Setting an Example
By Jimmy Mack
June 16, 2009
As many of you reading this know, I just did an interview on TheBody.com. 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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Comment by: Sasha
Fri., Apr. 22, 2011 at 10:38 pm UTC
Hi Jimmy! I was searching the internet for ideas for a 50th Birthday Cake for my aunt and your cake popped up. I ended up reading your interview on TheBody.com and some of your blog. I found your attitude and views on life very inspiring!
Comment by: webdoctors
Wed., Dec. 16, 2009 at 4:09 pm UTC
Cool post, but just realised you've got a new design. It looks awesome man, much better than the old one! Nice one! :D
Comment by: Scott Piro
(Tel Aviv, Israel)
Fri., Jul. 31, 2009 at 4:28 am UTC
A great post, friend! I am living proof of the wonderful example you show the world can give someone else a roadmap to live his/her life in similar fashion. You will always be my hero!
Comment by: Peter Sampson
(Cape Town, South Africa)
Sat., Jul. 18, 2009 at 4:16 pm UTC
Just to say thank you so very much for thinking, writing, being & living. My story is extremely similar & your experience, attitude & the very tone of your words offers so much encouragement & hope for celebrating life under â€˜undue circumstances!â€™
Often I have said that I am grateful to HIV (it was my rock-bottom), as it delivered me (eventually) from multiple addictions which were much more likely to kill me & damn my Soul (although I was doing a fine job of that all on my own!) â€¦ only recently, a doctor looked at me quite quizzically and said he had heard that said before and indeed, you say that in your very words. I also look back with increasing astonishment about how I once lived and donâ€™t even have the inclination left to regret or indulge myself in pity & rage â€“ well, as a Recovering Addict I simply cannot afford to but these days, I donâ€™t even want to. It is Great to Be Clean & Alive!
Increasingly too, I am very open & able to comfortably discuss who I really am and this is made easier with what you write & what you share.
Very Best Regards & look forward to reading more that you write.
Comment by: JIMMY MACK
Tue., Jul. 7, 2009 at 10:15 pm UTC
Mike, would love you to share your feelings on the topic: do you hate your HIV or do you love where its taken you and all that you've learned from it?
Comment by: Mike
Tue., Jul. 7, 2009 at 2:26 am UTC
Good to see your blog online. I loved your interview for The Body and am looking forward to reading your blog here too.
Take care and stay well!
Comment by: JIMMY MACK
Sun., Jul. 5, 2009 at 12:55 am UTC
I feel more "alive" today than I ever have and I attribute that to both my HIV and sobriety. I tend to see the silver lining in every dark cloud, even HIV. Don't get me wrong, my HIV experience hasn't all been a bed of roses. In 2001, I had a near fatal allergic reaction to Viracept and wound up being transported to Southampton Hospital by the Southampton Volunteer Ambulance. I spent the week between Christmas and New Years in the hospital pumped up on steroids and in alot of pain, but I survived, and what I got out of it was that I need to give back to the very organisation that saved my life then. So, I joined the Southampton Volunteer Ambulance, became an Emergency Medical Technitian(EMT) and now I go out and rescue people myself. Well, we all choose different routes and I choose to see the silver lining in the dark cloud and to see life's challenges as opportunities for me to learn and to better myself. My Grandfather and name sake told me when I was 10 that I was optimist and I guess, even after all I've been through, I still am.
Comment by: Eddy
Thu., Jul. 2, 2009 at 12:33 pm UTC
OK, Jimmy. Well, we all choose different routes. I don't believe in anything supernatural, ghostly, voodoo, or godly. I don't love viruses, particularly ones that cause great suffering. Helen Keller and others may have dealt with handicaps by being grateful for them. I will never be happy that I have HIV. I would much rather be without it. HIV has forced changes in my life and because of my need to avoid stress and the greater likelihood that I won't live as healthily into old age as otherwise, I have dropped some ambitions in favour of others, some achievements in favour of others. So HIV has caused me to accomplish some things, yes, that I might not have achieved otherwise, but there is no arguing that it has dramatically affected my life. I'm not happy about that and never will be. However, HIV or no, life is always a compromise of one sort of another.
Comment by: JIMMY MACK
Wed., Jul. 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm UTC
Eddy, am loving our conversation and I did go the anger route for quite a while and the anger and fear fueled my alcoholism and addiction. Today I choose the softer and gentler route of loving my virus and seeing it as a great gift from God. Hellen Keller, who was blind, deaf and dumb said "I thank God for my handicaps for through them I found my work, my self and my God." I thank God for my illnesses -- AIDS, alcoholism/addiction for through them I found myself, my life and my God. Fear and anger no longer serve me anymore and I love living a life outside of fear!
Comment by: Eddy
Tue., Jun. 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm UTC
Hi, Jimmy. You know I am full of admiration for you and what you have achieved, how you have turned your life around. You know that. But I urge you to re-evaluate the power of anger. Anger is our fuel. Anger gets us over the constant parade of miseries that is the stuff of life, like it or lump it. Anger gets us to take action, to stand up and say "No!", and from that we win through, we achieve, and then we experience happiness . . . until the next challenge comes along. The idea that happiness is a constant state is nonsense - but a common concept. I have held it for years, unfortunately. I'm more often happy now that I accept that a state of continual happiness is a chimera, a fantasy. And the idea that hatred of all things which are bad is "negative energy" is castrating. Examples abound. You only have to think of the advance of the Nazis over all of Europe. Had not the British, and then the Allies, got angry, detested what the Nazis were doing, rose up, and fought back, tooth and claw, bombing the hell out of Germany night after night, we would have been over-run, easily. Another example, close to all of us with HIV, is the incredible effect of organizations like ActUp: fury and anger provided them with the fuel that achieved so much for us. We will always need anger and hatred. They are our fuels for action. They must be directed at the undeniable negative forces constantly rising up in our world - negative forces that will never cease, unfortunately. We overcome them, we fight them, or they win. Simple. No evils were ever overcome by people going into battle with smiles on their faces and only love in their hearts.
Comment by: Billy Mack
Sun., Jun. 28, 2009 at 10:42 am UTC
Jimmy, I am too proud of you for words. We are so lucky and blessed for every day with you in our lives! You are the most beautiful soul I know. Your life as a HIV-positive, sober gay man has only made you stronger and gives life and hope to all that meet you. I am so proud to be your brother and I love you!
Comment by: Jonathan
(Sag Harbor, NY)
Sun., Jun. 28, 2009 at 6:13 am UTC
JimmyMack...Continue Living the Grandest Version of the Greatest Vision that YOU ever had of who You really are...and pass it on!!
Comment by: JIMMY MACK
Sat., Jun. 27, 2009 at 11:03 pm UTC
Well said Eddy, but I find that I no longer have room in my life to hate anything, even the virus. I am at-ease with my dis-ease now and i wasted too many years hating myself and sitting on the pitty pot saying: "Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink!" I have learned a lot more in life through pain than I learned through joy, but each painful lesson brought me back to joy. I am grateful for the virus for changing my life and I am more alive today than I ever was before. HIV brought my alcoholism/addiction to a head so that I had a very simple choice to make; either I get help and get better or I live in misery until I die. How could I possibly hate the very thing that brought me to my knees and to the realisation that this life I have is such an incredible gift? I love my virus and have no room in me left for the negative energy brought on by hate.
Comment by: John
Sat., Jun. 27, 2009 at 6:07 pm UTC
Wow... Jimmy. Thank you so much for your kind remarks from your blog dated June 16, 2009. I can correlate with so many things that you talked in this blog.
I was diagnosed HIV/AIDS symptomatic back in July 1994. At that time I was in the disease of alcoholism. I want to say that I thought I would never drink after my diagnosis but somehow my addiction got the better of me. It was not until 1998 I came to terms with my disease of alcoholism. By the grace of God I just celebrated 11 years of sobriety this month. Today is so different. I life a great life with much humility and gratitude. I consider each day to be a gift from my High Power. I am like you.... born to be gay and also born an alcoholic. I am really living a very good life. I have recently decided to go back to school and finish a dual second undergraduate in accounting and finance. I know that you get many emails with inspiration. I just hope that I can inspire someone like you have done with me.
Comment by: Eddy
Sat., Jun. 27, 2009 at 5:36 am UTC
Stephen, so sorry to read of the awful state you have been in. Look, would it be a help to you to stop blaming yourself? You didn't go and eagerly find this wretched virus, did you. You didn't hunt it out. Instead, think about blaming the wretched virus. This damned virus has entered the human network in the past 50 years and IT has caught US. It is the virus we need to hate and detest, not ourselves. We didn't create this virus, and we didn't go out there hunting the thing down and demanding that it infect us. You are a sexual being, you have a right to sexual pleasure. The wretched virus hijacked that right, sneaked in, and hijacked your system. This is the way I look at it. Only by hating the virus will we eventually eliminate it or find a cure for it. There's is absolutely nothing to be achieved by sitting here and hating ourselves. Try thinking of it this way round, Stephen. We need to blame the right characters in this frightful saga.
Comment by: Stephen
Fri., Jun. 26, 2009 at 4:43 pm UTC
I enjoyed reading your interview and your first blog entry, Jimmy. It gives me a little hope. I got my diagnosis 10 months ago, shortly after achieving one-year clean and sober in AA. I was negative when I entered the program so I got HIV while sober. I truly believed my sexual behavior did not put me at much risk. But my number came up, nevertheless. I made it to age 50 staying negative despite being fucked up and taking big risks. I clean up my act and then lose everything. It certainly wasn't what I expected - I expected the Ninth Step Promises. I bounce between self-hatred and intense anger and bitterness. I have no faith left, having turned my will and life over only to get get sick, lose my job, lose my apartment and all my stuff, and then final nail: my positive diagnosis. None of my blood family has spoken to me since I told them - it was a big mistake to tell them and I wish I could take it back. I know I should find acceptance and self-forgiveness but I can't. I can't force the forgiveness. I'm so angry. It seems so unfair. I feel alone with these feelings; everyone tells me just to move on. I keep going to my meetings and support groups inspite of myself. I am getting better, however, as I no longer dwell on suicide as the solution. And I did quit cigarettes (after picking up the habit again on the day of my diagnosis). But I do want to scream out "f**k it!" quite often. And lurking behind the anger, fear.
Comment by: Eddy
Fri., Jun. 26, 2009 at 8:55 am UTC
Jimmy, yes, you are so right, the speaking you do in schools may well result in something splendid, be it a young person becoming aware of the their sexuality, realizing they are not alone in the world, or be it someone being so inspired that they go on to become the scientist who finds the cure for this dreadful disease. I recently had a letter from a young girl I taught twenty years ago when she was only 12. She had gone to considerable trouble to locate me. It seems that I inspired her enormously. She is now a graduate and fully loving teaching young people. She tells me she tries to teach them the way that I taught her. This quite amazed me. So, yes, you are right. There is never any telling what effect you are having on any number of people who listen to you speak. Some will be vocal in the question and answer session, but it may be the quiet one who says nothing who is more inspired and who goes on to take action as a result of your intervention in their lives.
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A Long Night's Journey Into Day
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."
More About Jimmy:
Read TheBody.com's Interview With Jimmy
Subscribe to Jimmy's Blog:
View All Posts
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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