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Setting an Example

By Jimmy Mack

June 16, 2009

As many of you reading this know, I just did an interview on I have to say that having my profile on The Body was a trip (around the world) as I got e-mails from Turkey, Costa Rica, Australia, Russia and Canada, as well as the U.S. All of them were so positive and supportive.

I was fortunate to have an article written about me in Body Positive, back in December of 1999. Re-reading the article from 1999 allowed me to see how far I've come in the past 10 years. I really try to live in the present these days and often forget that I'm HIV positive. The meds I take twice a day are taken without much thought. So when I discuss my past, it brings me back to a place that is very dark and painful and so full of shame and fear.

Today I live outside of fear and have no shame about who I am. I find it hard to even relate to or understand why I did the things I did back then when I was drinking and drugging. It was a basic fear, the fear of dying, and that fear fueled my alcoholism and addictions. All my choices were fear- and shame-based then.

I still tell my story at high schools, not because I like to, but because I hope that maybe one young person will hear what I went through and decide to always have safer sex and maybe that one person will someday become a doctor or scientist who discovers the cure for AIDS. WOW! Or maybe some some young gay or lesbian will see a proud gay man openly discussing his sexuality and feel that they are not alone in the world and it's OK to be gay and it's not OK to put someone down or bully them because they are different.

Or maybe someone's life will become unmanageable because of alcohol or drugs and they will recall my message of hope and reach out and get the help and support they need. And if something I said in one of those classrooms or in an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting or in an article in The Body can make a difference and allow one person to let go of the shame and fear associated with any one of these conditions, then I have lived a good life!

Actually, I live a great life and consider each day to be such a gift. Having been told at 29 that I had a year or two to live, I thought I'd be lucky to see 32 and was certain I'd never see 52! Yet here I am at 52, healthier and happier than I have ever been in my life. Once I got sober back in 1992, I was determined never to feel sorry for myself again. I realized that all the "horrible" things that had happened to me were actually the greatest gifts I had been given.

I was born gay and I was born an alcoholic. Experiencing life as a gay man taught me to be tolerant and compassionate of others who were perceived as "different" or "QUEER". And my testing HIV positive allowed my alcoholism/addiction to take over and nearly ruin my life.

So, now, I am grateful to have seen life through "gay" eyes; grateful to have experienced hell on earth as only a full blown alcoholic/addict can and grateful to HIV for bringing me to my knees in my addiction so that I could come to the realization that it was all a gift that would get me to the point where I am today -- living a life beyond my wildest dreams! But the only way I can keep that dream alive is to give back the gift that was given to me by being of service to others. So I live my life openly as a proud, HIV-positive, sober gay man and I share my experience, strength and hope whenever I can in the hope that others will see me and think, if he can do it, so can I.

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See Also
More Viewpoints Related to HIV/AIDS Among Gay Men


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A Long Night's Journey Into Day

Jimmy Mack

Jimmy Mack

When Jimmy Mack discovered he was HIV positive, it was 1987, and an HIV diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. So instead of going to a doctor for treatment, he dived into a different kind of medicine: cocaine and alcohol. His journey out of addiction was difficult, but Jimmy has now been clean and sober for more than 15 years -- and he's got an undetectable viral load to boot. He is now happily partnered with an HIV-negative man, and he's OK with everyone knowing he's HIV positive. "I think that someone needs to be out there saying, 'Look, I'm HIV positive. I have a full-time job. I volunteer as an emergency medical technician. I have a healthy, normal sex life with an HIV-negative partner,'" Jimmy says. "Today you can live a long, healthy, normal life with this disease. There's so much hope."

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Interviews With Jimmy:

This Positive Life: An Interview With Jimmy Mack (June 2, 2009)

Power of Example: Jimmy Mack (December 1999)

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