There is nothing more powerful and compelling than to hear someone’s story in their own words and from their own voice. This is something that has been the cornerstone of al I do, and I think it is very important that people be heard. It’s funny though, because many times when we have the chance to hear what is supposed to be someone’s story it has been watered down or even changed by the people, places or things that is presenting it. The story becomes more of a plug for the so called “outstanding” job the agency has done or how wonderful their life has become since taking a certain drug. Whenever I see this I always question or wonder how much of the story is actually theirs and how much of it has been changed to make some person, place or thing look good.
Today I want to share a personal story with you that comes directly from the person. I have not changed a thing or suggested that they say something a certain way. It’s Victoria’s story and no one can share it better than her. After all, she lived it, she survived it, so who better to tell it.
I met Victoria not that long ago at a CAB (Community Advisory Board) meeting where she and I are board members. She also does outreach for the organization as well. The first thing I noticed about her was her eyes. They were bright and filled with so much joy and a strong feeling or self-worth. Then I noticed her smile and right away I wanted to know who this woman was. She just had this energy around her that is very peaceful.
After a few CAB meetings and hearing her speak and share her experiences, I wanted to ask if she’d be interested in sharing her awesome story of survival and victory with my readers. She said yes, so it is with great honor and respect that I allow Victoria to share her story with you in her own words.
Kengi: How did you find out?
Victoria: I was living in a recovering home. I was contacted by a social worker from the health department and I was told I was HIV positive.
What was the most important thing going on in your life at the time?
I was a very sick dysfunctional addict, co-infected with HIV and Hep C. I was out of control and had lost the power to take my medications. I lost everything and everyone I loved. I use to recycle and prostitute to support my addiction. I was homeless; I slept in alleys, in parks, on church steps and in abandoned houses. I felt like I was dying. I became sick and tired of being sick and tired and checked into a program in efforts to regain my health, my life and my family back. I yearned to reestablish my relationship with my God. Because after all the episodes I had been through, I knew it was only by his love, grace and mercy that I was still alive.
What was the mental struggle?
To stop using drugs, so that I could start taking care of my health because I felt like I was slowly dying. I began to feel pain in my body and I lost a lot of weight. I looked very bad. I was homeless and hopeless. I struggle to find the strength within myself to overcome my addiction so that I could start taking care of my health. I turned to God for the answers, all glory and honor belongs to God. I believe he answered my cry and did for me what I could not do for myself.
How had your life changed since then?
My life is gradually getting better one day at a time. By becoming a volunteer at LODi (Ladies of Diversity) some of the things I’ve learned about are preventative measures, risky behaviors, how to distinguish myths from the facts and the importance of taking my medication. When I stopped taking my medication I did not know that my HIV would eventually turn into AIDS.
I use to feel suicidal. I found out that I really don’t want to die. Now I am committed to taking my medication religiously. My health has improved tremendously. I am now undetectable. I look and feel 100% better and have a new chance at life to try to get this thing right and do the things I want to accomplish before I really do die. In other words, I’ve learned to appreciate life and make the best out of a bad situation.
I’ve changed my mental attitude towards myself and my illness. I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself because every time I felt ‘poor me, poor me’ I would pour me another drink along with playing the blaming game. I’m learning to accept people, places and things as they are and stop trying to play God and let God be God in my life. I’m learning to accept responsibility for my own actions and behaviors and steer clear of those negative behavior patterns. And because I started from scratch when I got out of the recovery home whenever I lacked money or got stressed I would recycle to relieve stress over the situation I felt powerless over. I did it as a form of exercise and I used the money to help furnish my apartment, support my family and improve my living conditions. I’ve used my illness as a stepping stone to come out of my situation.
I am now dealing with the stigmas my family and others have towards HIV. I’m also returning to school to major in alcohol/drug counseling so that I can learn to transmit the knowledge I learn and share my experiences, strength and hope with others in hopes that it will help others. I believe we can only keep what we have by giving it away.
Victoria is a very strong woman willing to share her own struggles in life as a road map or moral compass of sorts to help others remain on the path. She is a huge inspiration to me and I am so humbled and thankful that she allowed me to share her amazing story with you.