I was asked to write a bit about my work for Voyage Magazine Denver- I have no idea whether it will be be picked up for publication but I thought I’d put it out there.
This specific volume of my story begins in Chicago in 1985. I tested positive for HIV after a checkup following a fainting spell at an afternoon aerobics class. My best friend died a month later from AIDS complications and my neighborhood (now known as Boys Town) was infested with young men dying and/or trapped in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. My cocaine and alcohol use spiraled into the stratosphere. This resulted with my effort in 1986 to “pull a geographical” move to California which then perpetuated a crash landing in Denver 1988. While still in LA, I phoned a cousin living in Denver after losing 20 lbs. in 2 weeks, bluntly asking if I come die at his house. He responded “sure- when”? I said “tomorrow”. I truly had every intention of dying right away. But there were other plans. I wasn’t in charge.
Another 13 years of expecting the worst and guzzling numb, with many years of failed attempts to stop an ever-accelerating downward spiral in which I existed, I exhaustively pursued and was able to grasp personal recovery in 2004. Initially, I was frustrated with available substance treatment and finally found more appropriate support with a therapist. When I stabilized, I began to do client advocacy for people with HIV and was introduced to the power of peer support in many ways. I drove people to make their medical appointments, co-facilitated a substance treatment group as a peer and watched the weekly engagement go from 6 to 20 within a year and was recognized by a local HIV clinic for having an impact. Finally beginning to understand and come to terms with my personal struggle, I decided to become an addictions counselor in order to be a part of change in a system which I felt was failing so many of my peers in their attempts to pursue treatment and, even more importantly, to connect to a recovery community.
I first contracted with the State Health Department to bring Peer Mentor training from Cicatelli’s Leadership Training Institute to Colorado in 2009. This effort resulted in the formation of a new HIV case management program at a city hospital that is functioning quite well today. I trained and became an addictions counselor and worked at the largest public hospital in Denver at their HIV clinic. I found that connecting our patients to treatment and recovery met with many false starts and disappointments. There were many individuals who were firmly entrenched in relationships with alcohol, methamphetamine, and IV drugs. Our patients tried to engage, but their own traumas and anxieties often kept them from launching. I advocated with the hospital’s substance treatment arm and was invited to join their team with the hope of making some serious changes. We began a peer recovery program at the methadone clinic, after which we experienced a significant increase in services engagement. We engaged a few successful (or completely finished) former patients to co-facilitate the support groups six days a week
These groups became very popular because everyone wanted to hear how other people had gotten off methadone. How they did it. What worked. How they succeeded. This kind of conversation was not typical at the clinic prior to the formation of our groups.
Sadly, the entire leadership and administrative staff of the hospital about-faced when the CEO resigned. The focus of the facility shifted to billing and departmental re-organization with less emphasis on the patient and more on policies and procedures. The impact of our patient-engaged program became a back story and many crucial changes which had been made at the clinic were rescinded or simply disappeared. It was extremely frustrating to me that I was no longer in a position to effect any lasting changes. People continued to fail when launching into recovery after leaving treatment or jail. There was still a huge gap. It seemed my co-workers were expecting people simply to change and judging them when they didn’t. I somehow felt that our clients might need more reason to want to change. I left that position in 2014 and 4 days later flew to Hartford to enroll in CCAR’s (Connecticut Community of Addiction Recovery) Recovery Coach Academy training followed by an additional specialized training of trainers. In the 5 days I spent with CCAR I had a spiritual experience which I lovingly carry in my heart to this day.
I facilitated my first RCA training in 2015 in collaboration with a local Mental Wellness Peer Program. This was followed by 3 trainings in 2016 while attempting to hold on to full time positions. I engaged some recovery warriors and we founded a 501C3 in August 2016. My health and my spirit soon demanded that I focus more time on sharing this wisdom of generosity that I gleaned from CCAR to increase the support available for folks who might need it. Since that time, I have flown back to Connecticut 4 times and became a Core Trainer for all their curricula in 2017.
Also, in 2017, I came across a gif graphic from the Colorado Health Institute that illustrated the increase of overdose deaths in Colorado-county by county from 2002-2014. I was gobsmacked that so many rural counties had shown the most dramatic increases. Of course, I realized that those areas have far less access to treatment and recovery support and that it must be immensely more challenging to find support under such circumstances. I knew then that I would begin to travel beyond Denver to share the inspiration for recovery support that I had gained in Connecticut.
I began training in Colorado Springs and facilitated regular trainings there with a local Recovery Community Organization. I traveled to Sterling and provided coaching trainings there. Pueblo, Boulder, Grand Junction, Arapahoe County, and Golden all followed within the next year.
At the same time, the grassroots national recovery advocacy movement with Faces and Voices of Recovery continued to expand and take root. Recovery coaching increasingly became integrated into public health systems and behavioral health vernacular. I encountered a tenacious Peer Advocate from Kansas with “Poetry for Personal Power” who contracted PCA to provide grant-funded trainings in Kansas. We have completed three thus far. P3 engages artists to provide wellness messaging through slam poetry and talking circles, engaging segments of our population that often goes unseen. We decided to write a SAMHSA grant application filed as “Building Communities of Recovery” in April. Amazingly, we have just been informed that our application has been funded for three years, comprising of working with five different Colorado counties each year to provide telephone recovery support and work locally to advocate, strengthen, and network their recovery support services. Our plan includes mobile technology for much of this, as well as poetry slams, story circles, sober athletics, sober tailgates, yoga, arts, etc. to provide a variety of support options for people recovering or reconnecting to wellness. There will be Spanish speaking telephone support as well as English. This effort is to be called 1 Voz.
Our 1Voz team has a steep learning curve but ahead of us lies a great adventure. Policies, lack of resources, different philosophies on substance use, economic disparity, cultural idiosyncrasies … those are just a few of the hills we must climb. However, I managed to live through the ravages of the AIDS epidemic only to find myself in the midst of this new scourge and my perspective has mellowed and matured with age. I am not inclined to numb or to run away.
I realized early in my recovery that I had a choice. I could either be angry that my life was spent hiding or I might turn my face to the sun. I understood that the mere ability to laugh and cry with which I am graced with are realities that so many of the people I had loved and mourned have been denied. It would be like pissing on their souls if I remained stagnant. For whatever reason, I have this opportunity . I might well not take this for granted! I will continue to pursue being of service. I know shame! I know trauma! I know anxiety! I know fear! But I know that many other aspects of life are far more enjoyable..
I continue to believe in CCAR’s mission and values. I will share their words to end our story: I can’t be sure how I would have described the term survivor in 1985. But I know what it looks like to me in 2019. It’s not what I imagined. It so much more.
Our Values – CCAR meets people where they are. We don’t push any one form of recovery on anyone. Over the years CCAR has developed some foundational principles on which we base our work. They are
You are in recovery if you say you are.
There are many pathways of recovery.
Focus on the recovery potential, not the pathology.
Err on the side of the recoveree.
Err on the side of being generous.
Many times, people are left to navigate the system on their own. By the time they get to us, they are frustrated, crying, discouraged. We talk with them. We meet them where they are. We offer the hope of a new way of living. We help them.
Out, Proud & Sober – How To Have Fun At Pride Without Liquor
reposted from Slutblog by AmberRose
This year’s Denver Sober Pride – The Phoenix June 15 7-11p
We all know Pride Weekend is like gay Saint Patrick’s Day when it comes to drugs, alcohol and general debauchery. No judgement – debauchery is fun. But for those of us who don’t choose to imbibe or for those of us who are struggling to stay sober, Pride can be a huge trigger. Rather than avoiding Pride altogether, embracing Pride sober can make you feel more engaged, more proud, and more focused on the true purpose of coming together as a community (spoiler alert: that purpose is not rainbow jello-shots.)
Pride, as we know, began as a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969. As we also know, alcohol companies see big dollar signs at Pride – beer and vodka brands like Miller Brewing and Smirnoff sponsor floats, performances, parties, after parties, and after-after parties. While Pride might be a party now, Pride started as a riot.
Excessive alcohol consumption and the nonstop carefree hedonism can both distract from the inherently political statement of Pride, and also hides the fact that many members of our community (approximately 25% versus 9% of the cis-het population according to a recent study) suffer from substance abuse.
So, how do you survive AND have fun at Pride without falling (or jumping) off the wagon?
Use the (sober) buddy system
Bring a sober friend to the event with you – they don’t have to be sober or in recovery, they can just decide to be sober for a night with you. Even the most daunting tasks are easier when you’ve got someone by your side.
Check out a meeting
Before you head to Pride, attend an AA, harm-reduction or support group meeting and get some support from your sober family. If you can, check in with your sponsor. Spending some time to get re-grounded before facing the chaos of Pride weekend will help remind you that you’re not alone.
Look f*cking dope
When you look bomb dot com, you exude confidence. Spending a little more time priming pays off majorly. Plus, it always feels good to end the night looking as fly as you did when you started, and it feels even better to wake up the next morning fresh as a daisy and hangover free.
Dance your ass off
Pride parties are parties – whether you’re drinking or doing drugs, it’s still a party dammit so have some fun! Dance like crazy, and better yet ask a cutie to dance. Smooch on a rooftop. Watch the sunrise. Just because you’re sober doesn’t mean the party has to be lame.
Vid from Denver Sober Pride 2018-
There’s always time for a mocktail
Sometimes it seems like other people are more comfortable with you not drinking than you are. The easiest way to get people off your case is to have your favorite non-alcoholic drink in hand. It puts other people at ease, deters they “hey why aren’t you drinking?” question, and gives you something to do with your hands. If plain seltzer water isn’t your gig, ask for soda water with bitters and a lime, or cran-pineapple-seltzer in a champagne glass.
Get your story straight
Speaking of other people being more uncomfortable with you drinking than you are, it can help to have an answer prepared when people ask why you’re not drinking. My default is “I’m on a super-strong antibiotic” because it tends to stop the convo there.
HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Any of these feelings can trigger a relapse (or just a major moody meltdown). If you’re out and suddenly feel like you need to pound a tray of shots, check in with yourself and assess if you need to call a friend, take a nap, eat something, get some water, or simply go home.
Have an exit strategy
Speaking of going home, don’t forget this is always a viable option. If you need to pull a French exit (my signature party trick), go for it but please remember to text your friends and tell them you left, so they don’t worry. It can also help to have a reason why you need to suddenly bolt from the bar – I usually go with “my heels are killing me” or “I left a candle burning” but “Taco Bell closes in 30 minutes” works too.
Remember why you’re celebrating
The purpose of Pride is to come together as a community, and as a united front. The first Pride was a riot for our rights, led by black and brown trans women, drag queens and street queers. Honor their legacy, and remember why we’re still marching today. Even better, get involved! Support your community by volunteering, rallying, organizing, marching, and supporting queer artists and activists.
Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.
“The following stages of recovery were modified from the work of Kathleen R. O’Connell, R.N., M.P.H., Ph.D. the first four are adapted from her book, Bruised by Life? Turn Life’s Wounds into Gifts. The 5th stage was developed by CCAR Executive Director, Phil Valentine after training several CCAR RCA’s. They are one framework to illustrate the ongoing, progressive nature of recovery”
The first stage of recovery is referred to as Stabilization and normally occurs during the first year of recovery. Stabilization is defined as firmness of purpose and character.
Some of the tasks in Stage One include:
– Learning about addiction
– Staying clean and sober no matter what
– Physical detox and stabilization
– Learning to socialize in a group setting
– Learning to break the pattern of isolation
– Developing role models for healthy recovery
– Anxiety management
– Staying away from risky places, situations and people
– Developing self-responsibility
– Learning to ask for help and support
The second stage of recovery is referred to as Deepening and normally occurs during the second year of recovery. Deepening is defined as extending downward, inward or forward; richness; a deeper understanding.
Some of the tasks in Stage Two include:
– Identifying old behaviors that don’t feel right anymore
– Emotional detox
– Changes in verbal attitude, feeling and behavior
– Increase in the quality of physical health
– Increase in the ability to tolerate feelings
– Beginning to make distinctions between and among feeling states
– Increase commitment to working on recovery
The third stage of recovery is referred to as Connectedness and normally occurs during years three to five of recovery. Connectedness is defined as joining together; to think of as related.
Some of the tasks in Stage Three include:
– The depth of joy and misery can be profound
– The need to go back and redo some earlier tasks in recovery
– Learning to avoid the creation of drama in one’s life
– The outer world of the person is beginning to reflect the inner world
– Connections are made to a wider circle of people both in and out of recovery
– There is an increase in honesty
The fourth stage of recovery is referred to as integration and normally occurs during years six to ten of recovery. Integration is defined as becoming whole.
Some of the tasks in Stage Four include:
– Relationships based on love rather than need
– Avoiding stuckness
– The automatic use of tools of recovery
– An ability to act on knowledge and insight and follow through
– Having fun and joy in life
Stage Five (developed by CCAR Executive Director, Phil Valentine)
The fifth stage of recovery is referred to as fulfillment and normally occurs after ten years of recovery.
Some of the tasks in Stage Fifth include:
– Discovering and following through on life purpose
– Living with an aura of peace/serenity
– Dramatic reduction in worry
– High level of morality/integrity
– Confidence balanced with humility
– Embracing the concept of being both precious and insignificant at the same time
– Gratitude penetrates all actions
This year PCA EMBARKed on an effort with CCAR to empower our Colorado Recovery Communities. It seems clear that our systems are overburdened with all the issues confronting our state. The opioid epidemic with the catastrophic numbers of overdoses with family supports being left in the wind. Alcohol remains a huge and costly issue, not to mention the side effects of legal cannabis being seen in our youth. Embark specifically provides access to a network of recovery coach training delivered locally.
Essentially, we have come to accept that 9 out of 10 individuals with a diagnosable substance use disorder will not get help. Ostensibly we have come to accept that these individuals will keep showing up at our emergency rooms, physician offices and our intensive care units driving the cost of healthcare through the roof.
If we could engage even 20% more of this group, we could dramatically reduce costs. It has been clearly established that healthcare costs drop by as much as 40% when individuals with substance use disorders are receiving some type of specialty AOD “help”
The second area of great impact would be intervening with the “risky” group described above. Through evidence-based interventions and a new health coaching model, we could identify and engage this population and promote a healthy lifestyle. This could be thought of as tertiary prevention rather than treatment and the return on investment would be substantial. Much can be done with this group through strategic and brief interventions. For example, in a federal study, a group of at-risk alcohol users who received brief coaching recorded 20 percent fewer emergency department visits and 37 percent fewer days of hospitalization.
Although contemporary medicine has made many breakthroughs and powerful advances, it still remains primarily a disease management system. A focus on acute care and discrete periods of treatment have proven to be insufficient. However, there is a new paradigm emerging with an emphasis on wellness, prevention, and ongoing care. The discipline of health coaching is a growing reality within the continuum of care. Duke University describes health coaching in the following ways:
Health coaching is the missing link in our current health care system.
Health coaching is a new paradigm of care that defines success not as more procedures and tests, but as better patient engagement and outcomes
Health coaching empowers clients to make lasting health behavior changes that are the cornerstones of lifelong well-being
Health coaching bridges the gap between medical recommendations and patients’ abilities to successfully implement those recommendations into their complex lives.
i find myself both proud and humbled at the journey undertaken with recovery coach training and peer coach academy colorado (pca) in 2014 i walked away from a pretty cushy job with a large public healthcare organization feeling frustrated with what seemed to be a focus on the benefit of the organization rather than what may be helpful and beneficial for the people we cared for.
the next week i flew to connecticut to take the first of several ccar recovery coach trainings and became a trainer as well. upon my return to colorado, i flipped around from methadone clinic to methadone clinic sowing more seeds of discontentment with the focus of the care i was witnessing. www.ccar.us
in 2016 my life threw a curve ball my way in the form of a detached retina. after 2 surgical procedures i required 3 months of healing and found myself without steady work and a need to generate revenue. i had successfully delivered a couple of ccar trainings by this time and become a trainer for 3 additional trainings from ccar and decided to shift gears with the non-profit and begin to create a network of ccar coaches throughout colorado. i also hoped to create a network of recovery organizations around the state as well.
i began reaching out to counties where i had contacts- el paso, mesa, pueblo, boulder, logan, arapahoe, jefferson to name a few. the initial response was palpable and i that focus continues with some alterations. we now have engaged with ccar more closely and have 20 trainings scheduled for 2019. w are planning to schedule at least 6 more in 2 more counties, too.
additionally we now have 5 certified ccar trainers and are working in tandem with at least 4 colorado providers to present and deliver these workshop trainings. w all our curriculum have been submitted to the colorado providers association and accepted for approval for the state peer credential. they are accepted by naadac and faces and voices of recovery as well.
pca is transitioning to the name embark to reflect the new journey we have undertaken. we have added 2 types of peer supervision trainings to our catalog. we are branching out to at least one other state. in this midst of this exhaustive and heartbreaking overdose epidemic, the more soldiers armed with understanding and empathy, the better shot we have as a world to extinguish the plague and save others as well as ourselves. our friends and families need all the pathways out of hell that are in existence. recovery coaching provides others with understanding, empathy, and increased willingness.
all of this has been a hella ride these 4 years. i have been both elated and gut-punched by the vast array of emotional sobriety and lack there-of encountered statewide. i am fortunate to continue and remain connected to the mission. a singular bonus of providing these workshops to folks in recovery themselves is the visible affect that the ccar trainings provide to them. it seems to give them permission to be more generous with their own recovery and accept other pathways that people take. this is an ingredient which is essential for us to become a recovery oriented system of care.
I am reposting a blogpost from 2009 in commemoration of World AIDS Day 2018. It represents a time when I was much more active with HIV activism. I have transitioned to recovery advocacy over the years mostly for my own sanity’s sake. I am surely blessed with the cahunas to start programs and ideas without too much fear of failing. It has been a shining star in my recovery. On a side note- the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Self-realization means that we have been consciously connected with our source of being. Once we have made this connection, then nothing can go wrong…Swami Paramananda
definite irony here. during my tweaking days, i spent most of my time in front of my computer hoping to connect with some party or something. i would clack away for hours waiting for the right connection to come along. this strategy worked for a short while and then became a ball and chain that held me back from experiencing life, really. i would sit for hours lost in my own hallucinations, never speaking to anyone but my screen and having meaningless exchanges of pretended intentions in chatrooms all over.
undoubtedly, my life is remarkably altered today. i didn’t get to sleep last night until after midnight, which is highly unusual for me. i worked a birthday party for a gentleman who turned 95. the guests were made up of his two children, their spouses and respective children and spouses. it’s an amazing thing to me, thinking of becoming 95. i can’t imagine doing it, but i don’t want to think about the alternatives. i suppose that is denial.
my friend andrea, who prepared last night’s dinner, made something i had never had before. smashed baby potatoes with arugula, cherry tomatoes, and parmesan. wow, these were fantastic. i mean very fantastic. i am going to a pot luck in two weeks and i think i will try to take those. they held up to being eaten at room temperature. also presented on last nights menu were tenderloin with mushroom demi-glace and lobster tails with maitre d’hotel butter. baked tomato and steamed asparagus rounded out the entree.
i am planning to have dinner with alex and ruben tonight. i haven’t seen them in several months at least- actually maybe since last summer. i have been so damn busy. we are to go to a newer restaurant which is part of mizuna called bones. i believe bones is a japanese noodle house, but will know more after tonight.
i finished the narrative for the 1023 form. i thought i would share some of this today. all of this energy is a complete result of my recovery and subsequent service work. if i didn’t have the grace of retooling my own perception of my world, i certainly wouldn’t have the where-with-all to be in the fortunate position i am today, and i know i wouldn’t be of much use to anyone. but getting connected to a higher power has rocked my world. here is just a sliver of what recovery has given me:
Treatment Education Network (dba TEN) was organized to provide peer based education and support to persons living with HIV. The goal of our current and planned activities is the sharing of knowledge and experience about living successfully with HIV. Education and support will be delivered through (but not limited to)
– Time-limited peer-led support groups modeled after a program titled “The Net” (curriculum attached). This will be conducted for 2 hours a week and address about 35 persons a year.
– A semi- annual, 3 day mountain health and spiritual retreat known as “HIV Retreat” (information attached). This requires 6 days and nights per year and included 100 persons a year.
– Ongoing monthly education forums known as Educational Forums (sample flyers attached), These require 2 hours monthly and include 50-75 persons each month.
– A quarterly newsletter entitled SINews (copies attached). This periodical has a current circulation of 1000 quarterly. Additionally this publication is housed on a website and receives approximately 350 hits per quarter. The Colorado Public Health Office at Denver Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment distribute SINews to newly diagnosed patients.
– A daily news blog known as “On The TEN” (www.ontheten.blogspot.com}. This is a new venture and will feature HIV and health related information on a regular basis.
– A peer directed and managed mentoring program for newly diagnosed persons modeled after “HIV One On One”.(brochure attached) This program is new to Colorado and training has begun for this evidence-based program by a HRSA funded New York PWA (persons with AIDS) organization. This program requires several hours per month for 6 months on both the mentors and mentees part. This will create interaction and efficacy for 70 persons the first year of implementation.
Our work is already familiar to many in the HIV “community” in Denver and our intention is to create a stronger “community” identity and perhaps expand to all of Colorado. All these activities are currently funded independently.
as the 33rd anniversary of my diagnosis and the reality of world aids day move into view, i was invited to attend the national hiv conference in dc this december by a caregiver/colleague. i am humbled by the trajectory and velocity of my personal journey with a diagnosis. i often share with people i encounter who are experiencing the effects of a medical diagnosis , because in the beginning i thoroughly believed it was the end, and as i draw nearer to an end, it continues to feel like the beginning.
in october 1985, during an aerobics class in chicago, i became dizzy and faint, nearly falling over. i decided i needed to go to the doctor and went to dr. bernie blau, a well know gay doctor in the men’s community. he took blood and asked a lot of questions without writing down the actual answers, but only making red check marks in a column below my name. he indicated he was not writing down any possible evidence that could lead to a negative consequence due to the political nature of healthcare for gay men at that time. quarantine was still an urban myth with a lot of mileage.
it turned out that i tested positive for hiv that month. it heralded the striking of a gong which echoed through my head and my life for the next 12 years at least. my life began to fall apart.
it seems so cliche to say “i never expected to live this long”, but that is really an under statement of the actual truth. i am sure i sped up a self-destructive path that had begun in the early 70’s. the volume grew louder and the pathway became more erratic.
here is a repost of a memory of my 1st geographic which took me to southern california in 86. the tale gets more sordid as most dependency stories do, but it also pencils in some of the darkness that was renting most of the space in my head. recovery has brought miracles into my life, mostly by erasing those pencil marks that trauma and diagnosis brought to me. 14 years of recovery and 15 years of consistent medication have backlit the story and changed it completely.
“move this” 2010.
It was unbearable. He had lost himself so often that last year in chicago that he felt spun. Disconnected, suicidal, and wretched were the accessories he pinned over his heart. There had so many lost hours, so many broken promises, to himself and his friends. And his table was set with so much sadness that empty would have seemed a banquet in comparison.
He was packing up a U-Haul full of his belongings in the middle of the night. He was at his wits end and felt like he was running out of options. He had been slipping further and further beyond the lines he swore he would never cross. He had been running in quicksand for a couple of years that seemed like lifetimes.
The death of a mentor and friend, the loss of innocence, the confrontation with morbidity and with his own moral frailty pummeled him with the power of a tsunami and what remained as the tide receded was stuffed into that 12 foot moving van headed for the West Coast. Even though he didn’t know what lie ahead, it had to be better than the hell-hole he had fallen into. He had been having an ongoing midnight ménage-a-trois with cocaine and vodka so often that it had become almost impossible to tell the three of them apart.
There had been so many nightmares that swam past him during that storm in his life. Ghouls and goblins and shadows and monsters were all very integral pieces to this shattered puzzle he had become. He was headed west with no plan other than get the hell away. He had remembered a conversation with his friend Freddie about the onslaught of the virus. As their friends and neighbors slipped into oblivion around them, Freddie had said that the only people he knew that were surviving were the ones that left the city. Freddie’s words might have germinated this escape plan that was hatching.
However it came to be, here he was, standing in the driveway, piling the last of his belongings into the truck when his landlord slipped up behind him and asked if he was going somewhere. When the driver and his bestie rented the place, they had planned on living in that spectacular wicker park brownstone for as long as they could. It had never occurred to them, or their landlords, that one of these young men would fade so early and the other would be so tragically torn between following his friend and changing the odds. He certainly hadn’t wanted to talk with the landlord, but here he was, with terror in his eyes, relaying his plans and assuring that the new tenant would make things good. And the new tenant did.
Our hero remembered standing in almost the spot a year prior when he and his friend were moving into this gem of a place. Paul had been feeling oogie and looked beat. At one point he sat on the rear gate of that U-Haul and tried to catch his breath. He actually never did catch it that day. He went into the hospital and didn’t leave for 34 days. That was how. PCP, thrush, AIDS, Kaposi’s, and candida all became members of their family. Unspoken terror and uncertainty unpacked their suitcases and took up residence, too.
Once Paul died, he unraveled fairly quickly. He struggled with having dreams when his friend could not. He felt survivor guilt even though he hadn’t a clue as to its meaning. Sometimes the only option is to run. It may not make any sense. It may not even work out, but it is the only breaker in the box that hasn’t been pulled. The power is out and something drastic is required. The only glimmer of hope for his scratched up viewfinder was this U-Haul and the change it was meant to create.
I have been waiting for this day for a long, long time — this day right here when we’re in the White House with this amazing cast. We host a lot of special events here. We do a lot of really cool things. But this for me personally is the coolest. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. And when I say long time, I do mean long time — (laughter) — seven years — seven years — back when the President and I first got to the White House.
And here’s what we thought we wanted to do — we wanted to change things up here in the White House a little bit. We wanted to open the doors really wide to a bunch of different folks who usually don’t get access to this place.
We also wanted to highlight all different kinds of American art — on all the art forms: Paintings, music, culture — especially art forms that had never been seen in these walls. So what did we start with? We started with spoken word, because no one had ever held a poetry slam in the White House, that’s for sure. (Laughter.) So we scoured the country looking for the hottest spoken-word talent out there, and we found this young guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda from New York City. (Applause.) And a lot of folks were raving about this guy. I mean, Barack and I — okay, all right, cool, cool. We can do this, we can do this. (Laughter.)
So Lin will remember, right before the event, we do a photoline with all the artists in the Blue Room. So Lin walks up, and Barack and I go, oh, it’s great to meet you, and what are you going to do tonight? And he’s like, I’m going to do a piece about Alexander Hamilton.
Now, Barack and I, we’re open-minded. (Laughter.) We consider ourselves creative people. But we both kind of looked at each other like, oh, okay, this should be interesting. (Laughter.) And then Lin-Manuel got onstage in the East Room, where we’ll be later on today, and he got onstage in between the big portraits of George and Martha Washington, and he proceeded to perform the song “Alexander Hamilton,” which, as you all know, is the opening number of this amazing musical.
And of course, we were blown away. We were sitting there — there are probably shots of us sitting there with our mouths open going, “Who is this dude? What is he up to?” (Laughter.) And back then, he told us that he was going to do an entire musical about Alexander Hamilton. And we knew that this had the potential of being really, really good based on his performance, but what we didn’t know — could never have imagined that it would be a work of genius — true genius.
I saw the off-Broadway version of Hamilton, got to meet the whole cast then. Was I excited enough? (Laughter.) Was I excited enough to see you all? And it was simply, as I tell everybody, the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life. And I became a fan, a devotee. The cast, man, made up of such diverse, talented — oh, gosh — people that I’d ever seen.
The show is creative. It is hilarious. It is memorable. And I loved it so much that I saw it again when you guys went to Broadway. I don’t think I came backstage, I snuck out. (Laughter.) And then I made my husband and my children go see it — you guys got to see them. And of course, my children, because I loved it so much, they were like, “It couldn’t be that good.” (Laughter.) You know how you all are with — if your mom likes it, it can’t be cool. I raved about it so much, so they went in very skeptical. But they came out true believers, like everyone does when they see the show.
As we all know, Hamilton has become not just a Broadway hit, but a global sensation. Shows are sold out until January, February, or whatever. It is the hardest ticket to get on the planet. It brought the house down at the Grammys, we all saw that. That was really cool. And it’s one of the best-selling cast albums in half a century, is what my notes are telling me here. (Laughter.)
And that is not surprising, because Hamilton is an amazing story that is beautifully told. Through Hamilton, Lin-Manuel reveals all the drama and the glory, the heartbreak that run through our nation’s history. And he shows us that the icons in our history books were real people with real brilliance, but also with real flaws.
So really, Hamilton teaches us history the way it really should be taught. I mean, to my mind, this is what school should be. (Laughter.) We’d have a lot of great historians if we could only figure out how to do this more — for more subjects. I remember I was telling Lin-Manuel that he’s got to do this for, like, the Middle East, and all the other issues. You’ve got to talk about slavery. You’ve got to cover it all. (Laughter.) … Michelle Obama
In Early Recovery, I came across music and lyrics that helped carry me through some of the rough times. Kirsten Virgard’s version of “A Boat on the Sea” from the film “Grace of my Heart” was one of those. Even now as I listen I am reminded of the temporary aspect of life and finding peace with letting go.