Former Addicts Give Back

Brittany Kitchens is using her own experiences with addiction to help patients at Urban Peaks Rehab. The innovative new clinic, which employs people who are recovering from addictions, launched in October 2018. (Credit: Giles Classen)

Brittany Kitchens is using her own experiences with addiction to help patients at Urban Peaks Rehab. The innovative new clinic, which employs people who are recovering from addictions, launched in October 2018. (Credit: Giles Classen)

By Doug Hrdlicka

Urban Peaks Rehab started a new clinic in October 2018, with an innovative model that allows people who have overcome drug addictions to work with those currently struggling with addiction. 

Brittany Kitchens stands tall with dark blue eyes and blond hair pulled in a ponytail. She speaks with strong hand gestures but holds herself in an otherwise relaxed manner. It’s impossible to tell from her casual and pleasant disposition that she was at one point addicted into opioids. 

In 2005, Kitchens had her appendix removed and was prescribed Percocet. She was 19 years old and had just moved to Denver. Growing up, she lived a sheltered life, knowing little of addiction. Her parents were similarly naïve to substance abuse and how it can shape a person’s motivations. But soon after getting a Percocet prescription, Kitchens would have first-hand knowledge of the precarious nature of opioids.  

“I instantly fell in love,” said Kitchens about taking Percocet for the first time, “and what it felt like was very much like a key slipping into a lock that I had never had the key for.” 

It is as the Clinic Lead and Recovery Liaison at Urban Peaks, where Kitchens puts to work her experience as an addict. She is able to call on the aggressive sway the drug had in her life and how it led to behaviors uncharacteristic of her. This unique position enables her to transform a feeling of apathy to optimism. Although each genesis and story of substance abuse is different, she can identify when many people simply cannot. 

“One of the most vital parts of my recovery is that I have people that have been there, I have people that I can reach out to when I’m experiencing something that is unfamiliar and say ‘hey, how did you do this and stay clean?’ That gives that person a very crucial part of the recovery process, and that’s empathy,” said Kitchens. 

Urban Peaks Rehab is an outpatient clinic that opened its doors in October. The clinic is nestled in a quaint courtyard between Colfax and 14th on Lafayette. Each of the three people who work there have at some point been addicts. That is not a coincidence, but the foundation of the model. Urban Peaks Rehab uses this model to instill back into the person a positive sense of self in addition to resources and compassion.

“That is why I really believe in places like this,” Kitchens said about Urban Peaks Rehab. “It’s important for us to realize that these are not just addicts, these are not just junkies, these are humans that are stuck in this cycle.”

Being empathetic is now a pillar of her method in helping people, and she has noticed a change in perception when they figure out the struggles she went through. They are bonded by a similar hardship that can be leveraged to inspire action towards a sober life. 

“For my patients, I can look at them and they’re sitting on the ground shaking back and forth and crawling out of their skin, and I can literally grab their shoulders and be like, ‘I know what that feels like, it’s absolute hell, I’m right here with you.’ I believe that is the absolute core of addiction is a lack of connection with humans,” she said. 

For Kitchens, the lack of human connection resulted, partly, in to her relishing the pain medications. They had the ability to resolve her feelings of not belonging. This sentiment was coupled with a self-identified addiction to escape, resulting in a six-year stretch of escalating desperation and moral challenges.  

“Those nervous feelings went away the first time I got high. And the way I can describe it is that I’ve always been addicted to escaping reality. Whether that be movies, whether that be through relationships, whether that be in just the simple fact of running away from my problems, like just getting away. I believe that running to Colorado was kind of part of that particular experience for me,” said Kitchens. 

She made a staggering decline six months before her sobriety began. At that time she opted for heroin over pills and recalls doing unsavory things to get it. Her actions led to an arrest that would be the final misdeed before seeking help. After withdrawing in county jail, she was recommended to Stout Street or Salvation Army to assist in her recovery.

“I was roughly 30 days off the hard drugs when I entered the Salvation Army, and over that six month process, they taught me how to work, they taught me how to have a work ethic, they showed me different pathways to recovery like 12 steps, refuge recovery, S.M.A.R.T. Through that, I was able to begin working on my own personal recovery program so that I was able to start that self discovery,” said Kitchens. 

She recalls the people that empathized with her and showed compassion, gave resources and overall guided her back to sobriety. Without help or recognition from these people, Kitchens says her situation would have grown to a critical point that could have been devastating. 

“If I didn’t have access to treatment I can guarantee you that I would have not survived 2015,” said Kitchens. ■