If you attended Shabbat last Friday, (June 14th, 2024) you saw Steven S. He is hard to miss! Steven was the tall (he’s 6’1) blonde man in a dapper suit, bow tie, and perfectly manicured bright green acrylic fingernails, proudly standing center stage celebrating his sixth sober birthday and encouraging the current Beit T’Shuvah residents to “Hold On!” 

Even before Steven entered Beit T’Shuvah in 2017 as a resident it felt like familiar ground. His father had also been a resident. In fact he was a proud member of the first class of residents when the Venice location was opened. Steven remembers playing hide-and-go-seek under Elaine Breslow’s desk. That’s what we call an OG memory!

Born in Riverside, Steven spent his first five years of life in Moreno Valley until his biological parents, both addicts at the time, divorced. Steven’s father remarried shortly thereafter. He describes his parents in terms of three, “Since kindergarten, I’ve had a mom, a dad, and a Terrie.” The divorce of his parents was disruptive and dysfunctional. His mom would move him around on a whim “We moved every six months, never setting down roots, never making any friends,” bouncing between California, Kansas, and Texas. “She would take me in the dead of night, dad would call the cops of whichever city or state we were in and report me kidnapped.” This went on until the age of 13 when his dad, sober by then, had a past offense catch up with him and he found himself temporarily housed behind bars. Steven was given the choice of living with his biological mom or living with Terrie in Fresno, Steven chose Terrie. At the same time, he also made another life choice: to start using meth.

At 18, living with Terrie and his dad, Steven was struggling. He was addicted to drugs, had dropped out of school, and had just come out as gay to his parents. Terrie said she’d known since he was five. His father on the other hand was not as receptive to the news. A burly, ex-Navy, Vietnam vet who believed the only reason a person would “become” gay is if they were sexually abused as a child. Steven didn’t fall into this category so naturally, his father was extremely confused, often in denial. “Not MY boy.” Eventually, after doing some research and coming to the realization that they actually had quite a few close family members who are gay and that perhaps gay isn’t something you become due to traumatic events, his father not only accepted his son’s lifestyle, but became a proud, PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) member. “MY boy.”

When Steven was 19, not wanting to jeopardize his father’s Section 8 housing, he decided the safer place to ‘use’ would be on the streets of Fresno. For seven years he continued to use meth and live in and out of tent cities. “I was just playing the hand I felt I was dealt, to the best of my ability.”

When Steven was 25, in the hope to set his son on the right path, and through a series of forgery and trickery, ‘stand in front of this wall at Walgreens while I snap a quick photo of you’, his father had secretly obtained a passport for Steven and signed him up for an LGBTQ+ ‘Birthright’ trip to Israel. “He didn’t tell me until a few days before, he said just pack for 10 days in the desert.” 45 minutes from the airport Terrie and his Dad filled him in on the fact that he needed to ditch his needles and all of the drugs in his luggage and get on a plane to Israel with 30 other queer young Jewish adults that he’d never met. He reluctantly boarded the flight. While there, something in him changed. After being moved to tears witnessing bombs flying overhead in Golan Heights, he confided in his new friends that this was the first time he’d been sober in years. In turn, many of them, one by one, would tell him their stories of addiction and recovery. These people, Steven noticed, were his age, had recovery in their lives, and were doing really well! “They all had great jobs, money, I wanted what they had. I basically got sober out of jealousy and resentment.”

Upon returning to America, Steven approached his parents and bared his soul. “I told them I was a dope fiend and a drug addict. I told my dad ‘I’m going to die, I can’t stay sober while living in Fresno.” His dad responded matter-of-factly saying, “I’ve been waiting for you to say something. Let me call Beit T’Shuvah.”

In 2017 Steven entered Beit T’Shuvah and excelled for many months. At one point he did relapse, but he came clean. Okay, they found out but still…he was honest about it afterwards. He started the program fresh. It was day one again as a “primary” resident, and this time the lessons stuck.

Steven flourished. He worked extremely hard and surrounded himself with people who loved him and cheered him on when he moved out of Beit T’Shuvah in 2019 to a new life in sobriety. His first few years sober were full of real-life moments. Some wonderful; jobs at treatment centers, earning his CADAC, and meeting his now fiancé, John. John is somebody that Steven can look up to (he’s 6’3) and be inspired by with 9 years of sobriety under his belt. There were some not-so-wonderful real-life moments too; Steven had some losses in his family and in 2019, at the start of his relationship with John, he went to get tested for HIV and found out that he had contracted the virus. 

Through it all, he remained sober.

It was through the HIV diagnosis and an urge to ramp up his recovery program that Steven and John decided to begin training for the AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride for charity. They joined a sober training group called the Trudging Buddies that not only trained together but also holds a 12-step meeting every Sunday night for team members and their friends. Steven, John, and the Trudging Buddies just recently completed the 545-mile bike ride in 7 days from San Francisco to Santa Monica that raised close to 11 million dollars. “It was so powerful to be on this journey with 1,300 other people with the same cause and the same idea moving towards the same goal.”Today Steven and John live together with their new dog Lil Baer (a not-so lil’ Great Dane, German Shepherd mix), he works for Rainbow Hill Recovery, working with queer addicts to help them get and stay sober. “We are trying to get them to the miracle, telling them to hold on, it doesn’t get easier, but it will get better.”

Steven really attributes his six years of sobriety to Beit T’Shuvah, the place that helped both him and his father get sober so many years ago.

“I came into BTS as a survivor and I left with the skills to thrive. Without Beit T’Shuvah I would not have the ability to live life on life’s terms and have the amazing life I have today.”

Be on the lookout for Steven at our Pride Shabbat tonight (June 21, 2024) and next June when we can help him bring in another year sober. We’ll all look forward to seeing him there, undoubtedly in his never-disappointing choice of bow tie and matching nail color!

Spotlight on Steven S. by Lisa S.

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