Addiction—a difficult word to digest—as it encapsulates just about anything we are incapable of controlling the urges and motivations for. The root of the word addiction in Latin connotes it with the act of surrendering to something we cannot control. Like a car stuck in mud requiring assistance to get out, this concept of surrender indicates a sense of causality requiring assistance. The Recovering With Pride substance use recovery program of the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago serves members of the LGBTQ community who may experience negative consequences resulting from substance use. The program’s mission is to provide high quality, culturally sensitive, outpatient treatment for substance abuse through multiple levels of outpatient care. Their program addresses not only alcohol use, but also prescription medications, marijuana, GHB, ecstasy, heroin, ketamine, methamphetamine, and cocaine. I had the privilege to speak with Stacy Agosto, Program Manager of Recovering With Pride, to learn more about this organization and the work associated with helping people who use substances discover freedom and willpower.
How long has the program been in existence?
We have been providing substance abuse care at Howard Brown for more than 21 years. We have received grants to treat specific drugs of choice in the LGBTQ community, but we assist people recovering from most substances. Over the years we have added staff and higher levels of care which offer us an opportunity to assist more people. The program began with one or two staff, now we have five people on staff dedicated substance abuse treatment.
Where is the treatment delivered?
All of the recovery related services we provide take place in our Chicago clinic located on Sheridan Road. In the future as we continue to expand, we may begin adding services in our other locations, such as the Rogers Park neighborhood.
Recovering With Pride provides several different behavioral health programming options. Which do you find people request or require the most?
Most people start with individual one-on-one therapy and add our group therapy options focused on emotional regulation, depression and anxiety, and specific drugs of choice. These groups are focused on a specific difficulty everyone shares and are facilitated by a licensed therapist. These groups are powerful as they are a sharing of stories that align with other people. This process is very effective. For example, someone comes in with concerns regarding their drinking or crystal meth use, they may attend the harm reduction group where they work out their substance use by discussing with others the cost and benefits of the use, why they are doing it, consideration for using differently, or stopping completely. It’s an open space to talk with others of similar struggles or questions.
How is success measured in the programming?
We are currently looking into how we get better at doing this. Customer satisfaction surveys are our current procedure, asking clients how they engaged with their therapist, how we are meeting their needs, is the program affordable, do they find it purposeful. We have started conducting after-care calls, reaching back out to clients once therapy ends to reassess where people are. Sometimes during these call backs we hear about positive paths they are on and other times people really need to come back into treatment. We find this an effective way to reengage if necessary. Overall, through the surveys and after-care calls, clients say they learn a lot about addiction and coping and feedback tends to be very positive.
What does culturally–sensitive mean in the program’s mission statement?
As a collective agency, everyone is passionate about the work we do and the LBGTQ community we serve. We have a big commitment to cultural competency and identify with the community as many of the workers live and breathe the work and understand the issues this specific community faces. For example, there is significant social stigma around substance abuse and within this community its effects and use is different.
What do you find is the biggest hurdle for those who are battling substance abuse?
There are many hurdles and it’s a long road–clients have made positive drastic changes but it can take a while all depending on factors such as age of onset, family history, unemployment or something else in their social situation that complicates things. People can be discouraged with progress and it can be slow and incremental. Relapse is psychologically and at times physically difficult and it can be hard not to get discouraged.
Is there a personal story of triumph that stemmed from the program you can share?
We have had clients that were deep into their drug use that had corresponding health consequences that were monumental, such as psychosis, being terrorized at night with nightmares, hearing voices and other distressing mental illness that made them feel as though they had lost their minds. Some lost their housing and employment. Many of these clients have been successful in turning their lives around for the best, resolving their psychosis, and some have started their own businesses or gone back to school. Often times we hear back from them on their own telling us about their recovery stories and the amazing impact we had on their lives. It’s inspirational to see them succeed in making positive changes.
How is the program funded? Does health insurance cover any of the expenses that clients may incur?
Recovering With Pride is funded in many different ways and we work hard to make our services accessible to the low income or the underinsured. The Chicago Department of Public Health helps us to provide free-of-charge counseling for members of the LGBTQ community struggling with substance abuse or dependence who have limited financial resources and are uninsured or underinsured. For some clients we provide a sliding scale, or small out of pocket fee up front when insurance is involved. Due to all the changes in insurance recently, our issues with insurance are being a part of the proper network and deductibles that people cannot afford. Additionally we apply for grants such as the Ryan White grant that covers services for people with HIV.
What is the biggest challenge that Recovering With Pride has in its administration?
It can be very difficult to watch addiction take its toll on people, which is why we take care of ourselves as clinicians in order to be able to do this work.
What do you consider to be true strength?
I think that from the perspective of the client, true strength is the ability to face yourself honestly. That means taking a hard look at yourself and being honest with what’s happened and take responsibility for it. Picking up the phone or walking through the door for help even when you cannot verbalize your thoughts as your life is falling apart–takes immense strength for anyone.
Consider donating to Recovering With Pride by visiting www.howardbrown.org or purchasing a copy of 30 Days Dry - 10% of sales go to support this organization.