In episode 25 of The Courage to Change: A Recovery Podcast, Jonathan Wells shared his experience coming out, fighting through addiction and trauma, and his journey to recovery. We’ve edited and condensed Jonathan’s story for a fast read. You can listen to the entire interview here

Jonathan was born into an Airforce family and raised in a conservatively Christian household. He and his family moved a lot; by age 6, Jonathan had lived in three states and abroad. Jonathan shared, “being an Air Force child and moving around a lot, you don’t get to necessarily make friends.” 

In addition, his parents wouldn’t allow him to leave the house very often. He said, “I couldn’t ride my bike out of the yard. I couldn’t ride it down to the street because my mom was very scared. I was her firstborn son and she didn’t want anything happening to me.” He added, “I was very lonely and that was very hard for me.” 

When he was 12 his parents got divorced. He lived with his mom and grew distant from his dad. Soon after, his mom met and married his stepdad, who Jonathan regards as his father figure today. 

Ready To Make Friends

By the time Jonathan got to high school, he was ready to make friends. He said, “I joined a whole bunch of groups. I got exposed to a lot of different substances and drinking, and that’s kind of when my addiction started.” He drank beer and smoked pot both before school and between classes. This gave him a sense of connection and also allowed him to escape the pain and distance he felt at home.

Coming Out

Jonathan knew that he was attracted to other males when he was 5 or 6 years old, but didn’t talk about it at home. After high school, Jonathan moved into an apartment with a friend, who encouraged him to come out to his family. Jonathan decided to come out to his family. “Even before I could say that I was gay, my mom was crying and denying it,” he shared. 

After his parent’s reaction, Jonathan drank and used drugs more often, and started using cocaine and methamphetamine. 

Being Sexually Assaulted

One night at a party, Jonathan was sexually assaulted after taking a pill that was offered to him by someone who promised that it would help Jonathan sleep. He fell asleep at the party and was sexually assaulted. He shared, “the next thing I knew, when I woke up, I remember being raped.”

Going Back In The Closet

Over the next few days, Jonathan continued to have trouble sleeping, and making sense of what had happened. He asked his parents to move back in with them, which they allowed. As soon as he moved home, Jonathan described that he found religion again and “went back in the closet,” because he became convinced that “if [he] wasn’t gay, [he] wouldn’t have gotten raped.”

Jonathan felt a lot of shame and guilt over the next two years. He stopped drinking, and got a steady job, and moved out of his parent’s house. However, he was still struggling to find himself. A friend gave him a book, which helped him come face-to-face with his sexuality. The book was the story of a man who knew he was a homosexual but had gone back “into the closet.” Jonathan shared, “After I read that book, I cried for hours on end because I knew who I was.”

Jonathan came out to his family again. While his sister accepted him fully, his parents did not. As a result, his relationship with his parents suffered. 

“Things went downhill pretty fast over a year,” Jonathan said. “My alcoholism went out of control. So much that I was drinking every day. I would get anxiety at work because I wasn’t drinking. I was drinking when I woke up. I was drinking at lunch. I was drinking during the evenings and staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning and trying to go to work.”

His alcoholism and anxiety got so bad that he took medical leave from his work. He eventually called his parents again and said, “I’m done. How do I get home?” He moved back in with his parents, where his substance abuse only got worse. He started to date a guy from his hometown, who encouraged him to get help. His boyfriend said, “you just seem to be going off the rails. You would do good with some rehab.” 

Getting Help

That night, Jonathan confessed to his mom, “mom, I think I need to go to rehab.” They were relieved. Jonathan detoxed on his own for a week while staying at his parents house. From there, he went to a treatment center in Wimberley, Texas, near Austin.

The almost six foot tall Jonathan weighed only 123 pounds and was very malnourished when he arrived at the treatment center. The doctors told him that he had irreparably damaged his body. He “cried for about 10 minutes. Then I realized, I’m in rehab. I need to focus on my recovery and getting sober.”

Jonathan had a difficult time focusing on his recovery and relapsed after six months. He was drinking and using again, until one night, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI). After three nights in jail his parents bailed him out and told him that he needed to find another place to stay.

He struggled to stay sober over the next year. He met and moved in with his boyfriend Angel. Jonathan shared, “he knew I had a problem and he tried to control it.” One night, Angel discovered that Jonathan was still using. They got into an argument. Jonathan walked out of the house, and Angel followed. He shared, “he grabbed me by the neck, body slammed me back to the porch and continued to choke me, screaming that he didn’t know what to do with me and that he loved me.” 

The Tipping Point

Eventually, Angel let Jonathan go. Jonathan shared, “that was my tipping point. Not me being raped, not losing jobs, not having panic attacks, anxiety attacks. It was the fact that someone else cared enough for me that they were crying out for me.”

After that incident, Jonathan said, “I’m ready to get sober.” He found his way to recovery through treatment and a sober community. It was hard, but Jonathan figured out how to stay sober and create community in recovery while also being completely true to himself.

Jonathan’s sponsor later told him “now that you’re sober, doors are going to open up. It’s going to be like if you were at the bottom of the river, holding rocks and you suddenly let go.”

You can listen to Jonathan’s full story here.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.