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Personal Story

A Child's Love: My Story of Self-Stigma and Redemption

Part of the Series Our Stories of Stigma

March 26, 2016

A Child's Love: My Story of Self-Stigma and Redemption

Stigma is borne out of fear. This fear causes us to express our emotions through behaviors that are both biased and discriminatory. We become fearful because we have not yet changed our thought processes and we lack knowledge. In order for us to create a stigma-free environment, we must become aware of the prejudice, bias and discrimination within ourselves. We have to reflect on our own behavior and reasoning, questioning why we think the way we think and respond the way we respond.

It is because of the challenges I have faced with my own demons that I am now able to embark on a new era, come face-to-face with giants, knock out Goliath and hurdle over my fears when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

I admit that before I became a survivor -- and beyond that learned to thrive -- I was one of those people who stigmatized anything associated with HIV. How ignorant I was! And I am sincerely apologetic. After my diagnosis, I became my own worst enemy. Everything I had said about people came back to me. How can somebody look as if they have HIV? If people had a cold sore on their mouth, I wouldn't want them to even pass by me, let alone kiss me. You know those church hugs and kiss-on-the-cheek moves the deacons give you in hometown Baptist churches? Well, I saw one deacon with one of those cold sores, and I was like, I know he's gay and he's probably got it -- you know, the three-letter H word. I was too scared to say HIV.


But when on August 23, 1995, I found out about Lisa, I broke down and cried. I became scared of myself, so ashamed that I didn't want to look in the mirror. I hated myself. I became a disgrace to mankind, society and to my own self. Self-worth, what was that? No self-esteem, I felt lower than low. I would cry and wonder how I could make this go away. If I'd had three wishes, my first wish would have been to be in another body that was free of HIV. I went days without washing my genital area. I felt that I could catch it all over again. I didn't want the damp cloth to keep contaminating me.

But then the face of stigma appeared inside my immediate family through my children. At ages 11 and 15, my daughters were told my status by my ex-fiancé without my permission to disclose. My children asked if it were true. I had never lied to my children, and I was not about to lie to them now. So I told them both, yes, it is true. They gave me these funny looks, like, why didn't you tell us? Before they opened their mouths for questions and concern, I let them know, "Mommy works and pays all the bills. You are not working yet, but your task in the house is to go to school, and your reward is to get good grades. Your work is not to worry about mommy and her diagnosis. That is why I didn't say anything to either of you, because you are still school age and I do not want anyone to belittle you or make you feel unworthy."

And that's when it happened! The moment I dealt with two types of stigma. Yes, I said it --there are two forms of stigma that are both positive and negative. My oldest told me (with a sassy attitude and a smart-alecky mouth), "I don't care what you have just as long as I don't get it!" Meanwhile, my baby girl (so short, she can't even reach my chest) stood on her tippy-toes and said, "Mom, it's okay! No matter what you have, I'm going to love you anyways," and kissed me not on my cheeks but dead center in the middle of my lips. And that right there became a turning point in my life.

Lisa Johnson-Lett is a member of the Positive Women's Network - USA in Alabama.

Copyright © 2016 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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