MICHAEL | Lakewood, CO

“People in your life will be advocates for you. They will ask questions and fight for you.”

My family is no stranger to addiction—a close family member has struggled for over 30 years. My first experiences with opioids were in high school at age 14. At 16, my family member could tell I was going through withdrawal and shot me up with heroin. Two years later, I was living in New York City as an escort. This lifestyle was high risk and involved a lot of extreme drug use and some really sketchy situations. I started to get sick—so sick, in fact, that I ended up moving home to Buffalo where I was diagnosed with HIV. Shortly after, I had my first overdose. A friend with Narcan saved my life. Three months later, a second overdose put me in the hospital and served as a wakeup call. My mother was really scared for me. Her fear that I would turn out like my family member motivated me to get better. I started antivirals for HIV and quit using opioids cold turkey. I was lucky. I had family that could help me through recovery, and I had friends who cared about my health and advocated for me. In my story, information was key. When I was diagnosed, I thought I was going to die. But learning about HIV and addiction treatment shed light on hope and allowed me to accept care and help from others. I’m glad I didn’t give up. Today, I’m an addiction counselor, and I share my stories to help others struggling with stigma in both the addiction and LGBTQIA+ communities.