June is Pride Month, and all month long, we celebrate the accomplishments and contributions the LGBTQIA+ community has made while helping to raise awareness about the struggles and challenges the LGBTQIA+ community continues to face. MHA’s GRIT Yale Street, residential recovery program is designed to assist those who identify as LGBTQIA+ with a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health diagnosis. The program is the first of its kind in Massachusetts, celebrating its second year of programming. This month, MHA will highlight several of our program participants in our Yale Street program.

Andy Deese, 40, whose substance use dates back to when he was 15, struggled from a childhood of abuse, trauma, and poverty. He came out as gay when he was 16 years old, and by his early 20s started abusing alcohol, marijuana, and hallucinogens. By the time Andy was in his 30s, he was addicted to opioids and benzodiazepines after being prescribed pain pills post-surgery. Then in 2018, Andy experienced an unintentional overdose after taking an opioid laced with fentanyl. The overdose forced Andy to seek help for his substance use. “It scared me, but my addiction was more powerful than my fear.”

After going through multiple substance use recovery programs, Andy heard about our GRIT Yale Street program and liked that the program was exclusively for members of the LGBTQIA+ population. Since entering the program in February, Andy has made significant strides in his recovery. Andy has been off opioids for four years and has abstained from all substances over the last seven months. “I found out the root cause of my addiction. I’ve peeled back layers, been seeing a therapist, and getting to the bottom of my mental health issues that I knew I had but didn’t have a name for them. Here in the program, they push you to find yourself and dig up the issues, and figure out how to ‘fix yourself.’ One thing they love saying here is ‘progress, not perfection.’ ”

Andy is happy that he can freely express himself in the program and interact with others in the LGBTQIA+ community. “I enjoy being able to be myself and meet other people, hear their stories, and see their success.” Andy added, “The main thing is that it feels very much like a family here.” Andy said he has grown close with some of his fellow peers and staff members. “You develop bonds with people here, and they know where you’re coming from and what you are saying—they understand. It is a very judgment-free zone.”

Andy is also thankful for the staff in the program. “I wouldn’t be where I am in my recovery and my mental health without the staff. They go above and beyond. My clinicians are great, and they push me in ways that I didn’t think I needed. My care coordinator has opened up so many opportunities for me that I didn’t realize were possible. They feel more like friends than staff members. I am grateful for everything they’ve done, and this is just the beginning of a journey where I know I am going to accomplish so many things.”

Once Andy graduates from the program, he plans to obtain his A.T.R. (Access to Recovery) certification and go back to school to study psychology in hopes of being a recovery counselor. “I want to give back to the community and to the treatment center that helped me so much. In my opinion, people who are in recovery or have been in recovery are the best people to become recovery coach counselors because they have the experience.”

With June being Pride Month, Andy shared his thoughts about what Pride Month means to him. “For me, Pride Month means being unapologetically myself. Appreciating the progress that queer culture has made over the years and seeing what work still needs to be done. It’s great having a month to celebrate what we have, but it is also a time to remember that there is still so much more we need to do.”

MHA’s GRIT Yale Street residential program is in a beautiful 16-bed Tudor-style home in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The program houses individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ and are in early recovery from substance use and have a mental health diagnosis.

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance for substance use and mental health, please call 844-MHA-WELL. To learn more about GRIT and its Yale Street program, please visit www.mhainc.org/grit.