A Fresh Start Begins at Clean Start

At Clean Start, a program in the Belltown neighborhood of downtown Seattle, Sara B., Sound client, easily glides from room to room – to greet other clients, or to check in with Sound team members. She is clearly at home here, judging by the way others connect with her, sit with her and talk with her.

But just a few years ago, Sara was sleeping in between merchant doorways on Lower Queen Anne and struggling mightily with homelessness. To bury her crippling depression and anxiety, which she has struggled with since her teens, Sara turned to alcohol and other substances, which she began abusing in her 20s.

“I was homeless for a longtime here in Seattle, mentally, I have suffered from depression my entire life … as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a lot of anxiety,” she reveals. “Yeah, I have substance use disorder. I’ve been a blackout drinker since I was 21.”

But Clean Start, Sound’s outreach and support program that provides clinical services, addiction treatment, case management and referrals to other Sound programs, seemed to come into her life at just the right time.

She recalls a pivotal moment, in 2015, that culminated in her decision to go.

“There were a series of things going on around me. At the time, I was sleeping in a doorway in lower Queen Anne and our neighbors in the doorway next to us were always telling us ‘you should go to Sound, you should go to Clean Start,’” She says. “Those two women, one of them died…and the other woman who was living in the doorway, I was afraid of becoming her, because she had spent her whole life on and off the streets, getting housing, then screwing it up royally. Not changing anything about her, or trying to get better or get healthier. I saw myself becoming her, slowly, slowly morphing into her and then slowly dying on the streets, for the rest of my life.”

Initially, the prospect of Clean Starts’ free meals, warm showers and laundry services encouraged her to pay a visit. But soon the program became much more than those things to her. Clean Start emerged as a place to nurture friendships, share in a sense of community, and simply, to belong. Feeling as if she was part of something, Sara soon discovered that Clean Start presented the opportunity she needed to get a fresh start on the rest of her life.

Clean and sober for six years now, Sara credits Clean Start, Kathryn Alcid, her therapist, other clinical staff, groups and other behavioral health programs, with helping to get her life on track and into recovery. Once at Sound Sara received a proper diagnosis for her chronic depression, generalized anxiety disorder and ADHD.

“I asked for help and not only did I receive help, but I utilized that help,” she says. “And that has been invaluable. That’s why I still come here.”

Clean Start is available to all Sound clients, regardless of where they live or which location they receive services. For Sara, she saw the opportunity to invest in her recovery, so after her assessment she received addiction treatment services, mental health therapy to address her anxiety and depression, case management to help her find housing and access other services, and even see one of Sound’s psychiatrists. It’s been a long journey for her, not without challenges, but she’s been committed to her recovery.

“If I hadn’t come to Sound and Clean Start,” she confesses. “I wouldn’t be here today.”

And today, with the help of Alcid, Jim Fickens, a Sound clinician who oversees Clean Start, and others, Sara has really, for the first time in many years, become someone who she wants to be.

“I’m a different person today, though I’m still inherently the same person as before, because all of this (her stable, thoughtful self) was inside of me then, I just didn’t know how to tap into me, my true authentic self.”

The pandemic and other significant stressors over the past two years have tested her resolve and only strengthened her commitment. Knowing that there are people behind her — and a strong sense of community and belonging as well – keeps her firmly pointed in the right direction.

“People believe in me,” Sara says. “It’s kind of awkward but it feels good, me being part of a chosen community at Clean Start. This is where I’ve learned to become the person I am today.”

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