RICA | Denver, CO

“What worked for me is not necessarily going to work for the next person, but if you’re willing to try it, then I believe in you.”

When I was 13 I contracted HIV from my father, who sexually molested me. It was believed that he contracted HIV by using needles with his five younger brothers, my father was the eldest of them all and throughout my childhood, I watched four of my uncles and many others get sick and die one right after the other. Watching them go through this horrible experience and die, I told myself, “This is how I’m going to die.” With that mentality, I decided I didn’t need to take care of myself and I started doing drugs, joined a gang and doing everything under the sun to self-destruct, which eventually led me to prison. In 2002, I had my daughter who was diagnosed with Down syndrome. I came to the realization that I was going to screw up her life like my own or it was time to make some changes. I was able to stop using meth, but I was still struggling with opioid usage. At this point, I was raising my daughter and her four half siblings. I knew I needed help, but I felt stigmatized by caseworkers, probation officers and my own family and friends. I felt scared that if I asked for help, they would take the children away from me.

I finally sought out medications for treating addiction, despite some of my family feeling I was just trading one drug for another. At the treatment center, I met someone I could relate to. Marie was the only Brown face in the recovery center that I was able to connect to—she looked like me, talked like me, and had similar experiences to my own. It was because of her that I kept coming back. I might have never found recovery if it hadn’t been for that familiar and supportive woman at the treatment center. I want to pass along what she has done for me, so today I wear many hats in our community advocating for change. I am a certified peer recovery coach and peer specialist who helps empower women living with HIV and people who struggle with substance dependency to educate, support each other and change policy at the levels that impact everyone.