Johnny: The Buddhist
“Now that I am sober, I hunger for life,” says Johnny. In fact, when the 44-year-old can find room in his budget, he splurges on ice cream. But for the most part, he is trying to balance his cravings with healthy foods, especially the vegetables recommended by his doctors to help him tolerate medications he takes each day to keep his HIV under control.
Johnny tested positive in 1995. Like many others, he spent his youth partying a little too hard. Johnny ran with an older crowd while growing up in Los Angeles, smoking pot in junior high and dropping out of high school to travel around Europe with a boyfriend. He seems surprised that he survived when so many others succumbed to AIDS during the height of the epidemic. But he believes he is still here for a reason and wants to make his life count.
Johnny discovered Buddhism, and he maintains his sobriety by following the Eightfold Path, attending group meetings at a mediation center.
“I have worked hard to attend the meetings and be as helpful as I can,” he says. “Now I am the secretary of the group.”
For the past 13 years, Barron, his black cat, has been Johnny’s constant companion. “He is so smart,” he says. “We talk to each other all the time.” Barron is both demanding and affectionate, an attitude that also reflects Johnny’s new outlook on life. “My priority is myself,” he says. “It has to be.”
Johnny and Barron share a cozy apartment provided by Alliance for Housing and Healing in Van Nuys. Before moving into this apartment, Johnny was in the hospital and then spent time at the Tarzana Treatment Centers. But now Johnny feels safe, secure, and on the road to a better life. Erik, Johnny’s caseworker, visits once a month to keep him on track. “I don’t know if I would be the same person without Erik,” Johnny says. “He is a major part of my support system in my sobriety.”
Johnny feels like he is starting over, 20 years younger. “I am finally caring about myself. I feel like there is an inner child that I have to nourish with a positive outlook.” He likes to watch television with Barron and would love to have a job that takes him around the world again, but this time he wants to travel sober and healthy.