A Shattered Dream: Part Four

I eventually moved from my hometown to Kitchener, Ontario and found myself at the doorstep of the local AIDS Service Organization, and over the course of 17 years I obtained support from this agency. Support was strongly needed to help me overcome the stigma that came with an HIV diagnosis. ACCKWA (AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area) became my second home. As the blood started to flow through my veins again, so did my desire to connect with the outside world. While I was, and continue to be, unable to physically hold a full-time job, I found volunteering was a good fit. Volunteering supported my need to be active in the community, and it gave me the flexibility to manage my physical ailments when necessary. Most importantly I felt valuable to the agency; I felt my skills were put to good use and I was appreciated for my time and energy. As such, I volunteered as often as my health permitted.

As my confidence grew so did my desire to share my own personal story. I signed up for the Speakers Bureau and began public speaking. In the beginning I was terrified to talk in public about being HIV+. However, with time it grew easier for me and even became somewhat therapeutic. Sharing my story allowed me to speak out against stigma and bullying which had a strong presence during those important years of growing up.

I’ll never forget the speaking engagement I agreed to do in front of an audience of 450 students. I felt as if a load was lifted off my shoulders when I walked in the front doors of that school. The walls were filled with painted murals of various forms of artistry. It was then that I become aware that this was an Arts School. Feeling a connection with my own love of the Arts I was able to hold my head high in preparation for my speech.

After delivering my presentation one young man came to me afterwards in tears. He expressed his gratitude for me sharing my story so openly. He disclosed that his Uncle was also HIV+ and was not able to talk about his status so freely. He shared that he lacked education about HIV so was unable to fully understand the challenges of living with it. After listening to my story he now felt empowered, more knowledgeable and better able to connect with his Uncle.

 On another occasion I and another HIV+ gentleman were invited to share our story at a high school. While I was a gay man whose background was in dance, the other speaker was a heterosexual man with a background in hockey. Initially I didn’t recognize this difference and the significance it had to my audience. However watching the reactions of some audience members it was like night and day. While there were stark difference between us in respect to career choice, sexuality and personalities, our decisions brought us to a very similar ground.

 I am very thankful that I grew up with a love for dance. I feel this passion kept me focused and steered my life in the right direction. I can truly say I have no regrets. I feel I treated others around me with utmost respect, provided they showed me the same. Looking back however I am saddened at how fast I had to mature in order to achieve my goals. I am also thankful for the AIDS Service Organizations in my community that opened their doors to me. They not only helped me mourn the loss of my career, but helped me to create new meaning in my life as an HIV positive individual. I once acknowledged my dream as being ‘shattered’. However with the support of local AIDS Service Organizations I have found the strength and courage to build a new dream. This new direction will be reflected in my upcoming blog series titled “A Once Shattered Dream”.

On that note, I wish to thank the many AIDS Service Organizations that have helped me during this transition, without their support I don’t know where, or who, I would be today.

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Ontario
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