Aaron Lawlor was a fast-rising, local Republican politician. A Lake County Board commissioner at age 26, by 30 he was the board’s youngest ever chairperson. But his career came crashing to a halt in the summer of 2018 amid allegations of misusing government funds and a battle with alcohol and substance abuse.
“Last July I took a leave of absence from the Lake County Board in order to enter drug and alcohol treatment,” Lawlor said. “When I went into rehab and said I’d rather lose my job than my life, I meant it. I was close to not making it another year. A few weeks later, the Illinois State Police opened a criminal investigation into some personal expenses I charged to my county board credit card. I’ve paid the county back in full for those expenses and at this point don’t know if the investigation is ongoing or not. I was never formally charged with anything. I was never arrested. It’s frustrating for me not to have closure on this. It’s also my understanding that there were a number of other commissioners who had inappropriate charges on their credit cards.”
WTTW followed up on the case with authorities. According to a spokesperson for the Illinois State Police, Lawlor’s case remains at the Illinois attorney general’s office for review and is still considered open and ongoing.
Now sober, Lawlor says he has given up politics but regained his life. He’s now eager to tell his story of addiction to help others who are dealing with it. After finishing a rehab program in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood and then living in a transitional recovery program, Lawlor moved to Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where he now holds an administrative job at the Howard Brown Health Center, which provides services to Chicago’s LGBTQ community.
“There’s a saying that the opposite of addiction is connection. What I wanted more than anything was connection. Unfortunately, I found a connection to people through drugs,” Lawlor said. “Being gay, many people feel they need to conceal who they are. That kind of pairs well with drug use. Particularly for people who are HIV positive, like myself, it contributes to your feeling different than other people or ‘less than.’ What I love about working at Howard Brown and living in Uptown is I can work and live somewhere where I can be myself. My life had always been about being an elected official. That was toxic, because I felt like I had to hide things about myself.”
Lawlor joins us in discussion.