Steven Samra: Finding His Voice in Recovery
Steven Samra spent thirty years in and out of homelessness while battling addictions. Now in recovery, he has dedicated his life to helping others transition from homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. He worked as Veteran’s Services Coordinator with Operation Stand Down in Nashville, Tennessee and is now a Recovery Specialist at the Homelessness Resource Center and PATH Technical Assistance Center. His own history informs his work and he is a powerful voice for recovery and consumer integration.
Since finding a home and a voice in recovery in 2000, Steven Samra has become a powerful voice for recovery and consumer integration. He served as the Veteran’s Services Coordinator at Operation Stand Down in Nashville, Tennessee, is co-founder of The Contributor, a street newspaper produced and sold by people experiencing homelessness, and now works as a Recovery Specialist at the Homelessness Resource Center and PATH Technical Assistance Center. In addition, he trains outreach workers for the National Health Care for The Homeless Council and blogs about his experiences.
Steven is successful as a street outreach worker because he is able to relate to people on a personal level. He comes from a place of knowing and intimately understands the hollow history of chasing addiction on the heels of mental illness. He also knows what it means to recover from both.
Steven’s teenage years were defined by drug use, the drug trade, and traveling long distances to feed his growing addictions. As an older adolescent, he realized he had a problem and decided to work for something better. He went to school to study paramedicine. He excelled, and loved the work. But addiction followed him. “I was injecting cocaine and had to wear shirts to cover hundreds of needle holes I’d poked in my arms.” For a while, he managed a double life as a paramedic, saving others while simultaneously destroying himself. “I see this frequently with ‘functioning’ addicts, but I was out of control. At some point it all crashes down around you.”
He sought peace and refuge in the mountains. Believing himself restored, he headed to California with his paramedic license to start a new life. “I was going to do the right thing, but my drug habit followed me. I still hadn’t dealt with the fact I was an addict.”
It did not take him long to stumble into hardship, and he lost his job. He was 2,000 miles from home, with no friends and no money. Falling back on what he knew, Steven began growing marijuana, which only led him further into the drug world. He used money earned from selling marijuana to finance his heroin addiction. This resulted in incarceration in a state prison for 16 months.
Prison did little to quell Steven’s appetite for drugs and he quickly returned to heroin and painkillers after his release. Between 1993 and 1998 he was trapped in a cycle of homelessness and drug addiction. “I found that I would rather do heroin than anything else. It blotted out the pain and made me forget my own self-induced misery. Every penny I had I spent on heroin.” After living in a tent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a year, Steven sank into a deep depression, which fueled more drug use. “Nothing mattered to me. Being dead was a better option than spending another day in my life of hell.”
By grace and his own will, Steven decided to return to college to make a final attempt at extricating himself from poverty and addiction. During this period, he entered into counseling and found employment with a disabilities support center at his college. “It was through counseling and working at the center that other people recognized my addictive behaviors and mental health issues. They helped point me in the right direction to resources, tolerated me, and educated me about my addictions. Eventually, my own voice became part of the healing process.”
People started listening to what he shared about drug abuse and mental health. He talked about the realities of addiction. “I knew education was my escape but I was still immersed in the drug world; trapped, frustrated, and losing hope. Then I met a woman and fell madly in love. Although I warned her I was a drug addict, she didn’t know how bad my addiction was until she caught me shooting heroin.” She told him then and there that he had to chose between her or drugs.
After twenty-seven years of choosing drugs, he chose her over drugs. “I stopped heroin cold turkey. She took a chance on me and I have never gone back.” In early 2000, suffering from the ravages of decades of opiate abuse, Steven realized he needed additional help and began a methadone maintenance program. He has been sober ever since.
He put himself through college and graduate school and has been fully employed. He became more outspoken about addiction, homelessness, and mental health. “People listen to me. I have built credibility by sharing my life experiences and for the first time in my entire life, I can look in the mirror without loathing and disgust. I have some self respect.”
As a Veteran’s Services Coordinator at Operation Stand Down, he provided every service imaginable to veterans experiencing homelessness, from a cup of coffee to housing, employment, twelve step programs, inpatient and outpatient care, furniture, and referrals to dozens of agencies. He supervised five staff members and oversaw a group of volunteers.
Steven is dedicated to supporting veterans and anyone else experiencing homelessness. “I know what it’s like to have been hopeless, homeless, and dirt poor, and we as a nation must keep our end of the bargain to veterans who have honorably served their country and who are now mired in homelessness.”
Click here to read Steven Samra’s blog posts at Change.org.
Steven Samra created this video for Operation Stand Down:
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Newton Centre, MA