The day I finished treatment at Mountainside, Dennis Bates, a Detox clinician there, told me that I would be working in this field one day. I casually laughed and thought he was crazy. Not so long ago, my life had consisted of drug and alcohol fueled blackouts. I never imaged that treatment would have such a tremendous impact on me, and I definitely didn’t think that I would be back at Mountainside as a Recovery Coach.
About a year and a half ago, I started working for Mountainside, the organization that provided me with the compassion, commitment, dedication and tools I needed to get sober. And now, I have the chance to make a difference in someone else’s life. Sharing my experiences and helping others has given me a purpose- which is something I never really had before I got sober.
I recently received a call from an old friend, and the first words out of his mouth were “I’m an alcoholic, and I need some help. Your story inspired me to reach out to you for help.” He told me that my two recent stories; NBC Out and New York Post sparked some personal reflection on his drinking. This is the 4th person in 3 weeks that has reached out to me for some support and guidance with alcoholism and addiction.
When NBC first contacted me I was unsure of how much of my story I was willing to share. I use to get nervous when I would qualify and tell my story at an AA meeting, but someone once told me, “this is your story, there is no wrong way to tell your story. Be honest, speak from your heart, and pray to help just one person.”
Over the past 3 years of my sobriety, I’ve learned to be rigorously honest and not hide any of my past. Being a gay teen growing up in suburbia wasn’t easy. I felt isolated. I wanted friends. I wanted to belong. I found solace in drugs and alcohol, and they eventually destroyed me. Blacking out from alcohol became the norm. I started using crystal meth on a regular basis, and I saw it kill people I cared about. It hasn’t always been easy to share that part of my past, but my sponsor once told me that I had not done anything so terrible, shameful, hurtful, or deceitful that I would not be accepted and loved.
So, I decided to use this opportunity to share my story 100% honestly, in hopes of reaching one person that would identify with my story and use it as a tool to reach out for some help. Since the release of the two stories I’ve received hundreds of inspiring comments and questions on my Facebook and Instagram. I have received countless text messages and phone calls. The news stories have sparked several conversations, with old friends, family, and strangers. Even people from my childhood that I have not been in contact with in over 25 years reached out to me to apologize for my experiences in school, saying that they didn’t know how much it affected me.
I’ve had numerous conversations with gay men all over the country about having the confidence to share my HIV status in such a public manner. They said that it inspired them to work on forgiving themselves for their status and empowered them to get honest. I believe that I am sober today because I’ve accepted my HIV status and am not ashamed of it any longer.
Getting sober has provided me with a great deal of insight of how, and why I used drugs and alcohol in such a destructive manner. I used to think I wasn’t worthy of anything, but recovery changed that. Recovery is my life now, and I’m blessed to wake up each day sober, and to work with other alcoholics and addicts to carry the message of sobriety and hope. I want to get rid of the stigma that surrounds addiction and let people know that it is ok to need help. It is always ok to ask for help, because recovery can happen.