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One Good Day

Yesterday was a good day at Stepping Stones.

No, none of our kids are moving into housing–even though two are really close! And though we are super happy that so many of our youth have found jobs recently, that wasn’t the big news either. Instead, we found out that two of our youth are making a different kind of progress, and we are just as excited for them as we would be if they got hired or housed.

Tom and Shaun have decided that they have had enough of their addiction. They are ready to reclaim their lives. And it’s more than words this time: they both took their first step in recovery. We cheered when Tom called to tell us he was going to rehab. Then, not even twenty minutes later, Shaun asked us for a ride to the Doorway so he could begin detox. “Well, today’s a good day!” Kathy said.

It sure was. We know what a long road it has been for Tom and Shaun. They came to us with every bump and bruise acquired along the way. They’d vent about relapses and missed opportunities, and every time the smoke cleared and they wanted to talk options, it became pretty clear that their substance use was like a traffic jam; all the safe exits were blocked but one, and behind them, every opportunity for success was caught in the bottleneck. For them, going to treatment is as important a step as finding housing– a necessary step to end their homelessness.

Last year, Tom became one of the lucky young men at Stepping Stones to receive a housing voucher. After spending six years homeless, this was a huge moment for him. He was ready to attend Nashua Community College to earn a degree, after which he’d be a shoo-in for his dream job as an auto-mechanic. He was set to become a shining example of adult self-sufficiency; for the first time in a long time he was proud of himself

But opioids had other plans for Tom. It did not take long between the first time he let on that he was using heroin and the day he lost his housing voucher, but in that time almost everything he had accomplished was undone: he dropped out of NCC and added several arrests to his record. Soon, the many youths of Stepping Stones who feared succumbing to drug addiction cut him off, and his relationships elsewhere followed suit. He started showing up with cuts and bruises to color his accounts of being mugged or beaten up. His personal items, including cell phones and I.D.s were stolen repeatedly. Tom lost two vehicles and had another vandalized. These abuses are not uncommon among homeless youth, but with Tom, they started to happen regularly only after drugs led him to seek out a rougher peer group.

Last month, we asked Tom to come back to us only after he completed a treatment program. It was not an easy decision, but one made for the safety of our other youth. Though he took some time to come around to it, he finally called Stepping Stones to tell us that he is getting the help he needs. Over the phone, he told Kathy that of all the things he’s lost over the past year, it was losing the drop-in center that finally convinced him to end his addiction once and for all.

Shaun’s addiction has gone on for some time now, too. His attempts to get a job or find a place to live have been stymied time and again by the chaotic demands of his addiction. He’s lost friends and though some family remains in his life, they can only risk giving up so much for him. Shaun repeatedly told us that he does drugs because they are the only thing that makes him feel good; we’ve connected him with resources before, but every time he went reluctantly. He’d vanish for weeks at a time, but every time he came back we’d show him love and compassion, encourage him to stay and refocus on his goals. We’d laugh together and let him vent his frustrations with his relationship to drugs. Something seemed to shift this week when he told me that his main substance was like an abusive girlfriend he needs to break up with. He was matter of fact about what he needed when he asked for a ride to the Doorway, but we all knew it was a big moment for him. On his way out, I told him he was making the right decision, that we are all proud of him.

“All it takes is one bad day.” Some variation of that phrase comes up a lot in discussions about adversity. All it takes is one bad day for someone to enter a mental health crisis someone might propose, or one bad day can drive someone to use. Shaun and Tom have had a lot of bad days, but I’m sure if there is one they wish they could do over again, it was the first day that they used. One bad day is all it takes to make the fateful decision that will lead to incarceration, a lost job, even homelessness. It is overwhelming when you really think about it, the power that one bad day can have.

But yesterday, we saw the opposite, and it has us thinking: what about one good day? What if this one good day is the one that will change everything? We believe that it can. As Kathy always says, “a small step in the right direction can turn out to be the biggest step of your life.

Cheers to Tom and Shaun! We hope this one good day is the start of many more to come.

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