In November of 1991 I was reaching the end of an almost 15 year run as an alcoholic and drug addict. I was 30, homeless and living under bridges, a junkie, and heard from people on the street that Stepping Stone was a place that could help me.
My struggle then was finding a safe place to sleep at night where I wouldn’t be robbed or arrested. I found Stepping Stone’s day program facility to be an old craftsman house in Hillcrest, and for a couple weeks I’d show up there late at night and sleep on their porch hidden from the street away from cops and other homeless people. Eventually, later that month, I went there during the day to see what they had to offer.
I had no idea what treatment, recovery or the 12 Steps were. I still was arrogant and egotistical, and thought the world was to blame for my problems, not myself. Stepping Stone had a homeless outreach guy, and he did my intake interview and got me housed at Father Joe’s Village and I started going to Stepping Stone’s outpatient day program that week.
I began to learn about drug addiction, its genesis in my young life as the crisis of discovering and hiding I was gay split me into two very different and very fake people. I learned there was a solution to addiction that the founders of AA had discovered in the 1930’s. It was there, to my amazement, I found out that complete strangers cared about my welfare, wanted to help me, and I was stunned by that revelation. Me, a gay, HIV+, homeless junkie without a job or possessions, was cared about by the people at Stepping Stone, and that there was a path out of my hell if I wanted to take it. And it didn’t cost anything if I had no money, which I certainly didn’t. The government’s social safety net paid for by tax dollars caught me before I sank under.
The variety and quality of the groups and classes offered were incredible. There were process therapy talking groups, recovery basics groups, STD prevention groups, life skills groups, gay coming out issues groups, 12-step meetings, and I discovered the whole world of people helping other people and each other to get better. Back then, the day program was the waiting place for people wanting to get into the long term residential part of Stepping Stone, which could take months because the demand was so high for so few beds. It was a safe place to go and learn about how to stay clean and what the true issues were driving my addiction while waiting for a bed to open up in the Stepping Stone residential program. Without a place like that, being homeless and high, it would be almost impossible for Stepping Stone to find me or contact me to let me know they had a bed for me.
I managed to stay clean there about six weeks before my ego and unwillingness to do any of the work they suggested took me back out onto the streets and into active drug using. But I couldn’t unlearn what I learned there in the Stepping Stone outpatient program, and as I suffered outside during the rainy winter of 1991-92, I kept remembering there was a way out, and gradually became willing to do anything to get better.
I became completely ready a few short months later in March of 1992. I started my recovery at VOA in their 7-day program, then Sobriety House, their long term residential treatment facility, but I quickly realized the core of my addiction issues, which was shame about being gay, self-homophobia, and fearful coming out issues, would not be addressed there and I needed the LGBTQ focus of Stepping Stone. I transferred to Stepping Stone in September of 1992 and lived in their residential treatment for a year, graduating in September of 1993. Cheryl Houk was the Executive Director back then and her energetic vision and tireless work to make Stepping Stone a healing oasis for the gay community inspired me so much to create a healthy life for myself. It is wonderful to have her back again.
I haven’t injected any methamphetamine since. March 18th, 2016 was my 24th anniversary of the day I stopped. Since then my career has taken me to incredible places. I’ve gone on to play keyboards in Radio City Music Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and on ABC’s the View with Michael Crawford, recording a live album on Atlantic Records with him, finally moving to NYC in 2000 to play Broadway shows. I played the run of Jane Eyre, recorded their original Broadway cast album for Sony Classical, subbed on The Full Monty, and helped program the synthesizer keyboards for many new shows. I got to work with a few of my idols and even rehearsed the famous Rockettes at Radio City for a memorable few months! I moved back to San Diego in 2004 to continue working on shows at the Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, and in 2015 was made Associate Artistic Director of the 180-voice San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus as they celebrated their 30th Anniversary season. I’ve been married to my partner for over 22 years now. We met as residents of Stepping Stone when he started treatment in April 1993, and meeting the man of my dreams inside a rehab has been just one of the many miracles Stepping Stone made possible. As a sponsor I’ve assisted many other gay men in getting clean from drugs or sex addiction and forming successful, productive lives. All this from a humble beginning sleeping on the porch of the Stepping Stone day program and finally going there in daylight to receive the help they were freely offering.
Stepping Stone’s superb program was my ticket into the world of healing emotional and mental issues that led me to the incredible life I’ve been grateful to have for the past twenty plus years. It saved my life, and countless others along the way. With so many young gay, lesbian, and transgender youth being kicked out from their religious or conservative homes, or disappearing into drug addiction to numb the pain of their struggle from bullying and coming out, the community’s need for this first line of help has never been greater. I remain deeply grateful for Stepping Stone.
March 20, 2016