Nineteen years ago, I voluntarily gave up drugs and alcohol, which has been a rough ride mentally and emotionally. I think back to the year 1989 when I was sharing needles and doing meth. If I hadn't gone to California, would I have gotten high using white dope, done all the stupid things I have done and eventually tested positive for HIV? Probably not.
My friend and I drove southbound down I-5 out of Portland on our way to adventure, and I was open to whatever faced us along the way. Once we arrived in San Francisco, we had no place to stay, so we gravitated into the street scene, where we found any drugs we wanted and willing sex partners that didn't care about sharing needles or using condoms.
This was a time when being careless and reckless was really dangerous, yet I didn't think that I would ever be affected in the way my life turned out by the choices I made. I shared needles while getting high on meth while not even being concerned about the consequences and putting my life in danger. My sex partners just cared about getting high by any means necessary, so protection wasn't even a concern.
Looking back, I can say that my choices cost me a life in society that probably would have ended much sooner if I hadn't gone to prison. Now I am clean and sober with no desire to drink or use drugs. With absolute clarity in my thinking, I can see the long-term effects that any of my decisions will have on my life and the lives of those around me.
I have HIV, which has taught me a lot about myself and has opened my eyes to being responsible for my actions. Today I am grateful for my sobriety and my friends that have stuck with me through the good and bad times of my life. Being an addict and alcoholic with a positive HIV diagnosis isn't the end of your life, but an awakening to the great things yet to come.
April 12 was my birthday, and I am 47 years old. I remember that, when I tested positive for HIV in 1990, I was told by the doctor that I wouldn't see my 22nd birthday. Part of me is disappointed that I have made it this long and had to live all these years in prison. There has to be a purpose for me to go on as I have all these years, and darned if I know what that is.
Sure, getting older is hard on the body. Seems to me that the longer we live the more milestones we can celebrate with the people that care about us. This year my best friend made me a bowl of the prison version of Chinese food. Trust me when I say this: Unless you have been in prison or have gotten a cookbook on making prison recipes, then you haven't lived.
You shouldn't dread the thought of getting older. Look at it as an opportunity to spend another year improving yourself and helping other people get through the rough spots of living with their HIV virus. Today I am OK with who I see in the mirror and can smile, so how can I help you feel the same way?
Happy birthday to those of you that are in April just like me!