The Stonewall Project saved my life


By Billy Lemon

Crystal meth was never part of my life plan, but I started using when I moved to San Francisco and fell hard into nightclub culture and the gay party scene. I was able to manage my life fairly well for a couple of years, but eventually, my use became all consuming. It took me out.

Liz Pesch

Billy Lemon

Around Christmas every year, my mom would take out an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle with the message that they were there for me, hoping that I would reach out to them. For ten years, my family didn’t know if I was alive or dead.  

I was so deeply ashamed of my drug use, I had cut my family out of my life completely. During the worst times of my use, I got arrested a couple of times. I wound up contracting HIV and being diagnosed with AIDS.

I eventually reached a point where I didn’t feel I could go on with my life, and I saw no way out. I was so broken—felt so much pain and despair—that I attempted suicide.

But then something happened. I couldn’t go through with it. Instead, I sought help from a friend who had gone through rehab, and he got me into rehab the next week. From rehab, I was referred to the Stonewall Project by my counselor. I needed a place to process the unresolved guilt, shame and anxiety that led to my drug use in the first place.

I dove in. I quickly realized that Stonewall was the place I needed to be. I attended Stonewall groups and counseling sessions every day for about 14 months.

I was helped enormously by a group focused on abstinence. At the time, there were about ten men who were part of it. We formed a close-knit group, and had the opportunity to open up and be vulnerable about our substance use.

I processed a ton of stuff during the abstinence group. That I was ashamed to be gay—and that this facilitated my desire to use drugs, because I just wanted to fit in.  Just having a group of men, and Stonewall counselors, who would listen and be non-judgmental was amazing.

I’ve been sober now for four years. When I reflect on the role that Stonewall has played in my life, I realize how critical it is to have a program in San Francisco that offers this unique substance use support to gay, bi and trans men. People think of San Francisco as this island of tolerance and acceptance, but the reality is that many men come from places where that isn’t the case. I’m from a small town where gay people were beat up. Living through 20 or 25 years of discrimination and fear for being who I am affected me, and I needed a place to process that as I changed my substance use.

I can say without hesitation that Stonewall saved my life, and forever changed me as a human being. 

--

Billy Lemon is the executive director of Castro Country Club.

Did you know that abstinence isn’t a required part of participation in the Stonewall Project’s substance use services? Find out how to access nonjudgmental substance use treatment and counseling from the Stonewall Project.

 

Keep Exploring

Get Tested

The best way to fight HIV is to know your status. A simple test can determine if you are infected with the virus.

Learn more...

Our Work

Our diverse programs help thousands of people every year. From testing to prevention to care, our services assist communities where need is greatest.

See what we're doing...

Our Blog

Keep up with what's happening now in the fight against HIV from foundation experts.

Check it out...