Stories of Hope

Aaron

I have always felt a close bond with Jesus, God’s son. I felt like God bestowed misery, pain, sorrow and despair on me, because he built me strong, and I could handle it. I thought by taking on this life of misery, I was taking away the pain from others who were not as strong as me, just as Jesus had done. I thought I was destined to live this life of despair forever, until God gave me hope that my life could be different, meaningful, and productive.

My early childhood looked beautiful from the outside. I grew up in Scarborough, Ontario with my mother, father, younger twin brothers and an older sister. We lived in a big house; we were raised Catholic; we attended Catholic school and we all played sports. I was even a boy scout! It looked ideal until it all came crashing down.

My mom and dad were heavy drinkers and when they got together with extended family, my cousins and I would do the bartending for the amused adults. I first got drunk when I was eight years old. I was bartending and sipping on wine, and I loved the feeling that the wine gave me. It made me feel warm and funny. I continued drinking whenever I had the opportunity, while life at home became difficult. My dad had been a truckdriver for 27 years, but he lost his job, and he took his anger out on my mom, myself, and my brothers. As the oldest boy, I often got into physical altercations with him, so that he wouldn’t hurt the others.

I started acting out to try and redirect my parents’ anger toward each other. They were struggling with their marriage, and I allowed myself to be their scapegoat. I received my first criminal charge at the age of 11 and this began my decades-long life of despair.  Some friends and I set small fires in a department store and the building burned to the ground. I was put on probation, but that didn’t stop my acting out. Just before I turned 12, I snuck out of the house, went to a party, and came home drunk. My parents were waiting up for me and when I walked in the door, they threw me in the car and took me to the police station. They thrust me in front of the police officer and told him, “He’s yours. We don’t want him anymore.” I never lived with my family again.

Instead, I was sent to emergency foster care. I remember it all so vividly – even the clothes I was wearing. I was just a boy, and I was crushed and sad. I was sent to live with a family who said they wanted to love me and wanted me to be part of their family, but they gave me a room in the basement, and they locked me down there. That certainly didn’t feel like love. I was angry and jaded and I wondered how any family could ever love me if my own family didn’t. I was supposed to go to school, but instead, I waited until the family left the house and I went back into the house and stole everything of value. I sold it all, bought a bus ticket and headed to Toronto.

In Toronto, I spent some time in a children’s shelter, but most of the time I was on the streets with other kids. Getting drunk and high were my priorities. I was sent to jail for the first time when I was 12. I was there for a year, serving time for thefts and mischief. After I got out, I went to a town called Barrie, where I met a friend. His mom and dad were prominent in a biker gang, and they took me in at age 13, although I might have been better off if I had stayed on the streets. I was brought into this biker gang life to be a drug mule. I sold drugs for the gang and lived in between biker houses. Getting high, fighting, selling drugs, and going to jail became my life and I lived that way for two decades. I was vicious and angry, living a life that offered little hope of anything better or anything different. Despair was my constant companion.

The one good thing that happened during this dark time was the birth of my son, Ethan. He is one of the saving graces of my life. I never wanted children, but when I saw him born, I changed my mind. It felt natural holding him and I loved him from the beginning. I was hoping that parenthood might be a way out of drugs and gang affiliation, but instead, I got pulled in even deeper. I began running narcotics with young Ethan in the car with me. I would get high and drive across the country with Ethan right beside me. I was in deep.

As the years continued, there were times when I wanted to change, and I tried to make that happen. I went to rehab a couple times, always hoping I could pull myself out of this chaos and despair, but I would end up in even deeper. I knew I was hurting, but I didn’t even know why. From the age of 11, I was always running. I never lived anywhere for more than six months until I was 42. Chaos became my stability.

During all this time, I had many altercations with people, especially those in law enforcement. One altercation went very badly for me. I was stabbed in the eye and lost sight in that eye. After that, I again thought I should change my life and do something else to help me stop the madness. I got my GED and felt proud of myself, but when I wanted to continue with college, I realized that I had no computer skills and I had never learned how to spell. I had no self-confidence and decided that continuing with what I was doing was my only option.

After years of starting into rehab and relapsing again, I tried again at age 38, but the organized crime syndicate that I was selling drugs for caught up with me. They wanted me to keep working, not get sober, so they beat me up and threw me in the street. I got hit by one car and run over by another. I ended up in the hospital with a broken back and stayed there for eight months. At this point, I decided that nothing could kill me. I kept defying life and continued living. God kept me in this place of despair, with suffering being my only companion. I felt like a vampire who would continue to walk the earth, no matter what. Nothing could kill me. I hoped that at least my suffering was allowing someone else not to suffer.

After decades of addiction, I experienced my first overdose and ended up in the hospital with seizures. I went code blue and as I lay there, for the first time in my life I thought maybe I should stop fighting and just let go. I was so tired, and I was ready, but an energy filled me from the inside of my gut and that energy fought the seizures for me. I know now that it was God. I was ready to go but I heard, “No, I will give you the strength and the energy to fight these seizures. I have plans for you.” After that, I passed out and the doctors had to restart my heart, but by the next morning my vital signs were so good that I was discharged. That was the day that started me on my path to sobriety.

Even though I had begun this new sober path, it was still a difficult journey. I went to a sober living facility in Toronto and felt such a difference between that stay and others I had had before. The house I lived in was on the other side of the river from where I used to hang out and do drugs, so I was able to look across the river at my “disease”, but luckily, I was not in it anymore.

One day, two men from the Ignatian Spirituality Project, Kevin and Michael, came to visit and invited me on an overnight retreat. The retreat was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I had never felt such fellowship. I began working with Michael and Kevin and became an ISP facilitator in Toronto. I was still struggling with staying sober, but they cared for me and kept inviting me back. At one point, I had no place to live, so Kevin invited me to live with him at his residence with other priests. As I accepted his invitation, I realized that I had gone from living with the worst of the worst to living in a “House of Holy”. The people I began spending my time with were the total opposite of those I had lived with before.

Eventually, Kevin moved from Toronto to run a spiritual retreat center in Montreal and he invited me to join him. I became the chef at the retreat center, and I have started a yard maintenance business. I am working with ISP and helping to launch the program in Montreal. Now, I feel like I am living in paradise. I smile every day; I am happy; I participate in a 12-step program and I am helping develop a sober house in Montreal. My son is a big part of my life too. He is one of the first people who brought love and hope into my life and now we have a close bond that I am grateful for.

My hope for the future is bright and I know it’s true that God has a greater purpose for me. The ironic thing is that this one time drug-addicted gang member, who only speaks English, is now living in paradise with religious people in a French-Canadian province. Even though I never could have imagined this life, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be. God has shown me that I have a profound purpose here on earth and I won’t disappoint him or myself.