When you sit down to talk with Stevie Lawrence, a subacute technician at Central City Concern’s (CCC) Hooper Detox, you quickly notice several phrases that he revisits throughout conversation. You’d be tempted to think it’s a just an innocuous personal tic, but it’s not. These phrases are verbal sign posts—reminders for himself and to others of the journey he’s been on, the path he knows others can follow.
Each time Stevie sprinkles in an “I’ve been there,” he means it literally and figuratively. In June 1998, Stevie entered the Hooper Detox lobby. The tile floor, the chairs, even the person at the front desk were familiar. This was, after all, his fifth—and thankfully, final—time coming in as a patient in need of detox. A few years later, stable and sober, Stevie came back to Hooper, this time as an employee.
That was nearly 17 years ago.
Stevie is a self-described recovering heroin and alcohol addict. He spent years living outside among others struggling with the same issues, managing the best he could under the dual weights of substance use disorder and homelessness. When he sees patients enter Hooper, he sees himself as he was then.
“I know how they feel when they get here. They’re lonely, they’re broken. I just try to make them feel not so broken.”
“I remember how I was treated out there by people looking down on us, and it’s no different today,” he says. “I know how they feel when they get here. They’re lonely, they’re broken. I just try to make them feel not so broken.”
His familiarity with the vulnerable and fragile condition of those going through the detoxification process, which includes withdrawal management, stabilization, and support groups over the course of four to six days, makes him one of the most trusted faces at Hooper. As a subacute technician, his official duties include preparing patients to see a nurse and receive their medications while ensuring the safety of everyone on the floor.
Unofficially, however, he’s a cheerleader and a confidant to patients on the cusp of taking a dramatic step toward reorienting their life trajectory. He goes out of his way to make sure patients feel as comfortable as they can during their time at Hooper, which can be both physically and mentally exhausting. Patients quickly trust that “he’s going to be right there for them during their detox,” a Hooper colleague says. “Patients who aren't feeling well totally light up when they see Stevie.”
That trust is birthed from Stevie’s insistence that very little separates the patient from himself.
“There’s no ‘big me’ and no ‘little you,’” Stevie is fond of saying, another phrase he echoes. “Just because I‘ve got a few more days clean than you do doesn’t mean I’m too different.”
By shortening the distance between how patients see themselves and how they see Stevie, his words of empathy and encouragement are extra credible. Patients are given room to imagine themselves in his shoes and find more motivation to put in the hard, perpetual work of recovery—the work that Stevie proves is worth the effort.
“He shows our patients a great deal of respect, and in turn they respect themselves. He helps patients build confidence in a truly vulnerable time,” another Hooper colleague shares.
Stevie insists that there’s nothing complicated about what he does: “It’s just real simple. Help the struggling addict.”
At the same time, he knows that the disease of addiction is complex and difficult. It can pull people back in as soon as someone thinks they’re in the clear. He’s seen his fair share of patients come back to Hooper multiple times, just like he did.
Patients are given room to imagine themselves in his shoes and find more motivation to put in the hard, perpetual work of recovery—the work that Stevie proves is worth the effort.
“When someone comes back, foremost I feel good because I know that they’re still alive,” Stevie says. “I let people know on the way out of Hooper for, say, the 14th time, ‘Hey, when you come back for the 15th time, you’ll see me right here with my arms wide open. Know that Stevie is here for you.’”
How Stevie treats patients is a natural extension of the new lease on life he found through his own experiences at Hooper. “This isn’t work to me,” he’s known to say around, well, work.
“You can call it a job. To me, this is just giving back.”