minimum. I want to get my license and live independently, too.”

She wants people to know that WellPower provides hope for people, in addition to the practical support offered.

“This place and these people give you hope for the future, so you don’t have to keep getting hurt. They help you with everything – housing, paperwork, food, resources and obviously mental health.”