Every day MHA celebrates the accomplishments and contributions the LGBTQIA+ community has made. The month of June allows us to highlight the wonderful people in this community further 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.

This week we would like to share the story of Misael Suarez. Misael, 41, is a graduate of GRIT Yale Street who came into the program in 2021 to treat a fentanyl and benzodiazepines addiction. Before entering Yale Street, Misael was repeatedly in and out of halfway houses over 12 years. Eventually, Misael sought help and entered a Transition Support Services program where his case manager told him about MHA’s new GRIT Yale Street program that is specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community. When his case manager explained the program, Misael was immediately interested.

When Misael first entered the program, he said that one of his biggest challenges was adapting to the new environment. “At first, it was an adjustment not having the complete freedom to do whatever I wanted initially. But I knew that if I committed myself to the program and worked on bettering myself, it would pay off in the long run and that I would eventually earn the trust of the staff.” During his time in the program, not only did he learn how to cope with his substance use and mental health, but he also became more educated on what it means to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community. “Being a gay man didn’t mean I knew all about the LGBTQIA+ culture. There were some things that I didn’t know about or wasn’t aware of. Things have changed a lot since I was a teenager.”

Misael contributes much of his success to the relationships he developed with the staff. “I had amazing recovery specialists, clinicians and directors who all helped me in different ways. They all supported my growth and allowed me to be myself and openly express my emotions. They helped me realize that I was not defined by my past.” Misael appreciated the staff’s flexibility, allowing him to progress through the program at his own pace. He said his time in the program helped him regain his feeling of self-worth and freedom. “I am grateful to all of the people I met at MHA and the Yale Street program. All of your support means a lot to me.”

Since graduating from the Yale Street program last year, Misael has been living independently and works as an intake coordinator at one of Gándara Center’s mental health and substance-use outpatient clinics. Misael is entirely off methadone and is expecting to obtain his license in Alcohol and Drug Counseling II (LADCII), which he started when he was in the Yale Street program. He also plans to attend college to obtain his bachelor’s degree in human service and criminal justice.

With June being Pride Month, Misael said, “Pride Month for me is a month for the commemoration of our predecessors who fought, struggled, and sometimes lost their lives for us to have the freedoms that we have today. To remind the world that we exist and are not going anywhere anytime soon.”

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+, are in early recovery from substance use, and have a mental health diagnosis.

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