Finding True Community
I now live in a community where there is true friendship and relationship, and it brings tremendous meaning to life. I didn’t use to have true community; I don’t think I know what it actually was. I had a couple friends, but we were all so broken that we weren’t actually good friends to each other. There was no trust. When you’re in active addiction, you’re always afraid of something robbing you or manipulating you. That would happen. We would rob and use each other, all to get high again.
Today, I love just hanging and laughing with people, and making new memories. I don’t need drugs or alcohol to have relationships. There’s no need to numb or medicate myself anymore. I find life in my spirituality, and connection with God, feeling His delight for me. It lights up my world. It empowers me to love and give with no strings attached.
My name is Aaron Fraga, and I’m 27 years old. I struggled with addiction for several years before started the process of healing.
Substances Got Out of Control
I grew up in Key West, Florida. My parents divorced when I was young. I had some challenging experiences with authority in my life, and other things that happened in my childhood that introduced negativity. I didn’t feel like I was good enough. I feared that I would displease those around me that I cared about most.
I got into drugs when I was 14 because I wanted to be cool and to be liked. Smoking weed and drinking helped me fit in. Being identified as a pothead was a good thing, because I saw them as cool, chill, peaceful, and not doing harm. After high school I fell into a different crowd, and new experiences that took me down the road to addiction: ecstasy, coke, pain pills, heroin, xanax, opioids. My life got really out of control from the ages of 18 to 20. I couldn’t live without the substances that got me high. I used to get fired all the time because I was selling drugs from where I worked. I was super unemployable. I stole thousands of dollars from family members, and jewelry from my grandmother in order to support my habits. I became consumed, constantly plagued with fear. I was afraid of getting off drugs, and was afraid of staying on them. A test would later reveal that I was reactive to Hepatitis C from my drug use.
One day, I came home and got into a confrontation with my family. I was in so much pain, and trying to hide the track marks on my arms from the habit. A family friend, a cop, who had heard about some of the illegal stuff I was doing, threatened to lock me up if I didn’t agree to go to rehab. It was either jail or rehab. I didn’t want to go to rehab, but there wasn’t a better option.
Multiple Stages of Recovery
My first step toward recovery was a forty-day inpatient treatment center. Insurance paid for it. In a sense, being forced to go to rehab gave me permission for the first time to get help. Being around people at the treatment center who had done recovery inspired me, and helped me have hope for myself. After coming treatment, I spent a year in a halfway house, and got heavily involved in a 12 step program. A sponsor helped me work through the steps, and the support groups became a valuable source of community and encouragement as I sought to stay clean and sober.
I had been exposed to religion a bit as a kid, but it had never really connected. What I see religion as is an attempt to change external behavior to try to find value or to feel “okay.” But it didn’t, or doesn’t connect with the heart, my heart. The 12 step program was the first time that I became more open to believing in a Higher Power.
In my recovery, there were ups and downs that brought me into deeper change and experience of love, peace, and joy. I had about a year clean when things started to unravel. Looking back, I see how I at first exchanged addiction to substances for a new way to medicate my pain and fears: sex. I used relationships and sex to deal with my inner pain, to try to answer questions about my value and worth.
A Broken Relationship Led to Redemption
As I began to depend on and require sex more and more to feel okay with myself, I began to see consequences. I entered into a secret relationship with a woman who was married, hidden from her husband. She was beautiful, older, and had money, and being with her made me feel like a man. But it also brought constant anxiety and fear, especially as things progressed. We both were dysfunctional and broken, but I had strong feelings for this woman. When it ended abruptly, as messy as the situation was, it broke me. It was the most pressure and pain I had ever felt. I didn’t feel relieved, I felt like life was over. I had thoughts of taking violent action, and of not wanting to be alive, which freaked me out.
That night, I was feeling desperate, so I cried out to the Higher Power, to God — “if you’re real, and different from what I perceive you to be, I need the Truth.”
For some reason, there was a Bible in the room as I was having all of these thoughts. I think my mom had sent it to me a couple weeks before. I cracked it open and the first verse I read, in Proverbs, spoke exactly into the situation. I broke down crying because I sensed this presence, this sense of God’s realness in a new way, and I felt this immense regret for what I had done. At that moment, there was an experience of love, forgiveness, and gentleness in that room. It didn’t make sense. But in that place I felt hope, peace, and light, for the first time in seven months, and more deeply than I had before.
Everything started changing from that experience. After it happened, I was really curious — if this God of the Bible is real, who is He? My Higher Power became personal. I met Jesus in a relational way — someone with whom I could communicate with and experience. I had never experienced anything like it before. I didn’t know I could experience God in the present; I thought maybe it was just something that happened after. But I would have these experiences of love, of joy, of peace that overwhelmed me, in a good way.
There’s place of being fully seen, fully known, fully accepted, fully loved, fully embraced that is the sweetest thing in life. There’s nothing like it. It’s the essence of the human experience, of human mystery.
Finding a New Direction and Family Reconciliation
These experiences inspired me to go in a new direction in life, to root out all unhealthy coping mechanisms — be it alcohol, drugs, sex, other sexual behavior. But it wasn’t a religious process, of just trying to change behavior. I found these experiences of love, of joy, of God that were so deep and so better than the substances. My heart changed. I found myself being able, bit by bit, to love people more selflessly, more genuinely, not because I needed the affirmation, approval of others, or validation of doing good, but because I had love in my heart from experiencing it myself.
And it shapes me and motivates me to this day. The change in my heart has enabled me to find true community. To love people, and also to be vulnerable, and let people into my life, in ways I couldn’t before.
Today, I’m pursuing the passion I have for entrepreneurship, and am involved with several businesses. I love music, and get to express myself creatively in new ways.
Relationship with family has gotten worlds better. Trust is totally restored with my family. My parents support me, and believe in my dreams. My parents have helped countless people get into rehab with my story. My parents use my story all the time for people who are going through things. And they’re proud of me.