Born and raised in the church, I was a minister by age 12, an elder by the time I was 15. It felt amazing doing what I’d been called to do. I remember throwing youth conferences twice a year that to this day give me chills to recollect — opening service to a church packed full of young people slain, in the floor, crying, worshiping, calling out to God so intensely the choir director said not a soul in there was seated. IMG_4035                                                Brandon “Bam-Bam” Akins

Then there was the flip side, with older people saying, “You’re just making a mockery.” But my challenges became bigger than that. There was one church member who wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d be at church praying, and he would show up and try to fondle and get me into one of the rooms. After I prayed about it and told the pastors, they called us to meet. The guy was there crying. The associate pastor said, “I love you guys both,” and then, “Well, let’s start with you, Mr. Akins. I think you come off too friendly, and that’s the reason he’s been doing these things. So you should apologize to him for your behavior.” I think that was the first time I actually cursed in church. I was 18 or 19 years old when I walked away from the church — not fully, but it wasn’t all of my life anymore.

In this midst of this time, I was traveling from Arkansas to Memphis to visit a friend. His father came to pick me up, saying my friend was working overtime and would meet me at their house later. When I got there, his dad gave me some blue-colored kool-aid, saying to relax and take a load off. But it wasn’t kool-aid. It was Hypnotiq. When I told him I felt lightheaded, he told me to go lie down, that I must be tired from the drive. I remember looking around the room he sent me to, thinking it didn’t seem like a guest room. I remember rolling over on my back, and him climbing on top of me, saying, “If you’re really still, this won’t hurt.” I remember looking at the clock move so slowly it felt like hours. It was the longest two minutes of my life. Afterwards, I lay there crying to God, “If you love me, you’ll get me out of here.” My mom called about thirty minutes later, demanding that he bring me home, saying, “Something ain’t right.”

That rape was the first time I’d had experienced anything… sexual… not even knowing my full sexuality… because it was wrong. That’s what we were taught. Looking at men differently when you’re not supposed to be feeling this way, but feeling this way, fighting with self, fighting with the church, fighting with reality. There were those times you met someone and they said this is okay, so you kind of just touch, but you felt so bad because you’re told this is wrong. But I’d never had… intercourse… never. I’d begged God to take it away. I took baths and hoped it would wash away in the tub. I felt lost, bitter, cold hearted — still this church boy, still wanting to care, still wanting to love, still feeling like I’m by myself in this world. For a long time, I stopped praying. And matters got even worse.

Some time later, this guy called and asked if I knew who I was talking to. We were on the phone for several minutes before I said, “I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you want, but speak your mind, or we’re going to end this call without getting anywhere.” He said, “You came and you took a test with somebody.” I’d been applying to so many jobs, I still had no idea what he meant until he finally came out with it: “You took a test to determine your health status. You’re HIV positive.” I hit the floor crying. I’d gotten tested and forgotten all about it. And things kept getting worse.

IMG_4023Brandon “Bam-Bam” Akins

I ended up in Atlanta, in a nightmare of a relationship. My first stepdad had beat my mom from as far back as I could remember. I’d said, “I would never allow myself to go through that. How could you let somebody do these things to you?” Well, I met this guy. We started seeing each other every day and eventually moved in together. Then these little incidents began. I’d go somewhere he didn’t approve of, and he’d say, “Boy, what I tell you about that?” with a light tap on the head. No force behind it, just a friendly tap. I thought nothing of it. Another time, we were meeting at a club, but my phone died by the time he arrived. When I found him later, he threw me against the wall, hitting me, screaming, “You knew I was coming!” But I said it was okay because he said he was sorry. He didn’t mean it. He loved me. But we regularly found ourselves in the floor, fighting and kicking. I kept saying, “I’m not taking any more of this. I’m leaving.” Then I’d look at him, he’d break down crying, and my heart would just break. So I’d unpack my bag and stay.

It was a long two and a half years. I had to clean up every Friday, cook Sunday through Thursday, work out Monday through Friday… if I broke routine, there was hell to pay. He had to approve all my haircuts and clothes. He set up a page and made me begin escorting, saying, “I’m trying to make you better.” Finally, one night he bruised me up before he went out and then came back hours later immersed in his phone. I confronted him, and after some attempts at denial, he said, “I can’t help it this n**** wants to send me naked pictures!” I said, “You’re such a liar, get out of here,” and he rolled over and started choking me until the room started fading to black. When I freed my leg to kick him off, he pulled me out of my own apartment butt naked, yelling, “That’s right, get your broke [so-and-so] out!” When I finally got back inside, I packed a bag and left for good.

Throughout that time in Atlanta, I’d also been doing adult entertainment, dancing. A guy in the porn industry started calling about all these roles I would be perfect for. My relationship had taken so much out of me by then, so much energy, so much self-respect. I was numb to everything by that point, so I said, “You know what? What the hell.” I started doing porn around the time I turned 30, for about three years. I walked away a little over a year ago. But not before things got worse.

About two years ago, after some swelling on my right side, my ankle started turning colors, and I couldn’t walk on my right foot. Doctors told me it wasn’t broken or sprained. Eventually, I found out it was cancer.

Meanwhile, that ex-boyfriend still wasn’t completely out of my life. Three years ago, after moving to New York, where he then also lived, I found myself dangerously excited to hear from him one day — so much that I stepped away from the new boo to speak in private. He asked if I was free and sent me an address, telling me to be down for anything. By this time, I’d been smoking weed, doing cocaine, popping molly, and taking X pills. But that visit was the first time I tried crystal meth and liquid G. I ended up there for three days straight, high.

Eventually, I came back from New York to Atlanta and started my own interior design company. But it took until the earlier part of this year to finally cut him off entirely. Since that visit, there had been more games, more drama, more disappointment. But the last time he made contact, I was finally getting the help I needed. The question in my mind became, “Do you want to go backward, or do you want to go forward?” I sat there, thought about it, and decided to keep making progress. I deleted him from my phone, my Facebook, everywhere.

Throughout those years of just trying to make sense of everything going on with me, I had attempted suicide three times. People had told me for so long that I was depressed, but I kept shrugging it off until watching a film that showed person after person described the same feelings I was feeling, arriving at the statement that these were the signs of depression. I got into therapy and started dealing with my issues, getting to the bottom of at what point I started to spiral. There were days I didn’t want to go back because it was just so much to deal with from all these years ago. But the more I talked and actually started dealing with me, who I was, what I was doing in life — the drugs stopped, the going out drinking and passing out, all of it stopped. I’ve been sober for almost eight months.

Through all the confusion, when I started praying again, I’d say to God, “I don’t know if you hear me, but help me figure this out because I want to be better.” No matter how much worse things seemed to get, He made sure He showed me the way so that I could help show others. I think a lot of things that were instilled as a child, I don’t value or see the same way that I was taught to believe. But I still believe in God, and I’m still very religious. I don’t teach like I used to teach, but I’m mentoring again, finally returning to my calling.