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Personal Story

Baring a Bit of My Heart to Share My Journey to Sobriety

February 28, 2017

Charles Sanchez (right) at the Turning Points video shoot

Charles Sanchez (right) at the Turning Points video shoot (Credit: Remedy Health Media, LLC)

No one in my life would call me a bashful person. I'm not afraid to bare my soul, or my ass. (Indeed, the first episode of my web series, Merce, ends with a close-up of my most attractive feature, my butt.) I tell people all the time on video and social media, on blogs and websites -- hell, I tell anyone who'll listen -- that I have HIV and I'm not sick, not sad and not dying. I am unapologetically gay, and I enjoy show tunes and penises (not necessarily at the same time).

When I was asked to be a part of TheBody.com's "Turning Points" video series, I jumped at the opportunity. Telling a rather personal story on video isn't that big of a stretch for me, and I a-DORE being on camera. I even came up with about four or five different occasions that were life-changing for the producers to choose from. Want me to talk about moving from Arizona to New York City at 19? Or, I could talk about being dramatically diagnosed with full-blown AIDS while living in Little Rock, Arkansas. How 'bout the short stint I did in LA County Jail? Kids, I've had tons of turning points.

The producers chose my getting sober story. No problem! I've told that story a million times. Hell, it's almost a comedy routine. I was told the days we'd be shooting and that a professional film crew would come to me to shoot the footage. Who wouldn't love that?


Three Handsome Guys Followed Me Around All Day

The first day of filming, the crew arrived at my Chelsea apartment in the morning for a day of shooting around Manhattan to capture the visual aspect of my story. Three handsome guys followed me around all day, filming me, shooting photos of me -- me, all me! Really, I felt like a movie star. They're charming and funny guys, and certainly talented. We walked all around New York getting images that would back up my tale. Tyne Firmin, my longtime friend and co-producer of Merce, came toward the end of the day to be in some of the shots. I'd asked him to be in the video with me as someone to tell the drunk saga to.

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The second day, we again convened at my place to audio record the story. Tyne and I can pretty much finish each other's sentences, so the conversation was easy. Tyne was delightful, and I was hilarious, with just a touch of pathos at the appropriate juncture. We finished in record time, and it was a wrap. All in all, the creative two days were pretty damn wonderful. So, great, right? Done deal, and I told my story about getting sober. Fabulous.

The film was edited together pretty quickly, and I was sent a link to watch it. When I saw the film, I felt, I don't know, odd about it. I mean, it's beautifully shot and put together, sort of like a Lifetime movie but more riveting and without Tori Spelling. They'd edited out a lot of my jokes, which rather peeved me, frankly. What's left? A straightforward and touching story. I guess I can live with that. It's truly lovely.

But when it was over, I felt ... icky. I felt uneasy. I felt vulnerable. That was unexpected, and I didn't like it.


Getting Sober is Deeply Personal

Of all the dramatic turning points in my life, getting sober is the most deeply personal. I mean, even when I was diagnosed with AIDS, I was in a hospital, surrounded by my family and a team of medical professionals, and a drama queen loves to have an audience! Conversely, this story is about what it took me to see that I had a problem with chemicals, and although there are lots of characters along the way, it happened in solitary. The realization that I couldn't lie to myself anymore happened in a quiet, tender and defenseless place inside me. This part of me is unguarded. No jazz hands or wacka-wacka jokes can protect it. When I realized that was why I was bothered, I took a deep breath. And, I let it out.

Watching this "Turning Points" film about my sober story makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but I'll get over it. How it makes me feel is ultimately unimportant and beside the point. The goal is for the movie is to be inspirational, to help someone who might be struggling with addiction identify with my truth and ask for help. If the film is helpful to someone, that's everything, right? Baring a bit of my heart is worth it.

Charles Sanchez is an openly gay, openly poz writer/director/actor living in New York City. He created the musical comedy web series, Merce, about an HIV+ guy living in the city.


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