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Helping LGBTQ Addicts Find Their Authentic Selves In Recovery–Meet Inspire Program Director Jaki Neering
Ask Jaki Neering to describe Inspire Recovery. She pauses, sighs, and then smiles. “Well, of course I would say we’re a treatment center, but we’re really so much more than that—it’s a place where people find community and a place to call home.”
Founded in 2015, Inspire is at the forefront of alcohol and drug addiction treatment for members of the LGBTQIA community. Beyond the rainbow flags and pride stickers, it’s about living life as who you really are inside.
“When a person is assigned male at birth, but is really female, it’s important that those around them recognize and affirm this, by using the name and pronoun that align with who they are ,” says Neering. This often doesn’t happen at mainstream treatment centers. Instead of a life-affirming and healing process, the experience re-traumatized clients and ultimately leads to relapse. Using someone’s wrong name and wrong pronoun increases suicidal tendencies by 56 percent.
When members of the LGBTQIA community, especially transgender, non-binary, and gender queer individuals land in an environment that affirms them, Neering says “that’s when real healing can begin. That’s the trauma-informed approach at Inspire.”
“There’s a developmental piece that offers individuals the opportunity to explore things about themselves they weren’t allowed to before. In a way, their development was stunted because they were assigned the wrong gender at birth.. You literally see people growing up in front of you!”
A South Florida native, Neering grew up in Lake Worth. She dropped out of high school at 16. “I had no goals,” she says. She got sober at 22 in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), fully embracing the program’s spirit of service by sponsoring other women in the program and taking on roles within her home group.
It was in AA that Neering met and became friends with Inspire Recovery CEO Donna Weinberger. “I really didn’t want to work in treatment, but Donna encouraged me to come check it out. Through them, I started hanging out with folks in the trans community, understanding the life-saving importance of authenticity and affirmative care.”
At the same time, Neering went back to school earning her associate’s degree from Palm Beach State College and then her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Miami’s Barry University.
Jaki joined Inspire in 2017. As she talked with clients, she began to notice a heartbreaking trend. “I kept hearing story after story from clients about the trauma they experienced at psych hospitals , detox facilities, and other treatment centers, when these places wouldn’t honor their identity. Clients came to us emotionally distraught and wanting to die because the facility told them they had to use the name assigned at birth, not to mention, the trauma of being roomed with the wrong gender. ”
This ignited both a passion in and a realization for Neering. “I truly want to advocate for individuals so they can find their authentic selves . I also realized I had a cultural competence that I felt obligated to share and educate physicians, therapists and professionals in the treatment field.” Fast forward to today—Neering is now the Program Director at Inspire, in addition to being a primary therapist.
“My favorite part is bringing in medical and clinical interns. It’s an opportunity to teach them so they graduate knowing that they can provide affirming care for trans individuals. They know that when a client says they need to be on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) that they need to get on it right away because it could be a matter of life or death.”
Inspire is like a family unit and offers clients opportunities to heal traumas they’ve experienced with their families-of-origin.
Inspire Recovery’s clients and alumni form a bond with staff and each other that sticks. Once a part of the Inspire family, you are there for the long haul. Ultimately this gives Neering complete satisfaction.
“I just want people to feel loved, seen, and heard.”