Two years ago, Ryan D. got off the streets and started to get his addiction in check. Today, he’s a straight-A student at Portland State University with plans to become a speech therapist, and the recipient of four scholarships worth $9,000 from local queer community organizations. He’s also been able to get his HIV infection under control.
Housing from Central City Concern has been one foundation for his success. “I could focus on me, going to school, my meetings, and being of service,” he says. And this has given him a new perspective on his life. “Fortunately for me right now,” he explains, “what helps reinforce my sobriety is all these mini-successes: getting in to the Richard Harris Building from the men’s shelter, then getting in to Miracles Central, winning this scholarship, being successful at this service commitment. Little things to look forward to, just a million little different things that help reinforce my wanting to stay sober."
- Ryan D.
Both of his parents suffered from addiction, and his own addiction took off when he moved away for his first year of college, forcing him to drop out of school. As his disease progressed untreated over the next 15 years, he encountered legal troubles, jail time, and, eventually, homelessness. Getting help took time. “I didn’t really think I had a problem,” he says. “I just thought that gay guys party. We love to party, and everyone does it. I was entitled to my own life because I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself.”
When he did seek help, he found that the pressure of waiting tables made it hard for him to establish solid recovery. “It’s a high stress job, you’re replaceable, you’re talked down to a lot, and it’s not easy.”
But Ryan rose to the challenge, and now he’s proud to invite friends over to watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and have a good laugh. “It’s nice when newcomers come over to my house and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing. This is where you live, you’re so lucky.’ And I’m like, this can be you, too, if you just don’t pick up a drink or a drug. It’s that simple.” Ryan sings in the Gay Men’s Chorus, volunteers regularly at Cascade AIDS Project and loves to dance.
Ryan says it’s been nice to be recognized and awarded in front of his peers, but what matters most is he’s come a long way. “I’m just doing the right thing,” he says. “I’m not doing anything more than is expected of normal people. But because of where I’m coming from, it’s amazing.” And although he says there’s always room for improvement, he’s happy. “It’s just nice being clean and sober,” he explains. “People respect you and smile at you and look at you. People on the street smile at me all the time and I must be glowing—they like my energy. I look in people’s eyes and it’s magical. I love being clean and sober.”
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