Five Ways to Stay Strong: How Charlie Sheen's Disclosure Affects People Living With HIV
November 17, 2015
Shakedowns. Witchhunts. Shocking Diagnosis. Debauchery. Devastating. Ex-lovers' horror. Hysteria. Each of these powerful words screamed from the headlines when Charlie Sheen disclosed his HIV status. They unfortunately prove that, for many Americans, the understanding of HIV and AIDS has not progressed beyond the days when a dying Rock Hudson was dogged by reporters. HIV is still portrayed as a terrifying epidemic and people living with the virus are viewed as a threat to public health.
Related: How to Give Stigma a Well-Deserved Side Eye.
This story is, in many ways, an opportunity to correct mistaken beliefs about the virus. For a person living with HIV, however, these hyperbolic headlines trigger old, familiar feelings that have so often accompanied HIV: fear, stigma and shame. Misconceptions fuel this stigma, which directly impacts the lives of people living with HIV and those who love them. Many of us (I was diagnosed with HIV in 1988) have devoted considerable effort to overcome these painful emotions, and with good reason. Unlike the epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, today we have a far greater understanding of the science of HIV, as well as effective prevention tools and powerful medications. Despite these advances, for someone living with HIV fear, shame and stigma are far more lethal than the virus.
How does stigma impact us? Fear of discovery still prevents people from seeking HIV testing or, if positive, disclosing their status. Stigma fuels rejection, hatred, abandonment and even violence, and the movement to criminalize HIV is growing. For those of us living with HIV, this oppressive whirlwind contributes to harmful emotions that are detrimental to our health. Depression, anxiety, trauma and the urge to numb uncomfortable emotions through addictive behaviors can all be triggered. This is especially precarious as the holidays approach.
It is essential for people living with HIV to proactively manage the feelings that arise when such stigma flares. Here are five things I suggest:
HIV stigma is more harmful than HIV itself. When outbursts challenge those of us living with the virus, we must reclaim our strength and resilience, not only for ourselves but also for those still struggling under the weight of stigma.
David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., is a substance abuse expert, certified sex therapist and clinical hypnotherapist in private practice in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He is the author of Lust, Men, and Meth: A Gay Man's Guide to Sex and Recovery.
This article was provided by TheBody.
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