By: Pietro Lombardo, Chapter 51 Project Coordinator
My name is Pietro Lombardo (he/him) and a few years ago I was never one to believe in parallel journeys. As a kid, I would love reading novels about the archetypal hero whose fate converged with the malevolent villain at the end of the story. In all these books, these two characters would finally realize they have more in common than they once thought and set apart their differences to work together. This, of course, was all fiction. I never believed something like that could occur in real life and if it did, I would chalk it up to serendipity. However, during my freshman year of college, I was proven wrong.
Thinking back to my earliest memories I have always known I am gay. However, middle and high school never offered an environment where I felt safe to come out as I lived in a highly conservative county. When I entered my first year of college, I quickly realized I was ready to come out and that’s exactly what I did. I first told a few close friends then built up the courage to tell my immediate family. Ultimately, everyone was accepting of my sexuality, and I was happy to have the huge weight lifted off my shoulders.
Shortly after coming out, my mom received a phone call. I knew something wasn’t right because after this call she rushed out of the house. A little while later I found out that my aunt was brought to detox. She was secretly using heroin for almost a year without my family knowing. Upon finding this out, I felt betrayed. I could not fathom why she kept this from us for so long or how I didn’t realize it sooner. On a deeper level, though, I was afraid. I feared our relationship would change drastically. I always considered my aunt to be one of my closest relatives. In all honesty, I had no expertise on the situation I was in and wanted things to go back to “normal.”
You can imagine my surprise and apprehension when my aunt showed up at my house a week later. I was under the impression that she would be away for an indefinite amount of time. My hopes were that I wouldn’t have to deal with the situation until I could formulate a concrete opinion on it. I truly did not know what to say, what to do, or how to act. I was even more surprised when my aunt finally approached me and said, “I am so proud of you, and I will always love you.” At first, I didn’t know what she was talking about, but eventually figured out she was referring to me coming out. The entire time my aunt was in detox she had me in mind. Despite everything she was going through, she couldn’t wait to tell me how proud she was of me.
Over the next months, my aunt stayed with my family, and we only grew closer as she navigated her early recovery. We spent hours watching old movies in the living room. We stayed up late eating snacks together in the kitchen. We even talked about my feelings about newly identifying as gay. For that reason, my aunt was integral in establishing who I am today as an out and proud man.
Jumping to today, I now work as a peer recovery specialist for Prevention is Key – CARES. I work daily with individuals in long/short-term recovery and in active use. I do this work because of the amazing time I got to share with my aunt. Like I said before, I once didn’t believe in the idea of parallel journeys; and, to an extent, I don’t completely believe that the parallel stories we read in books can apply to reality. I say this because there are no heroes that at the end of the day finally see eye to eye with a villain. In reality, we are all people with life paths that can be very similar. My aunt and I struggled in silence for a very long time. I don’t assume to know any of the specific struggles she went through and the same can be said for her. However, from our shared struggles, we were able to grow together. Through this growth, I am beyond happy to say I work as an advocate for those who use substances, the LGBTQIA+ community, and any intersections between the two.