Thursday, June 1, 2017

Finding Emotional & Physical Health in Sobriety

By: Jonathan J. Pena

Philosopher Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

I believe that we are all products of our environment. That the experiences we are exposed to greatly influences our behavior and process of thinking, which we carry with us throughout our entire lifetime. The products of my environment lead me down a path of immense suffering; it was one I desperately tried masking by altering myself with my great escape into drugs. My addiction, my sexuality, my HIV-positive diagnosis, and the loss of my mother to cancer were all struggles that have left there mark.

When I was five years old my parents got divorced because my dad was unfaithful to her. I was totally devastated. As I got older, I started to carry feelings of blame and started to believe that I had done something wrong to cause my father not be around my mom and his two first-born sons.  Around this same time, I was also feeling displaced from my peers because I just felt different from everybody else. I didn’t necessarily fit in with any of the kids or groups in school, and feelings of loneliness seeped in. I don’t believe that children are capable of processing the emotions of a divorce, nor the complexities of ones sexuality. All I knew for sure is that I was in a lot of pain and feeling very inadequate.

All of that emotional weight and pressure needed a place to go or a way to be released, and I found my escape in drugs. It started with pot and escalated into harder drugs. In the end, I became addicted to crystal meth and my life became completely unmanageable. My relationships with family and friends suffered or completely disappeared. I was losing countless jobs, tons of money, along with my dignity...and my life. My addiction to crystal meth led me into prostitution. I couldn’t hold down a steady job so in order to manage any sort of bills and my habit, I sold my body to any man who was willing to open up his wallet. Somewhere, in the middle of all that, I became HIV-positive. I was already struggling with the mere idea of my self worth, and testing HIV-positive completely shattered me because who was going to love me knowing that I was so tainted?

In 2015, I checked myself into a drug rehabilitation center in Philadelphia and during this time my mom’s battle with Leukemia was taking its toll. The cancer had spread to her brain and one month after I completed my program she passed away. I was holding her hand when she passed and the pain of her loss was unbearable. However, I was grateful that sobriety gave me the opportunity to be present for her death. I relapsed shortly afterwards because I was unable to process my emotions of pain and loss. But...I didn't give up on myself.

Photo of Jonathan J. Pena
Today, I am living a sober life and approaching my one-year anniversary. My outlook on being HIV-positive has changed, and I no longer view myself as being tainted or unlovable. I am completely adherent with my medication and as such, my viral load is undetectable. I have realized the importance of maintaining and respecting my emotional and physical health, which includes taking my medication every day. Being HIV-positive doesn’t define me, but rather it is a part of me. 

Through sobriety and therapy, I have also become employed and living in my own apartment. I was recently accepted into North Carolina State University, where I will begin classes in the Fall 2017. I am studying to be an Oncology social worker with the hopes of being a support system for those who have lost a loved one due to cancer. I have re-established my connections with the people that I love and that love me in return. I am grateful, humbled, and renewed in my purpose in life through my sobriety.

Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates. 


Wanda Brendle-Moss said...

I just completed reading this twice... and have faith I'll read more times in the well as adding to my advocacy tool belt...perhaps one of the strongest tools I'll ever have the privilege to lift up!

It is truly a beyond wonderful honor to know Jonathan...for if memory serves...little more than 2 years. He honored and trusted me in sharing his truths...somehow knowing instinctively that I would never judge, humiliate or in any way cause him to regret allowing me into his universe!

I was in his universe when he lost Mom...which devastated him... Even when we know our loved ones time to leave us is imminent, it's the rare person who's truly prepared. I was aware of the slip backwards into the temporary comfort of addiction...always sending him loving encouragement via a dear mutual friend.

I saw Jonathan a few weeks ago...I was gifted with that beautiful beautiful smile and best hugs in the world!!!

And today reading his words, words I KNOW are meant from depth of his soul...words meant to encourage, words perhaps someone who's story might be similar, but for whatever reasons can not express their own words...THANK YOU JONATHAN!!! I love you dearly!! Forever and always! ❤️💜💙

Damon Grandison said...


D'Dee Ferrell said...

WOW Jonathan! This was amazing transparency in which will definitely impact the lives of many people. You are one resilient young man with a bright future ahead. After reading this blog one word that sticks with me is acceptance. Accepting and owning who we are as individuals invokes change within. Jonathan I know you will do great moving forward, as I wait with great anticipation to hear more of your successes. Blessings upon your crown. ����