As a kid, Bridget was part of the crowd that followed the rules: the ones who excelled in school, said “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” when asked questions and did their chores without being reminded.
She’d been a version of Supergirl – a high achiever who wanted to change the world – for what felt like a lifetime already. She found some relief in her first drink of alcohol.
“I was 13 years old,” Bridget recalled. “Just 13.”
It wasn’t long before she moved on to pot, a drug she eventually started selling. Then she moved on to ecstasy. Then painkillers. And by college, heroin.
Keeping up appearances
Bridget was able to maintain a sort of façade during her teenage years: She could somehow manage her substance abuse while achieving more than enough in school to start a prestigious college career at the University of Notre Dame.
“I thought I was managing it,” she said. “But I wasn’t. I was being bailed out, over and over.”
Not that her parents didn’t see the problem. They did – and they took action. They admitted Bridget to the Dewey Center at the Aurora Behavioral Health Services Campus in Wauwatosa, in hopes that she’d get better before leaving home.
But as a young adult away at college, her drug abuse escalated. Quickly. “I got in trouble right away,” Bridget shared. “I had to come home my first semester.”
One step forward, two steps back
The rest of her college years were up and down. A semester of school, a stint in rehab. Another stint in rehab, a semester of school. Day by day, hour by hour, Bridget was inching toward a college degree, but not without finding new ways to use – and keep using.
“I tried heroin at 21,” she admitted. “I was in a relationship that facilitated using. And I didn’t give him up when I should have.”
Finally, after eight years of stops and starts, Bridget was ready to graduate with her bachelor’s degree.
Her 93-year-old grandmother was going to be at her commencement, along with her brother, who’d flown in from the east coast. And of course her parents, who’d supported her many efforts to get clean and graduate. They were full of hope.
But instead of attending her commencement, she was in the Milwaukee County Jail, arrested the night before for heroin possession.
“I felt deep down like something was really wrong with me because I couldn’t stop, no matter how many times I tried,” Bridget said. “For a long time, I was certain that God put me on this earth to be an addict and die as an example.”
Turning the corner
Those arrests made the difference. “I think it’s because I was facing real, hard consequences. I was facing felonies. I’m lucky drug treatment court was available to me both times.”
Drug treatment court is an alternative, restorative justice program that includes intense monitoring and treatment requirements. As part of the program, Bridget sought help at an Illinois treatment center, as well as another stay at the Dewey Center. She also lived at what is today known as the Culver Alumni House – a transitional living facility aimed at helping individuals recovering from addiction.
She still attends weekly alumni meetings at the Lighthouse on Dewey every Wednesday. “The Dewey Center is near and dear to my heart. I’m honored to speak on campus whenever I have the opportunity.”
The end…and the beginning
All of these things are true. But here’s something else that’s true. Bridget is also persistent. Inside Bridget the Addict is still Bridget the Achiever – Bridget Who Wants to Change the World.
Now 32, healthy, and three years sober, she helped found Phase V, a foundation that helps bridge the gap that occurs after the support that drug treatment court provides is cut off. She serves as a board member, peer mentor, newsletter author and speaker.
Bridget has also applied to several law schools and will soon choose one to attend in the fall.
“I want to educate the public about drug treatment courts and how crucial they are to a society facing a drug epidemic,” she explained. “As an attorney, I want to carry the message and mission of these crucial programs.”
There was a time when the only thing Bridget valued was the thing that was destroying her. Now, she’s in the position to give back, to reciprocate the immense support she’s received over the years.
“It took a long time, but I finally remembered my purpose,” she said. “That’s to make sure people never, ever give up.”
Get our weekly digest of health & wellness tips