HIV, Recovery, and Community
by Mrs. Beasley*
I was diagnosed with HIV in the fall of 2004, when I was starting treatment for addictions. I was told my diagnosis over the phone, because the doctor assumed I must already know. I didn’t know, and I nearly fainted when I got the result. Right from the start it was a pretty big deal.
I’ve always been discontented in the fall; it’s cyclical. I get off track, I’m not sure where I’m supposed to be going, I feel a need to put my life in order. Back then I would get restless and irritable, and start acting out in ways that put me in denial of my addictions. HIV became a part of that denial and uneasiness in the world. I still get angry and go through cycles of remembering and grieving and ask, “Why me?”
I got into drugs because I thought I was “hip slick, and fatally cool.” Drugs were the thing to do. My mom was an alcoholic and drug addict, so I think I’m biologically predisposed to it. I’ve tried harm reduction, but it doesn’t work for me. I’d say, “I’ll just use on the weekend.” But if I took that first drink, I couldn’t stop.
I used drugs and alcohol on and off for years. I’d have time clean, and then relapse. The first time I was clean for 15 months, and then I relapsed. At one time I was clean for almost seven years. I went back to school, and I was working. Then I relapsed. It went like that a few times. I was surprised to find I didn’t like how I felt when I was clean and sober. I wasn’t expecting that. You have to deal with those uncomfortable feelings as well as the addiction.
I’m coming up two years’ clean now and feel good. I’m on methadone, and I’d like to be totally clean, but when I cut down on my methadone dose, I realize I need it or I get cravings to use other stuff. If I have the right amount of methadone, I’m good.
“I was surprised to find I didn’t like how I felt when I was clean and sober. I wasn’t expecting that. You have to deal with those uncomfortable feelings as well as the addiction.”
When I went to Heartwood, a treatment program at BC Women’s Hospital, I found it so helpful. It’s more than the 12-step model. It looks at mental health, addictions, physical health, and concurrent disorders. Heartwood gave me back my humanity without guilt and shame. They gave me choice in my treatment. Nothing was forced at all.
I’m living in a place now where I don’t see many people from the old days, which is good. It’s hard enough to change, never mind if you have reminders of what you were like. If I do see people, I say hi and move on. I’m two years into recovery, so I’m not going to jeopardize it.
It might sound corny, but I really do stay clean by taking it one day at a time. I try to do something positive every day, whether it’s a small thing like picking up some trash on the street, or something big like working on the steps from 12-step model. I have a home group meeting I go to, but I don’t go to a lot of meetings anywhere else.
“It might sound corny, but I really do stay clean by taking it one day at a time.”
The cycle of using and getting clean and relapsing changed when I started getting help for HIV-related health. Being diagnosed with HIV started me getting help for my addictions. I’ve been lucky to have support from the MAT (Maximally Assisted Therapy) program, Bridge Housing, and Positive Outlook in getting connected to community services. I’m on HIV treatment and have been for a long time. My CD4 counts have improved a lot in the last six months since I got into stable housing. I like walking and walk a lot.
Without HIV I could still be an addict. I go to the HIV community for support—Positive Women’s Network, the Dr. Peter Centre, or MAT. HIV has given me a new start, unconditionally. I get so much from the community. I’ve gone on PWN retreats and the most important thing is taking the chance to go. It was scary to leave my comfort zone, but once I did it, I was in a good place. I found I had stuff in common with other women at the retreat. There was good food, and it was comfortable. I went on the retreat and did it without using, which was great. I also went on the Positive Leadership training. That was quite a personal growth experience. I find the programs I take to teach me how to help others end up helping me be a better person too!
To anyone who’s newly diagnosed, I’d say your doctor is really important. Do your best to connect with her, because she’s your biggest support. Things will be different with HIV. They won’t be great overnight, but they will get better.
* Mrs. Beasley is a chosen name for this piece. If you would like to share your experiences with other positive women, we would love to hear from you. You get to review your story before it’s published, and you can use your own name or an alternative if that’s most comfortable. Your story, your choice.
This piece is appears in our January- April 2015 The Positive Side Newsletter.