30 Faces of HIV – Eight

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“I was diagnosed with HIV about twenty years ago. I started volunteering at HIV Edmonton about three years ago, but I’ve done a lot of volunteering elsewhere.”

“I’m a recovering drug addict and I was a sex trade worker for years down in Vancouver so I really turned my life around several years ago. I got off the methadone and everything else and I like to share my story with people to give them hope that it doesn’t end there and that life after addiction and diagnoses is possible and it’s actually amazing.”

“There’s a lot of judgement surrounding addiction, sex trade, and HIV. Fortunately for me, I’ve got all of that in my story so I like to be very vocal about it to try to change people’s perspectives on what those things mean and about the people those things affect because it’s real people.”

“Changing my life was a long process. I knew I had to change when I was getting sick a lot, ending up in hospitals a lot—I’d almost been murdered a few times—and I knew I wasn’t going to live very long if I didn’t change my life. It started out as small steps and a lot of falls, but I kept getting back up everytime and I kept trying and learning new things with every attempt, which really brought me out of that.”

“I was really lucky in that I got to continue my journey to get better. A lot of people make those attempts but unfortunately, circumstances don’t allow it. It’s a very dangerous lifestyle and there’s a lot of people that prey on people that are very vulnerable, so I don’t really think it’s perseverance and determination so much as luck and a lot of good people helping to show you your self-worth when you don’t feel you have any.”

“I have PTSD now. Which I actually look at as a positive because it gives me the opportunity to say, ‘Okay, this is a journey. This doesn’t just stop. I’m continually growing and changing, and I’m embracing what it has brought me so I can learn more about myself, even with the anxiety and everything.’ To get into those kinds of lifestyles, you usually don’t just start out one day. For a lot of people there’s a lot of trauma and stuff that’s brought them there.”

“I’m working on writing my story so hopefully I’ll get it finished. My story is really crazy. I was in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and a lot of friends were going missing at the time. I was down there when Picton was down there. I almost got into his vehicle, but thank God he stinks. That is just one piece of it—living on skid road for years, you’ve got a lot of stories to tell.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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