Susan Stader, MS, LPC, LCAS, CCS
A Love Story…
Although Susan Stader barely clears 5 feet, she casts a long shadow. Perhaps that’s because she never stands still. Always in motion, she constantly pushes herself and her clients to take the next step, the one that lead to transformation and growth. Susan’s career has been a series of these brave next steps on a healing path she discovered in her teens.
Like many teenagers, Susan had no idea what her life’s purpose was or how to find it. In fact, she seemed to be heading in the opposite direction – one that was taking a huge toll on her self-esteem. At age 15, Susan was enrolled in a therapeutic boarding school where she spent the next three years. This first step toward reclaiming her self-worth helped her discover her true calling.
Susan met a lot of mentors and friends that saw her potential and made sure she saw it too. With a combination of tough love and tireless encouragement, many helped her identify her values and boundaries and stay true to them – no matter what. They inspired her to dream bigger and to take the steps necessary to follow her dreams.
“Many showed me what true love looks like,” Susan shared, “and nurturing was the key to recovery for me.”
This lesson would prove invaluable as Susan went on to pursue her dream of helping others, working first as a Waldorf teacher at a therapeutic residential community for children with disabilities in Pennsylvania. Inspired by Waldorf founder Rudolph Steiner’s theories and their impact, Susan’s next step led her to England to study anthroposophical counseling at Emerson College.
Shortly after leaving England, Susan was invited to work at a therapeutic boarding school for teens in Arezzo, Italy. For three years, Susan supported students as a mental health and substance use counselor. Having come full circle, Susan’s life purpose crystallized. She knew she wanted to help others find freedom from addiction and other self-defeating patterns. This was no small dream, and she knew she’d need a lot more education to achieve it.
It took 10 years while raising two children, but Susan’s commitment didn’t waiver. Step by determined step, she went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in community counseling, and certifications in counseling and clinical addictions. After working in the field for only a few years, she took the biggest step of her career.
“I got a call from a colleague letting me know there were several residential recovery houses in Asheville with no one to run them,” Susan shared. The company managing the houses had gone out of business, leaving a critical shortage of housing at the time. She knew how important community was for long-term recovery. She witnessed it firsthand in the three therapeutic communities in which she’d lived and worked.
Susan believed destiny was calling, but this next step felt more like a giant leap of faith. She agreed to lease the houses and, shortly thereafter, Susan founded Next Step Recovery and welcomed the first residents. The transitional living program quickly filled with a long waiting list. That was 15 years ago. Since then, Next Step Recovery has helped well over 1,000 men reclaim their lives.
That’s right. Men. Susan runs a transitional living program and intensive outpatient program (IOP) for adult males in early recovery. The average length of stay for the transitional living program is 90 days, but some residents stay much longer to ensure they have the tools and skills needed for long-term sobriety.
“A male colleague once asked me to explain how a woman could run a men’s program,” Susan recalled. “I asked him to explain how men have run women’s health programs for centuries.”
This question has never been asked by program residents and staff who affectionately call Susan “Mama Bear,” referring to the loving and strong support she shares in equal measure.
“I probably have an advantage running a men’s program,” Susan acknowledged. “Nurturing is critical for healing trauma, but men have a hard time nurturing each other. They don’t know what to do with their trauma. More often than not, they don’t even realize they have it.”
Addiction can be devastating, affecting the individual and his family, friends, co-workers and community. Those in early recovery often experience a great deal of shame and guilt for what they’ve put others through. While recognizing the impact of addiction on others can motivate a desire to recover, getting stuck in guilt and shame can actually trigger relapse and other destructive behaviors.
“I wish more people understood that addiction is not a moral failing; it’s a disease,” Susan shared. “But it’s a disease that can have a good outcome with the right support, which includes accountability, education, structure, and a supportive community — all things we provide at Next Step Recovery.”
Residents in the transitional living community receive clinical support from licensed addictions professionals, individual case management, group counseling, relapse-prevention education, and weekly guided sober adventures. They are required to attend at least four 12-step meeting a week in addition to working, attending school or volunteering full time. Transportation and job search support helps residents re-establish their independence. And there is always someone to talk to on a tough day, someone who has been there before. Very quickly, residents realize that Next Step Recovery is more than a recovery program, it’s a family.
“I’ve been through several treatment programs and houses,” shared John, a program resident. “Next Step Recovery is different. Here, you really feel loved and cared for. I felt that from day one.” This sentiment is echoed time and time again when participants attend their IOP or house meeting for the first time or graduates send “love notes” to Susan and the staff to share how they are doing in recovery.
Addiction is a national epidemic with an estimated 40 million people aged 12 and older struggling with a substance use disorder. Last year, more than 100,000 people died from an accidental overdose, the highest number to date. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are an estimated 22 million people in recovery. Unfortunately, they don’t make the headlines, and that means the needs of those in recovery can get overlooked.
“Most of our residents and program participants come to us feeling spiritually bankrupt ,” Susan shared. “Addiction has taken virtually everything from them—their jobs, their relationships, their self-worth. It’s taken a toll on their families too.” Many residents have been through costly treatment programs and multiple relapses.
Research shows that highly structured transitional living programs like the one offered at Next Step Recovery increase the likelihood of long-term sobriety and, consequently, can save a lot of money and suffering in the long run. But it can be a challenge for those in early recovery to afford this kind of support, as insurance may cover IOPs but often doesn’t cover transitional living programs.
Susan is reluctant to turn anyone away who is in need, however, and is always looking for creative ways to keep costs down and provide financial assistance. Next Step Recovery is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit that relies on donations, grants, and resident fees to sustain its many programs and services.
To learn more about Next Step Recovery’s addiction treatment programs, visit nextsteprecovery.com or visit NSR of Asheville to find out more.
A version of this story originally appeared in WNC Woman Magazine.
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