Rafael Abadia, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., diagnosed in 1993
I couldn't tell my parents over the phone. I knew I had to fly to Puerto Rico and let them know.
So I had to prepare myself mentally for that. So that's what I did.
I flew to Puerto Rico. I had lost a lot of weight, so I made sure to wear a lot of baggy clothes to try to cover my illness. I was really concerned about how they were going to take it. They're extremely religious, Christian fundamentalists, so I knew that was an issue. It was an issue of me being gay. I didn't know what to expect. I prepared myself mentally, just in case I was going get some rejection. Then the day came, and I sat in my parent's living room; my mom was in the kitchen. I looked at my dad, and I said "Dad, I need to speak to both of you. It's very serious." He called my mom, and my mom just kind of ignored him, she didn't want to come.
They knew something was gonna be up [laughs].
My dad raised his voice, and said to my mom to come, that I had to speak to them. OK, so the three of us were sitting in the living room, and I told them that I had AIDS. I told them I was taking some medications.
My dad is what I like to call a true macho Puerto Rican man, who I've never seen cry. He ran into his bedroom, crying -- like, really, really crying. And I ran after him. I grabbed him and he put his head on my shoulder and we both cried. To my amazement, they accepted me immediately. I thought they were going to put away the spoons, the cups, because I've heard horror stories from other people. But no, from day one, they accepted me, and they were there for me. So, I've been very blessed, with having a very supportive family.
What would you advise others to do, when they're disclosing their status to their family or loved ones?
It's really individualized, because I've met so many people in different types of situations. I've known of people with families that completely shunned them and do not speak to them anymore. So I'm very blessed to come from a very loving family. It's easy for me to tell everyone, because I was lucky to have that support.
What I recommend someone do is to really seek some professional help. See a therapist, a counselor, who could sit down and really guide you and prepare you for whatever happens. It's a very individual decision. You need to be ready to expose yourself to telling some people about your status because some people react differently. I've had many, I even lost friends, people who I thought were my friends, but once they knew of my diagnosis they completely stopped talking to me, even within the gay community, which was my biggest shock. But it happens.