Hello again friends,
Today, December 1st, 2015 marks World AIDS Day.
A time where globally, we remember and honour those who were taken way too early.
Lives cut short by a very aggressive, and non-discriminatory virus, HIV.
We celebrate life with those living with it.
It’s also a time to bring awareness to educating the population about HIV/AIDS, as knowledge is power, and to thank those who have made it their life’s work to research, isolate, and eradicate this virus.
You may or may not know me. My name is Chris Morrison and I live with HIV.
I was diagnosed in Vancouver, British Columbia almost 14 years ago now, on December 6th, 2001. Pre-diagnosis, that time in my life was a very dark period. I was being slowly crushed by bearing the weight and shame of being a sexual abuse victim from the ages of 12-18 years old.
My abuser, who once was a prominent and highly respected minister at a local church in the community of Paris Ontario, had instilled in me during the time of my abuse, that it was “wrong” to be gay. He said that if people were to find out what two “men” did together, we would find ourselves in much trouble, and I would go to hell for my sin. (I was 12 years old when the abuse began. I was not a “man” like he told me I was. I was a naive boy who knew he liked boys, but was confused. My abuser exploited this knowledge, and used it to his advantage to feed his closeted, and depraved sexual appetite).
As a result of the damaging effects of being told it was wrong to live as who I truly was, I was led down a path of low self esteem, and self loathing. I reacted by behaving in ways that would suppress and hide that aspect of my life. I denied my very own true self.
To “cope” with this burden, I numbed existence with drug addiction. In turn, I engaged in reckless sexual behaviours. This, along with a complete lack of self worth, love or respect led to contracting HIV.
I was living in Vancouver at the time of my diagnosis. My addiction had taken over my life, and I entered a 28 day treatment program to try and address the demons in my life. I made it through those 28 days, and for the first time in my life since the abuse, I found feelings of love and acceptance for myself.
I was living in a recovery house. A home where addicts in recovery could live with the safety knowing it was a drug free environment, and where broken lives could start to rebuild.
It was while in this home, starting to rebuild my life, that I became ill. Through clinic visits and tests, I found out I had become infected with HIV.
The pressure of trying to start and rebuild my life, coupled with the devastating news of a life changing diagnosis 5000km away from my family in Ontario, became so overwhelming, that I relapsed into drug use once again.
The zero tolerance use policy for any drug in the recovery house and consequence of “if you use, you are out”, left me alone and on the streets.
The safety net was gone. Before I totally fell apart and could not cope, I returned to Ontario with more shame and guilt than ever before.
I had many health complications after returning home to Paris. The most physically debilitating problem I dealt with was an HIV related cancer called Kaposi Sarcoma. This cancer was treated by aggressive and potent chemotherapy for 8 months, from April to December of 2008, every 2 weeks.
As hard as it was to get through that treatment, when I did, I was cancer free. I made it. I began to get a healthy quality of life back and realized HIV was not going to kill me like I had once thought.
I began to slowly rebuild my broken life.
As time went on, I reached a point in my life where I could actually acknowledge and say “I’m gay.” I had accepted and come to terms with the very aspect of my life that led me down a path to contracting HIV.
Although not without occasional health challenges through time, and up to this day, I live with HIV suppressed by taking daily medications that keep the virus at an undetectable level where it can not take hold, and do harm. I am grateful for the advances in medication to control and suppress this virus that in the early days of being identified, took countless lives quickly and cruelly.
I am just an average person, trying to live my life now as best as I can, with HIV. With the research and progress in treating HIV, I am afforded the opportunity to do so.
I am grateful for this.
I can say with pride replacing shame, that I am gay and I live with HIV.
On this day that brings awareness to HIV, I remember those who were taken so quickly in the past, in a time where this virus was the so called “death sentence.” I celebrate the progress that allows me to live and have a quality of life those in the past were sadly denied. I tell my story to help spread awareness that although HIV is a chronic, lifelong disease, if managed properly, it is possible to live a long, and fulfilling life.
I tell my story to help end the stigma surrounding those living with HIV, and to offer support and safety to those who may be experiencing the same diagnosis.
Know your status. Get tested. Early detection & treatment are the crucial keys to living that long, and fulfilling life.
I’m looking forward to mine.