By Kekoa Kealoha
My name is Kekoa and I’m an addict in recovery. My clean date is July 24, 2015 and I am grateful.
I often wonder how differently things could have turned out for me, had one small circumstance been different. I confront this thought daily as I take an inventory of the many blessings I now enjoy, and remember the struggles I somehow managed to survive. What I’ve come to understand about my path as a recovering drug addict is simple: every experience has value. My journey of Addiction and Recovery was a broken road at times, but it has shown me that I have purpose. My addiction gave me the depth of compassion and understanding to navigate a new and fulfilling life of service.
As a child and as a teenager I was the stereotypical gay boy, selectively choosing my next-day outfits before bed, having an active interest in Disney princess movies (particularly The Little Mermaid), and being heavily involved in performing arts. My struggle with coming to terms with my sexuality was a long, drawn-out process. I was born in the mid-80’s and grew up in a rural part of Hawaii so my limited perception of what it meant to be a gay man was, “gay men get AIDS and die.” Furthermore, Hawaii was the first state where same-sex marriage became an issue in the early 90’s. That meant hearing about community members from around Hawaii preaching that homosexuality is a sin. Who could want to endure that? As a child becoming aware of sexuality and knowing my feelings were different, I resisted. I resisted accepting myself.
My resistance, I believe, contributed to a serious addiction to drugs in my early adulthood. I smoked a ton of pot as a teenager and I began to use heavier drugs casually while in college in Los Angeles. I continued to recreationally use various substances; cocaine, ecstasy, molly, heroin, until I settled on Meth. Once I tried Meth I became the stereotypical meth user. I was homeless. I started shooting up and shared injection equipment a few times. I got into fights. I put myself into dangerous situations. I was extremely promiscuous. I went batshit crazy. I lied. I stole. I was arrested nine times. And, to top it all off, I lost four teeth over the course of my active addiction. All of that I could have lived with; the insanity and chaos of that lifestyle was comfortable to me. In fact, I had begun doing some community service work at the local AIDS Foundation to satisfy my legal issues and I was convinced that my life was perfect. But then I experienced pain so deep that drugs would no longer help.
In the world of drugs, friendships are superficial or non-existent. However, I met a beautiful young woman named Mokihana with whom I had become very close- even in an addiction. One day, after a series of events that happened at the camp we shared, she was involved in a bad accident while I was hauled off to jail. She died the following day, on May 27, 2015. I was released from jail that day. That was when I felt a familiar emotion: grief. I tried to run from it. Only this time, I couldn’t. I turned to drugs, taking dose after dose, but the tears wouldn’t stop. I must’ve spent days wandering around town trying to figure out… something. This was what drove me to recovery after several failed attempts at getting and staying clean.
About two months after Mokihana’s death I finally got clean, her death being the primary catalyst. I separated from the drug-using community and lived at beach parks on my own. I focused on my community service commitment at the AIDS Foundation. Eventually I was taken in by a family who saw me struggling to survive and gave me the stability I needed to get employed. I successfully completed 287 hours of community service and satisfied the requirements of my probation. And then, I was offered a job at the AIDS Foundation.
Working at the AIDS Foundation I came to realize that I was exactly where I was meant to be, and I continue to feel that way. My life experience has culminated in a way that makes every last detail of my experience important. I have an opportunity to do outreach to communities I was immersed in. I get to talk to people who face stigma around HIV/AIDS and address their issues. I can relate to many people because I have a range of experience that prepares me for that. And, while I’m not sure how I remained HIV Negative through everything, I have the chance to gain wisdom from those who are HIV Positive and be inspired to live a better life.
I still resemble that stereotypical gay kid, but I can definitely say that I’ve come a long way. I felt like I regressed in life when I began abusing drugs, but now I know that everything happens for a reason. Having been so heavily impacted by the AIDS epidemic as a child, this line of work has helped me to reconcile the dissonance I felt as a child about being gay and what it’s actually like to be gay. Experiencing the depths of addiction, which led me to the field of HIV care and prevention, has brought my life full circle. Without my struggles, I would not have the robust and satisfying life I am blessed to live today. I know how precious life is and I’m humbled to work for a cause that keeps me tied to the LGBT community. I’m grateful to provide services to the drug using community, keeping me connected to people who might benefit from hearing my experience, strength, and hope. I have an abundance of love and joy in my life today, and a sense of direction I thought I’d never have. And as I begin a new journey returning to school to pursue a higher degree in Public Health, I remain committed to my field and utilizing my experience.
I may have been on a challenging and broken road, but it’s been a beautiful journey.