City Heights LGBTQ rehab center provides a safe space to recover from substance abuse
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A rehab center in city Heights called stepping stones, provides a pathway to recovery specifically for LGBTQ individuals, struggling with alcohol and substance abuse. K P B S speaks city Heights, reporter Jacob a tells us more. And we wanna warn you. Some of the stories he found there are difficult to hear.
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Joey Johnson says he started messing with drugs when he was 16.
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And, you know, I found meth really, you know,
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Pretty easily Johnson says the drugs helped to soothe his internalized pain about his sexual orientation.
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I think a major reason that I've come to learn why I chose to, you know, escape, so to speak, um, and use drug drugs and alcohol was because I've never necessarily been comfortable with the fact that I'm a gay man. I've always been in the closet growing up. I, I wasn't comfortable in high school coming out. I pretty much to be honest, I pretty much hated the person that I
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Was. That's where stepping stone comes in. The recovery center first opened at stores in city Heights in 1976. And hasn't stopped serving the community since then, even through an ongoing pandemic stepping stone outpatient director, Pam Highfield says the rehab facility has come a long way from it tumble roots.
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So they got together and they formed a nonprofit. Um, and it got the property. It was at the time four or six little cottages here. Um, and we, how we got kicked off, that's how we started. And then over the years has continued to grow.
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Highfill says the nonprofit organization is the only one in the region that specializes in the LGBTQ community.
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A lot of places turn to us when dealing with issues related to the community. Um, we do a lot with genders. That's been out the gate, so that's that's of course every place has to now, but back in the day, um, the other facilities didn't know what, what do they do, right? And we would bring 'em in here and incorporate 'em into our population. And
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For graduates of stepping stones, residential program in city Heights, the organization also offers us. So over living program, Johnson began that process. Recently, the 32 year old has been to a couple of different rehab facilities and relapsed more than once, but he says, he felt understood at stepping stone, unlike at other treatment centers,
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You know, making bad choices and using drugs has constantly led me to homelessness and, um, you know, selling my body, um, ending up in the hospital more times than I'd want, you know, for numerous reasons. Um, so yeah, I pretty much lost my way. This was the one place that I, I felt a special closeness to people, um, that no one no else could really provide.
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Chris Miller is the organization's director of programs, but he was once a client and says, stepping stone saved his life.
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20 few years ago, I went through a stepping stone, outpatient. Um, I've been clean and sober since then.
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Miller says many people still misunderstand substance abuse and how it affects the LGBTQ community. He says many clients feel a sense of shame when they're reaching out for help. No,
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There's, you know, stigma of the addiction. There's, you know, stigma of being gay and lesbian, not accepted in the, uh, community, uh, transgender, we serve transgender clients. Um, some of the individuals are HIV positive. So there's, um, stigma associated with that.
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Joe wescot is the lead counselor at stepping Stone's outpatient facility in north park. But back in 2017, he was a client too.
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We, we tackle the reasons why they use it's and majority of our clients are, um, meth users and there's a lot of drug sex links that we have to work through. And this is just a safe place for them and myself to do that
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For wescot. The best part of the center was, and still is the community. It offers
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Initially when I left here, I, I would come back and just sit downstairs on the benches. Um, when I was feeling a little squirrly or are having a lot of cravings. Um, so this place has, um, has, it has just a feeling and they, they call it like the there's a miracle here that happens
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For clients who have attended different stepping stone programs. Over the years, Miller says the journey often comes full circle like it did for himself and wescot they work for the organization, the have provided them sobriety to help the stepping stone community further grow. And with it guide others like Johnson to follow similar pathways to recovery, Jacob bear, KPBS news,
Recovery from substance abuse can be a non-linear process, fraught with challenges and stigmas.
The process can be especially difficult for LGBTQ individuals, where co-occurring disorders, like trauma, are often factors in their addictions.
“At 16 is when I decided to start messing around with drugs. I found meth really pretty easily,” 32-year-old Joey Johnson said.
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While Johnson is now on a road to recovery, he said the drugs soothed his internalized pain regarding his sexual orientation.
“I never have necessarily been comfortable with the fact that I’m a gay man. I’ve always been in the closet. Growing up, I wasn't comfortable in high school coming out. I pretty much, to be honest, hated the person that I was,” Johnson said.
That’s where Stepping Stone comes in. The recovery center first opened its doors in City Heights in 1976, and hasn’t stopped serving the queer community since then, even through an ongoing pandemic.
Stepping Stone Outpatient Director Pam Highfill said the rehab facility has come a long way from its humble roots.
“They got the property, it was at the time four or six little cottages here. That's how we got kicked off,” she said. “Over the years, it’s continued to grow.”
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Now the residential care center has the space to treat over 30 clients at once.
Highfill said the non-profit organization is the region’s only alcohol and drug treatment center that specializes in the gay, lesbian and transgender community.
“A lot of places turn to us when dealing with issues relating to the LGTBQ community,” she said. “We do a lot with transgenders, that’s been out the gate. Of course every place has to now, but back in the day the other facilities didn't know what to do.”
For graduates of Stepping Stone’s residential program in City Heights, the organization also offers a Sober Living program.
Johnson began that process recently.
He’s been to a couple different rehab facilities and relapsed more than once, but said he felt understood at Stepping Stone.
“Making bad choices and using drugs has constantly led me to homelessness and selling my body — ending up in the hospital more times than I’d want for numerous reasons. I pretty much lost my way,” Johnson said. “This is the one place where I felt a special closeness to people that nowhere else could really provide.”
RELATED: SDPD Adopts New Rules On Interactions With Transgender, Nonbinary Citizens
Chris Mueller is the organization's Director of Programs, but he was once a client. He said Stepping Stone saved his life.
“Twenty three years ago I went through Stepping Stone outpatient. I’ve been clean and sober since then,” he said.
Mueller said many people still misunderstand substance abuse and how it affects the LGBTQ community. He said many clients feel a sense of shame when reaching out for help.
“There’s stigma of being gay and lesbian, not accepted in the community,” Mueller said. “We serve transgender clients. Some of the individuals are HIV positive. So there’s stigma associated with that.”
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Joe Westcott is the lead counselor at Stepping Stone’s outpatient facility in North Park. Back in 2017, he was a client too.
“We tackle the reasons why they use. The majority of our clients are meth users and there’s a lot of drug-sex links that we have to work through. And this is just a safe place for them, and myself to do that,” Wescott said.
For Westcott, the best part of the center was, and still is, the community it offers.
“Initially when I left here I would just come back and just sit downstairs on the benches when I was feeling a little squirrely or having a lot of cravings. This place, it just has just a feeling. They call it a miracle here that happens,” he said.
RELATED: Sober parties offer safe alternative for people in addiction recovery
For clients who have attended different Stepping Stone programs over the years, Mueller said the journey often comes full circle, like it did for himself and Westcott.
They both work for the organization that provided them sobriety to help the Stepping Stone community further grow.
By doing so, they guide others like Johnson to follow similar pathways to recovery.