“AIDS Does Not Have Me.”
Tim, a soft-spoken Winston Salem native, has been coming to AIDS Care Service for over 20 years. He will tell you that he spends most of his time waiting, not so patiently, for Mondays and Wednesdays. “I’m always eager for support group. Sometimes I call the office just to make sure they got my message that I’m coming,” Tim recounts also the numerous phone calls to the group coordinator if he’s even a few minutes late picking him up. Tim cracks a smile under his salt-and-peppered beard, “This program is part of my life.”
For Tim, the support group is where he can share his story with others just like him. It’s where he finds his strength as a man living with AIDS.
Fifty-three years of wisdom lies in his deep-set eyes. He can tell you first-hand about some of life’s toughest challenges because he spent most of his childhood moving around between parents and step-parents and ultimately became involved with a group of heroin addicts at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. He was diagnosed with HIV a few years later, in 1989.
“You think, ‘I ain’t gonna catch it,’ but you did,” Tim says.
In addition to battling a dual addiction to cocaine and heroin for years after his diagnosis, Tim fought major health problems. In 2003, he suffered a massive stroke and learned that his HIV status had progressed to AIDS. After spending an entire summer in the hospital, Tim found the will to stop using. Even so, he still faces the harsh realities of a life of addiction and disease. He takes daily medications for strokes, seizures, hepatitis C, depression, high blood pressure, lung disease, and the list goes on.
In spite of it all, Tim finds positivity in his life by sharing. A former cook in some of the Triad’s best restaurants, he loves to share his peach cobblers and pound cakes with friends and family. At support group, he shares encouraging words with friends who are dealing with fear. As one of two clients who have been with ACS the longest, Tim has become the wise sage of the program. He’s seen friends come and go—some dying from their disease and others too ashamed to admit they need help. He lends support to others by speaking positively, encouraging acceptance, and most importantly, reminding them to forgive. In addition to his work with his peer group, Tim also speaks to college and high school groups, and has made several public appearances. He most recently spoke to the ACS supporters gathered at the fundraising event, Dining with Friends.
“You choose if you’re gonna be happy or unhappy. You’ve got to accept it. I may have full-blown AIDS but full-blown AIDS does not have me.”
*Tim’s story was written by Anna Morten, participating in the “Writing for a Social Purpose” class, led by Mary Martin Liepold, at Wake Forest University.