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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Surviving HIV

By River Huston

June 17, 2009

You know how people like Tony Robbins will ask, "What if you had only six months left to live? Are you satisfied with the direction of your life? Are you living your dreams?"

After you are diagnosed with HIV, these thoughts often come up as well. I know they did for me after I found out I was HIV positive in my last year of college in New York City.

The six months stretched into 18 years. And I did change my life. I went from being an aerobics instructor whose only goal was to have a nice butt, to composing a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish in this life.

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First on my to-do list was to be a motivational speaker. This happened after I saw Marianne Williamson at Town Hall in 1992. I thought -- I can do that.

So I did. To date, I have done well over 2,000 appearances.

Next, I decided that I wanted to write a book. Check. I wrote five books.

Then I had a brainstorm. I wanted to do a one-woman show. Check. I did several.

I never saw anyone doing stand-up comedy about living with AIDS and thought I should fill that much-needed void. Do stand-up comedy. Check.

(By they way, this is best not attempted without professional supervision -- There is a reason no one has done it. It can be very painful, especially when trying to do jokes about a dead husband and living with AIDS.)

OK, I never reached the pinnacle I was shooting for -- Pulitzers and Tonys -- but all the same, I set out to do something and I did it.

Now what? I decided I wanted to get married and buy a Lexus, as well as anything else I could get my hands on.

Yep, I am one of those people who bought a house way beyond my means, no money down, never even looked at the papers because I thought, "What the hell, I am going to die, anyhow. Might as well die in beautiful estate driving a luxury vehicle." Made sense to me at the time ... that is until I realized I was going to live and have to pay for it all. Shit!

So here I am alive and chances are I am going to stay that way until I get hit by a bus or God forbid, reach old age and die of natural causes, whatever that means. So now I am faced with another set of questions: What if I am going to live for say 50 more years? Am I satisfied with the direction of my life? Am I living my dreams?

NOOOOO! I am feeding the beast -- that is paying for a mortgage, medical expenses, insurance. I am married to a man 20 years younger who watches cartoons in his underwear while eating Cap’n Crunch out of the box.

Though I have to say, my husband is a phenomenal guy. We have been together for nine years. It is the longest I have been with anyone. The others kept dying, no fault of my own.

Still as amazing as he is, I never wanted to settle down. And disease or no disease, I never wanted kids. Except for the 10 minutes right before my clock stopped ticking.

So what to do? Ditch it all, get a backpack, head to Afghanistan, become a war correspondent? I can't anymore. I'm attached. That's what happens when you live.

When I was dying, I called my husband "him" or "honey." The dogs were "little dog," "medium dog" and "big dog." I didn't want to get too familiar since I would be departing soon. But now it is Duncan, Lola, Bear and Buddy and not just that, I have chickens I am attached to as well. Fricking chickens! I am living some kind of Green Acres nightmare!

And I have become very soft. Now that the drugs have kicked in (just HIV meds, people) I realize I like the comfort of my home and I did just pay off the car. I am deeply in love with my husband. But worst, I am old or at least older. I don't want to sleep on hard surfaces and breathe in a lot of sand. So I decide to take mini adventures. My first one was to Panama with my beloved.

Stay tuned and you will hear the whole adventure in my next missive. If you are having trouble dealing with the fact you are going to live, do not worry! I am here for you. We'll work this out. I promise!

To contact River, click here.

See Also
More Viewpoints on Women and HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Steven (Roanoke va) Wed., May. 12, 2010 at 7:12 pm EDT
i am being tested tomorrow for HIV after finding my partner was positive. we had relatively safe and infrequent sex for years so there is hope, but i still have a feeling i am positive. tonight is a hard night, imagine... your article hits home with me. all of the sudden my living room furniture is not important, i put my feet up on it yesterday. i catch myself watching my kids like i have never seen them before. i am scared beyond belief but by some strange fortune this experience of fear of losing and dying has transformed me. i feel pretty sure the doctor knows i am positive and is waiting to tell me in person, otherwise i think he would have called me at home. i still can't feel it. i mean, i think it may be true, but i can't feel it until the doctor tells me for certain. then how will i react? should i think death? for some reason i don't, maybe denial, maybe shock, or both. i experienced for the first time in my life today what it means to enjoy the moment...each day. each day is a gift, how cliche' that is, and so hard to understand until you feel it. people tell me i am one of the funniest people that have ever met, and i just want to be okay. not really sure where to go or where to turn but i feel it in my soul. have for some time, this is my brick wall. ever know you're heading for a brick wall but can't stop it. then, like a moron, it takes hitting the wall to begin to get it. i put my feet up on my grandmothers white couch and it felt so good to use it, like it did to lie on it as a kid when she was correctly directed and knew that it was just a couch, not a divine creation to be beheld.
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Comment by: Robert B (Levittown , PA) Sun., Jan. 10, 2010 at 5:52 pm EST
Thanks for sharing River... It is touching to know others have the same thoughts.. Much respect..
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Comment by: Shay W (Houston TX) Sun., Dec. 6, 2009 at 9:26 pm EST
Your blog is very inspiring
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Comment by: Lilly Mon., Jul. 13, 2009 at 6:33 pm EDT
Thanks for this
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Comment by: Vathie (Cape town) Thu., Jun. 25, 2009 at 5:30 am EDT
Thanks a lot, this is inspiring as I am also living with HIV, diagnosed in 2006 but still getting nightmares about living with HIV, especially when it comes to dating. My recent boyfriend just dumped me because of my HIV status and I am still in pain. But after reading your story I feel very motivated! and will use your story as a good living example. Thanks, keep it up!
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Comment by: Elizabeth L. (New Jersey) Tue., Jun. 23, 2009 at 12:51 pm EDT
River is an inspiration. I have seen her live a bunch of times and her spirit and energy are infectious. This blog is so important for all those living with HIV and also for those of us who just want a good laugh from a wonderful human being. Can't wait to see you again!
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Comment by: dr.cynthia phillps bhalla (mumbai ,india) Sat., Jun. 20, 2009 at 8:53 am EDT
dear with all ur hiv experience cud u tell me
approximately what cud be the causes 4 hiv n
does an hiv require 2 test all blood parameters
every month.
God bless u 2 be active n happy,
with best rgds,cynthia.
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Comment by: Seekyah (Las Vegas) Sat., Jun. 20, 2009 at 1:49 am EDT
Love positive stories about women. Thanks you don't know how much you've encouraged me from this article. God Bless You
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Comment by: ZRM (Miami) Thu., Jun. 18, 2009 at 5:01 pm EDT
Thanks for sharing your positive attitude. I've been pos+ for 12 yrs now and going strong. Been with my husband for 11 yrs and have two small kids which are the love of my life and want to be around for them as long as possible. It's nice to read about us regular women with HIV. Keep it up!
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Comment by: becky (Hope,B.C.) Thu., Jun. 18, 2009 at 11:47 am EDT
Thanks so much for your positive attitude! I have been living with HIV since 2001 and have come back from AIDS in 2005. I have a 2 yr old daughter who is neg and yes there is so much to live for...your life! Be strong, keep positive!
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Comment by: Laurie (colorado) Thu., Jun. 18, 2009 at 10:31 am EDT
I think for a moment I am really just living and HIV is just a pimple on my ass. then I realize I have been doing this for 20 years entering fairs to win blue ribbons, cooking better then any top chef, experiencing things better then the amazing race, and every night I take medicine and I could never find a job that would pay for medicine So no matter how much you don't get sick and get blue ribbons, HIV is always there. too bad I don't make money off my story any more.. Whew whew we are all old enough to die now with out a big ahhhhh from the people at the funeral thinking we were to young to die. diagnosed at 23 years old now 45 BIG F......Deal!!!!!!!
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Comment by: Friend (Montreal, Qc) Thu., Jun. 18, 2009 at 10:16 am EDT
So inspiring.
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Comment by: ZRM (Miami) Thu., Jun. 18, 2009 at 9:22 am EDT
Thanks for sharing your positive attitude. I've been pos+ for 12 yrs now and going strong. Been with my husband for 11yrs and have two small kids which are the love of my life and want to be around for them as long as possible. It's nice to read about us regular women with HIV. Keep it up!
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Comment by: Jere Douglas (Houston, Texas ) Thu., Jun. 18, 2009 at 9:13 am EDT
As a person who has lived with HIV for 25 years and buried way too many friends and others, I finally went full blown 2 years ago. I sincerely believe I died and came back, it just wasn't time for me to leave this earth, still more to do.
I equate this to me meeting God and Him telling me that I still had too many more people to piss off, well, here we go again, and I thought my life was done.
I am a retired professional world class performing artist (clarinet) and have not performed in over 10 years. I do have former students that are carrying the commitment to excellence forward into the next generations.
I have decided to start performing again, but not on the world's terms, on God's and my terms, for the enrichment of others.
I'm following your blog, as it is an inspiration to me and hopefully to others.
Our website is www.ukitena.com and my personal page
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Comment by: ANNIE (NJ SHORE) Thu., Jun. 18, 2009 at 9:11 am EDT
HI, I WAS DIAGNOSED IN 1990. I JUST TURNED 51 YRS OLD. SINCE 1990 I HAVE ONLY HAD CERVICAL CANCER. I SURVIVED AND AM VERY WELL THANK YOU! I GET UP LOOKING FORWARD TO A NEW DAY. I WORK , AM VERY ACTIVE IN MY CHURCH AND COMMUNITY. THIS IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE. IT CAN BE MANAGED TODAY. I MEAN DON'T GO OUT AND TAKE STUPID CHANCES BUT IF YOU ARE DIAGNOSED WITH IT, DON'T THINK OF DEATH RIGHT AWAY. THINK OK, HOW CAN I USE THIS TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY. GO OUT AND TEACH OTHERS TO BE BRAVE. TEACH HOW TO AVOID IT. TELL YOUR STORY TO SOMEONE TO HELP THEM BUT BY NO MEANS THINK OF "DEATH" you are alive!! live!!! now it's time for you to change the way you were living. now it's time to live right. for me, this has brought me to jesus. who knows where or what for you. but live.
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Comment by: Thuli (Durban) Thu., Jun. 18, 2009 at 2:59 am EDT
Thank you very much from an HIV+ woman who has lived so long. It really gives hope, as I have just been diagnosed with HIV and I was thinking it is not possible to live longer than 13 yrs but now I know it is.
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Comment by: Larry K (New York) Wed., Jun. 17, 2009 at 10:09 pm EDT
Hi River... Remember me? Larry from The Fringe Festival. My partner did the Tim Gunn Podcast thing.

Thanks again for the Zucchini.

Any more? :- )

Hugs, Larry
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Comment by: WhiteWhisker (Ohio) Wed., Jun. 17, 2009 at 8:29 pm EDT
I went through the what the hell and charged, charged, charged! Twenty years latter I am surviving beyond my wildest dreams...Well in the number of years. I didn't think I was going to see the 30th birthday let alone my up coming 52 nd.
Next goal?? I have been on tv cooking but the next "challenge" is PILLSBURY BAKE OFF.
Peace!
WhiteWhiskerCook
(yes, the beard is white now,not chestnut brown anymore)
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Comment by: ZRM (Miami) Wed., Jun. 17, 2009 at 8:19 pm EDT
Thanks for sharing your positive attitude. I've been pos+ for 12 yrs now and going strong. Been with my husband for 11yrs and have two small kids which are the love of my life and want to be around for them as long as possible. It's nice to read about us regular women with HIV. Keep it up!
Reply to this comment


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A River Runs Through It


River Huston

River Huston

River Huston is an award-winning poet, journalist, performer and activist. She travels through the United States speaking on issues related to sexuality, communication, overcoming challenges and change. She has been featured on Good Morning America, Showtime, Nightline, CNN and ABC Up To The Minute. River has written three books of poetry as well as The Goddess: A Guide to Feminine Wisdom and A Positive Life: Portraits of Women Living With HIV. She wrote and performed a one-woman show, Sex, Cellulite and Large Farm Equipment: One Girls Guide to Living and Dying off off Broadway and is currently working on a second show, The Dominatrix Next Door. For more information about River you can go to riverhuston.com.


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Recent Posts:

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Articles by River:

Sex, Cellulite and Large Farm Equipment: One Girl's Guide to Living and Dying (October 15, 2008)

I Feel Good! Attaining Survival Through Illness (March/April 2008)

Goddess in a Muumuu: AIDS Changes Sexual Self-Image (December 1999)

A Positive Life: Portraits of Women Living With HIV (October 1999)


Interviews With River:

White Women and HIV (April 1999)


A Brief Disclaimer:

The opinions expressed by TheBody.com's bloggers are entirely their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of TheBody.com itself.

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