Your story sounds identical to mine. During grad school, and whenever I was given the option to do so, I chose to focus my research on services for gay men with HIV. After graduation, I worked for the second largest AIDS Service Organization in the country in the home health department (translate: I worked with people with end-stage HIV disease). Up to that point, I practiced safer-sex religiously (I came out at 14), but STILL "slipped" and contracted HIV when "I should have known better." I wrote about my experiences for another ASO newsletter. I believe that you'll be able to relate to a lot of what I wrote. You can read it here:
"A Basilisk's Egg...." Cover aritcle
"Lighting Cigarettes...." Page 13
I do think that those of us who work in the helping professions are much harder on ourselves. Remember, you did nothing wrong. You engaged in human behavior. I'm a mental health professional in the medical field (for 12 years now), and I can assure you that some doctors smoke, some nurses eat too many burgers, and some of both do drugs. It's not the healthiest way for them to cope with the challenges of the medical profession, but it is THEIR way of coping. The fact that you're a mental health professional doesn't mean that you don't also sometimes choose a way of coping (i.e., seeking external validation for who you are) that isn't conducive to what you really want in life. However, this doesn't mean that you're not a wonderful therapist with MUCH to offer your clients. A good accountant for others sometimes forgets to balance their own checkbook.
What I'VE learned in my own work with clients is that when I'm able to acknowledge that I'm human and then forgive myself when I don't make the best choices, I then also give permission to my clients to forgive themselves. I'm then able to speak WITH my clients, rather than AT my clients, because I speak from experience - not a textbook. My working relationships with my clients is MUCH more effective when I'm able to normalize their feelings through selective and intermittent self-disclosures of my own experiences.
No, you're NOT a snob. It is VERY important for you to find the right group of people for whom you feel can understand what you're going through, and support you in a non-judgmental way. We think differently than nurses and doctors or the general population, so talking subconscious motivations for engaging in coping behaviors (even for the lay person with HIV) is not something most people CAN relate to.
Lastly, and you probably already know this, but learning is not linear. Just when you think you've learned to cope with your diagnosis you'll find that you have to re-learn it in a different situation. I've been HIV-positive for 8 years now, and I'm still learning. You will get better at it - if you allow yourself to forgive yourself.
If you'd like to talk, I can be reached at TdavisMSW@aol.com