Pensacola, Florida
Positive since 2004  

I remember during my senior year of high school in 1985, we had a career day where we took a test to find out what our likes were and what career would be best for us to pursue. Alcoholism and HIV were not in my career plan.

Back then, HIV was on the rise and on the forefront of everyone’s mind. In our small town north of Tampa, Florida, we thought we were safe but I still had friends that were stricken by the virus and lost their lives. After a family member came out as gay and was outcast and chastised, I vowed to not only keep my closet door closed—but locked as well.

When I was 18 years old, I was well on my way to masking all of my sexuality with alcohol. I dabbled in drug use, but drinking was my passion. At the time, I just enjoyed being able to socialize in what I considered normal situations. I had a girlfriend to appease my parents, family and friends and continued to find ways to continually mask my true feelings with large amounts of alcohol, or anything I could get my hands on. My friends called me a “party animal” and at the time the ramifications of drinking were nowhere in sight. I functioned normally, got up went to school, went to work and had a plentiful social life.

Throughout my twenties, I led a double life of only going to gay bars by myself. I would go already drunk with the intentions of picking someone up, which of course only led to bad decisions. Ironically my friends apparently knew I was gay, but it was just something that was never brought up or discussed until I finally came out when I was 30 years old. By this time, I was so uncomfortable in my own skin and was a full-blown alcoholic. I always had good jobs, but never held on to them for more than a few years.

In my thirties—although I was out to everyone—my alcoholism was controlling my life. I was dealing with depression, had run-ins with the law and I attempted suicide twice. My life was totally spiraling out of control. One of my friends and I decided to go out on my 38th birthday. It was the only time I went out that year and I had my first sexual encounter in quite a few years. It was that night that I got HIV.

I bring all of this up now because I recently lost one of my dearest friends to the disease of alcoholism. He was 32 and gay but HIV negative. He also struggled with his sexuality until around the age of 25. By that time, his drug use was way out of hand. He was mainly shooting up painkillers and drinking. Even though he had found the love of his life, it was too late. The depression and feeling of uselessness had taken over. None of us saw the severe warning signs, or maybe we did and figured he would work his way through it. He did not and shot himself.

I am now 46 and have seen huge changes seen over the years in the LGBTQ community and a growing acceptance. Although not perfect, it is much better. Today I am sober with the support of my family and friends—mind you I have been picky about who I’ve let into my world—and I’m getting ready to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree in business administration. I spent a year at an HIV testing center promoting awareness, education, testing and outreach.

When I was at the testing center, I worked closely with the local ACLU chapter, the University of West Florida’s GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and became involved in politics at the local level. I have seen the youth of today suffer from the same situations I did when I was their age. The depression, feelings of insecurity, drinking and drug use. The use of alcohol and drugs only depresses us worse and causes us to make poor decisions sexually, professionally and personally. We need to reach out—not only to the youth—but suffering adults as well, to help the LGBTQ community grow stronger, without using the crutches of drugs and alcohol.

I can only speak of my personal experience when it comes to my road to recovery. After my second suicide attempt, I was on so many anti-depressants and medications that it only exasperated my depression and caused me to fall deeper into a hole, which I thought I would never get out of. I had two different doctors (my HIV doctor and my psychiatrist) both prescribing medications without consulting one another or determining what kind of drug interactions could arise. I just wanted to feel “normal” so I left it up to the professionals. It took me a few years to realize that I needed to take control of my own health and educate both doctors on what the other was doing and the problems I was having with the drug interactions.

Today I am sober, undetectable and in pretty good shape. I only take my HIV medication and a multi-vitamin. It’s important to remember that everyone is different. Everyone reacts differently to HIV and there is no set path to good health or to alcohol and drug recovery. Most communities have resources at their disposal to help with LGBTQ issues. Your local health department or HIV testing center are both excellent resources to help you find services that you may need. Whatever you do, if you feel you need help coping with life, sexuality, abuse or relationships, please look for someone to talk to it could save your life.

This is dedicated to one of my best friends: Jeff 1981-2013.

What three adjectives best describe you?
I am a survivor, tenacious and caring.

What is your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement was working at HIVevolution in Pensacola, Florida. Testing, providing education and awareness of HIV/AIDS in the community

What is your greatest regret?
Not being there for my best friend when he needed me most

What keeps you up at night?
Worrying about people suffering from HIV or depression due to their sexual orientation

If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
Stigma realistically, but a cure would be nice too

What is the best advice you ever received?
Tomorrow is never promised—live for today

What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
Butch McKay of OASIS in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. He has been an advocate for over 30 years.

What drives you to do what you do?
The desire for no one to go through what I have endured. Some of my struggles have been easy—most have been hard. Though all preventable!

What is your motto?
Life is what you make of it.

If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My family and dog—my pup is family!

If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
I would be a Bengal tiger—they are just cool!