JOSH: I’M DELIGHTED TO BE JOINED TODAY BY MY FORMER CHORUS BUDDY, AND FELLOW FRIEND IN RECOVERY. YOUR RECENT 3-MINUTE SHARE BROUGHT A LOT OF MEMBERS TO TEARS. FOR THOSE WHO WEREN’T THERE, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT WHAT INSPIRED IT?
Brent: My 3-minute share was about me, and what the chorus has meant to me, and why I come back week after week. Every week, chorus gives me a reason to smile, and something to look forward to. It gives me a chance to do what I love the most – sing. Music has always been my first love, and chorus gives me the chance to get back into that with a group of people I probably would never have interacted with otherwise.
It was about me, and about my past. Mainly about my present, and the things I’ve been going through in recovery over the last year.
JOSH: GIVEN WE’RE IN THE TWIN CITIES, A RECOVERY HUB, MOST PEOPLE HAVE SOME UNDERSTANDING OF RECOVERY. BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU?
Brent: I spent about 5 or 6 years using meth. And in that time, I was homeless, I went through a bad relationship, and a bad friendship where we did really horrible things to each other. And I looked up one day and realized this wasn’t the life I had planned for myself. I had to ask myself whose shoes I was walking in, because they weren’t mine. Recovery, for me, has been the process of getting my life back, and reclaiming the standard of life I set for myself a long time ago. I’d been living far beneath it, and that wasn’t acceptable.
I didn’t want to have to worry day after day what I was going to eat, where I was going to lay my head, and what I was going to do each day. I finally got tired and gave up.
JOSH: AND WHAT DOES RECOVERY LOOK LIKE TODAY FOR YOU?
Brent: Recovery is in the process of shifting. I do live in a sober house, and I will be moving out on the 1st to move in with another chorus member, who is also sober. I’ve been to treatment twice, I’ve worked a 12-step program, and it’s great. I do everything I need to do to make sure I don’t go back to where I was. Chorus is honestly part of my recovery. It provides such a large support system who genuinely care about you.
Josh: I’LL BE HONEST- I DIDN’T EXPECT FOR YOU TO ANSWER MY QUESTIONS THIS QUICKLY. I’M STUMPED ON HOW TO PROCEED! WELL, I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE THAT THE 1ST YEAR IS THE HARDEST. WHAT ARE THE MOST DIFFICULT SETBACKS YOU’VE HAD SO FAR?
Brent: Losing the first job I had in recovery because of my HIV status. I got hired at a restaurant as a server – a soul food restaurant, actually – and they somehow got word that I had HIV. They sat me down and lied to me, saying that the health department could pull their license if they found out I was on staff – which I knew wasn’t true. I wanted to sue them, I wanted to do awful things, but I just didn’t have the energy or the patience for it. I was too focused on getting my life together, rather than on something that negative. And now it’s a little bit too late to do something about it. The complaints I had to file had to have been filed in 90 days.
Josh: AS I UNDERSTAND, THAT’S PART OF THE BURDEN – THE ONUS IS ON YOU TO EDUCATE OTHERS.
Brent: Yes. I don’t necessarily put it out there, but for the people who do find out, I’m an open book. There are some days I struggle with it myself, but I remind myself that I’m on meds and I’m okay. I take only one pill a day. Some of the other pills are really big horse pills, and the one I take is the size of an ibuprofen. I take it, and I keep moving. I go to my doctor once every 6 months, and I’m actually healthier than most people I know!
Josh: ARE YOU UNDETECTABLE? AND COULD YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN TO US WHAT UNDETECTABLE MEANS?
Brent: Undetectable means that the number of times the virus can replicate in your blood is 0. It can’t be detected by any test, and it can’t be passed to anyone else. There’s a movement called Undetectable = Untransmittable. If you have an undetectable viral load, you cannot pass the virus to anyone else.
Josh: AS YOU KNOW, THE THEME OF “STIGMATA,” THE SECOND HALF OF OUR CONCERT, IS DEDICATED TO THE STIGMA FACED BY THOSE LIVING WITH HIV. WHAT CONTRIBUTION WOULD YOU LIKE TO MAKE TO THIS CONCERT?
Brent: Number one, PreP is a miracle. If you’re not on it, get on it. It’s a medication that’s basically birth control for HIV. It makes it so you can’t get the virus, and it’s basically a low dose of a common medication taken for HIV.
Josh: I WOULD AGREE. BEFORE I BECAME MONOGAMOUS, I WAS ON IT. I READ SOMETHING LIKE IT’S 96% IF YOU ONLY TAKE 4 PILLS A WEEK, AND VIRTUALLY 100% IF YOU TAKE IT EVERY DAY. BUT I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT YOU. CERTAINLY YOUR EXPERIENCES ARE INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT TO DISCUSS, BUT THIS CONCERT IS ALSO ABOUT SHOWING YOU’RE SO MUCH MORE THAN YOUR DIAGNOSIS! TELL ME ABOUT SOMETHING THAT BRINGS YOU JOY!
Brent: I am a big kid! That’s one of the best ways I can describe myself. I spent 15 years working with kids from kindergarten all the way up through 21. Because of it, I have very little patience with adults. If I have to deal with it from my kids, then I don’t have the tolerance for it coming from adults. Because you know better! But they don’t.
Kids are the loves of my life. There’s nothing I adore more. It killed me to be in recovery, because I had to make the decision of whether I want to go back to working with kids or not. Right now, I have a good job. I work for a good company and I love it. I never thought I’d love working for a convenience store, but I do. It’s a good company.
JOSH: WELL IT’S BOBBY AND STEVE’S. ESPECIALLY THEIR FRIED CHICKEN AT 2AM AFTER I LEAVE THE EAGLE, WHICH ERIC STRONG [FORMER CHORUS PRESIDENT] INTRODUCED ME TO. DO YOU HAVE A TIMELINE FOR POSSIBLY RETURNING TO WORK WITH KIDS?
Brent: No. Right now in life, I’m taking things very slow, as they come. I like where I’m at right now, and when I’m ready to rock the boat, I’ll rock the boat. But I just want to stay stable. I spent the past 6 years very unstable. Stability is a lovely, lovely thing. It’s a gift I cannot put a price on. And then we’ll see about going back to my babies.
Everybody always asks if I have kids, and I say, “None of my own, but I have about 200 of them across the cities.” I’m friends with a lot of them on Facebook with kids I’ve worked very closely with, and it’s a joy to see the people they’ve grown up to become. It warms my heart. There are a certain few of them who have really found their niche in life. They’re successful, they’ve made progress, and they’ve figured out who they are and moving forward with that.
Half of my kids used to call me “dad.” Because I took them on trips. And I told their parents, “I will take care of them as if they’re mine,” and I did. I made sure they had everything they needed. I keep a backpack with me that has the most random assortment of things. It usually has tissues, candy… I was very protective of my children.
For the longest time, I foresaw kids being in my life. Eventually, I wanted to open my own youth center that also offered counseling. I’ve always known I wanted to do therapy, and a long time ago I decided I wanted to do youth, teen, and family therapy. This opens the door for me to go back to school and live my dreams. I’m pretty sure eventually I’ll go back to kids, but for now, I’m pretty happy where I’m at.
Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.