Let's face it, HIV is still a very stigmatized disease. But there are some amazing retreats you can go to with other positive people. Some of the options are free, some expensive. Some are carefree holidays. Others are more educational. You can find retreats for people with HIV beachside, in the mountains and in the middle of the biggest U.S. cities. What all HIV retreats offer is an opportunity to connect.
The Importance of Connecting With Others
New York City
Diagnosed in 1987
"The advice I'd give is that it's important to develop a support network. It's really important to have a second and third family. In my case, my family turned their backs on me -- they closed all doors. I had to develop support networks by going to HIV support groups.
Go to a library, just talk to people, get out there and stop being isolated."
These retreats are geared for the newly positive as well as people who have long ago processed their diagnosis and are just looking for a chance to unwind.
"People living with HIV and AIDS sometimes feel very isolated and alone. At a retreat, all of a sudden you're in a room with 100 people living with HIV," says Al McKittrick, an organizer of the AIDS, Medicine & Miracles Retreat. "It's rather life changing."
Nena Bridge, an organizer of WORLD's all-women beachside retreats, echoes McKittrick's sentiment. "A lot of women think it's just them by themselves," she says. The attendees at WORLD's retreats are women of all ages. They tell her they leave behind stress and bring back knowledge, strength and confidence.
Along with offering a fun time and a chance to meet others with HIV, retreats offer tools for coping with HIV once you're back home. The balance between entertainment and education varies.
The "Do Not Fear to Hope" retreat is on the more intense end of the spectrum. The topic of its most recent non-denominational religious retreat was, "Where is God in all my suffering?"
On the other hand, the Hetero Poz Cruise Retreat and the Gay Men's Pos Cruise are mostly about leisure -- you are on board a posh cruise ship, after all. Still, there are opportunities to learn. Many attendees come from rural areas where where HIV services and support are scarce, so top-notch HIV specialists are there to provide talks and dispense advice.
But many attendees travel to retreats to meet people. McKittrick met his current partner at a retreat, and, in fact, it's not rare for romance to bloom when HIVers get together.
Both the Hetero Poz Cruise Retreat and the Gay Men's Pos Cruise have seen many couplings. This year, there was one straight marriage and two gay commitment ceremonies aboard ship.
Another advantage of HIV retreats is that many are wallet friendly. In fact, they are often free or dirt cheap. For first-time attendees, the weekend WORLD retreat's cost, including lodging and meals, is just $40. And even expensive retreats are sometimes accessible to people with limited incomes. For example, the Hetero Poz and Gay Men's cruises are pricey, but scholarships are available for HIVers on disability.
Today, HIV retreats are a microcosm of the epidemic. Twenty years ago, the people coming to AIDS, Medicine and Miracles were mostly white gay men. "These days it's a very different audience," McKittrick says. The crowd is made up of more women and African Americans, and the music has changed to suit the crowd. Hip hop and rap has replaced the dance music they used to spin.
In the end, it doesn't matter whether you prefer house music or rap, because there are retreats to suit every taste. Take a look at our list of HIV retreats to find one that will get you moving. If you know of any retreats we missed, please let us know!
A Guide to HIV/AIDS Retreats in the U.S.
AIDS, Medicine & Miracles Retreat
A three-day retreat offering empowerment programs for people living with HIV, their loved ones and service providers. (Fees have ranged from $200 to $450. Scholarships are available.)
Three-day beachside retreats in the spring and fall offer 40 women a chance to participate in treatment education workshops, art activities, support groups and discussions on living with HIV. (The fee for first-time attendees is $40. Scholarships and travel assistance are available.)
2009 HIV Retreats at Shadowcliff
A three-day retreat at a scenic lodge on cliffs near Rocky Mountain National Park offering workshops, seminars and social activities. (Depending on your ability to pay, the fee is between $90 and $175.)
The Black Gay Men's Network Retreat
A four-day event that focuses on some of main struggles confronting today's Black gay men, including relationships and dating, sexuality, health and wellness, politics, spirituality and finances. These issues are addressed via a series of classes, workshops and Q&A panels conducted by a variety of noted experts in their respective fields.
Red Ribbon Trails
A three to four-day therapeutic retreat for Illinois families affected by HIV at the Timber Pointe Outdoor Center in the summer and in Bloomington in the spring. (Free.)
Higher Ground offers retreats throughout the year. Their annual retreat has been held in northern Michigan. The retreats provide a place for Higher Ground participants to establish friendships, to gain further knowledge about complementary therapies, and also learn what other HIV-positive individuals are experiencing.
Montana Gay Men's Task Force HIV+ Gay Men's Health Retreat
A weekend of healing and wellness for HIV-positive gay and bisexual men at Feathered Pipe Ranch.
AIDS Family Services Retreat
Just 10 miles from Niagara Falls, people with HIV and their relatives can spend a weekend reflecting, resting, worshipping, enjoying massages and making art.
Do Not Fear To Hope
An annual spiritual weekend retreat for people with HIV held by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, a Catholic religious order. (Free)
The National Episcopal AIDS Coalition's HIV/AIDS Retreat
POZ Brotherhood Retreat
A gathering of HIV-positive gay and bisexual men at a countryside retreat in the Poconos. (The fee ranges from $495 to $795, including room and board.)
Strength for the Journey
A retreat sponsored by the United Methodist Church in the mountains of upper-east Tennessee offers an opportunity heal your spirit, nourish your body and strengthen your social network. (Free)
PWA Camp Outs
PWA camp outs are camping trips in the Texas Hill Country for those who may not have the finances, the transportation or the equipment to go camping due to the impact of HIV/AIDS on their lives. There are two camp outs every year; one in May, and one in September.
Straight Talk and Annual Women's Retreat
The Twin States Network holds a weekend retreat for straight HIV-positive men and women and their partners in White River Junction and a four-day retreat for women with HIV or hepatitis C at a country inn in Landgrove. (Straight Talk is free. The Women's Retreat costs $50 per person, but scholarships are available.)
Vermont People With AIDS Coalition Retreat
Four days of workshops, support groups, meals and discussion groups, with the evenings reserved for fun and entertainment.
Since 1989, Transformation Retreats has offered people with HIV an opportunity to meet at retreat houses nestled in peaceful, reflective locations. (All retreats are free.)
BABES, an organization for HIV-positive women, hosts two women's retreats each year, a one-day retreat in February and a four-day retreat in July.
Quality of Life Retreat for People Living with HIV/AIDS
The Quality of Life Retreat, established in 1988, features workshops, entertainment, singing, prayer and a talent show. (There is a $10 application fee.)
The Next Step Program: HIV/AIDS Retreat Program
A spiritual retreat for people with HIV, especially HIVers in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction.
Gay Men's Poz Cruise Retreat
Hereo Poz Cruise Retreat
Positive Women's Weekend Wellness Retreats
A weekend for women with HIV to come together.
British Columbia Persons With AIDS Retreat
Three retreats for people with HIV are held each year: the Couples Workshop Retreat, Spiritual Workshop and Loon Lake Camp, a three-day event at a rustic site.