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HIV Retreats: A Chance for People With HIV to Kick Back, Find Peace, Get Educated and Connect

By Rebecca Erenrich and Bonnie Goldman

January 14, 2009

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

Ed Viera

Ed Viera
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.

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