My Name is Ariel Vapor and I Live With HIV/AIDS

Around ASF Blog
Volume 1 / Entry 30
December 20, 2012

Hello friends,

Last week I introduced you to our first-ever guest blogger, Ariel Vapor. If you missed the first part of his story, you can access it via the link at left. I am proud today to present part two of Ariel’s story. In part two, Ariel details his experience with ASF and how the care he received he changed his life.

Please, read on…

    Paths to Recovery
    After a friendly hello from the reception-desk staffer, I was assigned to Case Manager Todd Stevens and we discussed my situation. What surfaced from that conversation were my immediate needs: social work; medical services; individual and group therapies; psychiatry; 12-step recovery information; financial coordination. He told me to continue the clinical trial for Kaletra and Truvada, and suggested other HIV specialists at the 17th St. Clinic in Santa Ana.

    At the clinic, I met with clinical social worker, who coordinated my visits to a clinic HIV doctor, a nutritionist, and a dentist. There was such continuity of care. Everything was under one roof, which was a great benefit, because I was so fatigued when I went to my appointments. I sometimes look back and wonder at how I made the two bus trips to and from Costa Mesa to the clinic, which would take up most of my afternoons. But I trudged on; I was so desperate to get my life together. I did everything that my doctors and social workers told me to do—especially adhere to the medications.

    Network of Support
    Back at ASF, Todd introduced me to Benefits Counselor Rob Natsuhara, who helped me focus on the financial programs that would help pay for my medications and health care. Many of my friends who are ASF clients are disabled, and Rob has helped them complete the paperwork for disability and Medicare benefits.

    I was also introduced to ASF psychologist Dr. Judy Flour-Runels in Mental Health Services. My work with her made me realize that the AIDS diagnosis was symptomatic of deeper issues: I was dually diagnosed with depression and addiction, along with crippling anxiety from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from a rape as a child. Dr. Judy helped me to focus on the therapies that would treat those conditions. We engaged in individual therapy for quite some time, and decided that the depression and the PTSD would need psychiatric treatment, along with therapy at ASF.

    Dr. Judy also suggested group therapy through ASF’s “Choices” program. Using a harm-reduction model for clients living with HIV and substance abuse, the group meets each Wednesday for discussion and check-ins. It’s interesting to see what surfaces in the sessions. One day it could be living with symptoms of HIV, like neuropathy or the various side effects of medications; other days the group might discuss the struggles and accomplishments of living a clean and sober life with HIV. The other advantage of group therapy is the friendships I’ve made with people just like me. I’ve learned that I’m not alone. I’ve never left “Choices” feeling disconnected.

    Living Life Today
    What is life like for me today? In one word, it’s flourishing. Thanks to the life-saving medicines for HIV, my viral load is suppressed (I’m undetectable) and my T-cells have risen, from 26 back in 2006 to the high 500s today. I continue with psychiatry and therapy. I attend “Choices” regularly, which complements a 12-Step recovery program. To be perfectly honest, I had one relapse on drugs between October 2008 and July 2009. That experience showed me addiction is a cunning, baffling and powerful force. I now stay right in the middle of my recovery community, and I have 40 months clean and sober. Life is flourishing!

    My association with ASF is more connected than ever. I am so grateful to the agency, and I try to give back to it as much as I can. I am a member of ASF’s speakers-bureau program called “Positively Speaking.” The speakers travel to local high schools, colleges and universities, and we share personal accounts of what it’s like to live with HIV/AIDS. Topics of my presentation include disclosure, the effects of stigma, and ASF’s programs.

    This year, I was invited to be the client representative on ASF’s Board of Directors, and I am so humbled by this invitation. I chair the client advisory committee which captures and reports client ideas and needs to the Board. This interfacing contributes to the strategic planning and overall vision and mission of the agency. I am also furthering my education. I am a master’s candidate in a summer graduate program at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana. My expected graduation is August 6, 2014.

    Life is full today. Life is in session. And I thank AIDS Services Foundation Orange County for supporting me and so many other clients who are living with HIV/AIDS. For more information about ASF, its services, volunteer opportunities or how to donate to the agency, please visit

I am thankful to Ariel for sharing his story with us here on this blog and for being part of ASF’s Positively Speaking program. It is a brave thing to do to talk about such personal issues in any forum, but doing so in large groups or on the internet, in my book, is heroic. Ariel is saving lives by sharing his experiences and I am glad to call him “friend.”

Thanks for reading!

Marc Montminy
Director of Communications and Public Relations


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