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Sharon on Getting Sober and Getting Custody After an HIV Diagnosis

An Interview With Sharon Gambles -- Part of the Series This Positive Life

October 12, 2010

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So both your parents were addicts?

Yes.

"My dad was a heroin addict and an alcoholic. My mom was an alcoholic. So I'd seen this."

Also heroin?

Yeah. My dad was a heroin addict and an alcoholic. My mom was an alcoholic. So I'd seen this. It was dysfunctional from the very start.

Wow. So you didn't really kind of know that you had a choice.

Right.

That was the way -- the coping method that you were taught.

Exactly. And for things . . . when you're a child, you know . . . not the wisdom that I have now. Going back, I'm clear today that my mom did the best she could, and my dad did the best he could. I'm not pointing no fingers or anything like that. But I still would want to say, to my acknowledgment, you know: what I seen, I saw. And I don't know about any other kid. But it kind of looked OK. Because my parents were, underneath, my role models. So it's OK. I think that's where everything took off for me.

And then when I got the disease, the diagnosis, what other way to do it than just not feel it, just numb myself? I continued to do that for a long time.

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So you continued using after your diagnosis?

Oh, yeah. I continued to do things that I'm not proud of after my diagnosis.

You mean, you shared needles?

Oh, yeah. I don't think I was there. I know I didn't think like that, because I didn't know if people contracted the disease or how they contracted it. So, yeah. I'm sure I didn't think like that until later on; I found out that contaminated needles and this blood transmitted on me. Then I get to go into my head. It was a time where I was getting information. I hooked up with WORLD back in '90-something. And I was getting information. It was women, you know, so I really didn't feel alone then. I was going there all the time. But I still was using. But still, WORLD came into jails to see me. They came into prisons to see me. And so that helped. That really helped me.

Could you talk a little about why you were in jails and prisons?

Yeah. Bad choices. The substance that I used, you know . . . I didn't . . . I couldn't afford it, first of all. And so I did things outside myself. I sold my body. I stole at stores. I stole from my parents. I sold drugs. I did things way outside myself.

And why do you think you did that?

"I think I had got to a point where it had to be something better for me than what I was doing for myself. I just really, really had that gut feeling: this is not what Sharon's supposed to be doing."

One, to protect my habit and two, because, again, I was in denial and I didn't want to deal with what was going on. I just didn't want to deal. I was a coward. I wasn't going to take no gun and kill myself, you know, because I had a child. So I wasn't going to do that. But I was like slowly committing suicide. I didn't want to just kill myself. So I slowly committed suicide by using drugs.

I think, you know, for whatever reason; I think I had got to a point where it had to be something better for me than what I was doing for myself. I just really, really had that gut feeling: This is not what Sharon's supposed to be doing. And for whatever reason, I made a choice after I got out of prison in 2001 that I didn't want to go back to prison. I knew how to go to prison. What I didn't know how to do was stay out of prison.

And so I had to listen. I had to get some help. I had to find out how to get back on track. And so I did. I got hooked up with a women's organization, which was Lyon-Martin, in San Francisco. And I got a case manager. This was an HIV-based clinic, too, for women. And I got in a program.

I got tired of using. I got tired of, you know -- I got tired of people coming out looking for me because I was missing doctors appointments. So people were actually coming out in the city, looking for me, to take me to go see my doctor.

So the messaging was -- you weren't looking at them as, like, parental figures that were bothering you?

No. I kind of looked at them as like my little angels. You know what I mean? Because they came in the pits of hell to get me so I can go see my doctors. So I can get my labs done. So I can at least try to get on some medication. This is not one, two or three times; this is like all the time.

So they were the heroes of your life.

Yeah. They seen something in me that I couldn't see in myself. And they continued to love me until I could love myself. They got me into the program and got me into medical detox first, so I could detox from my substance. After that, they got me in an HIV program for women, which was a year program. So my life took off after that.

The year program, does that still exist?

Yes. It's called Lodestar. It's on Treasure Island.

Do you live there?

No, not no more. You live there for a year; it's a year program.

Wow.

Yeah. It's a year program. It's for women that are positive.

Who have a history of substance abuse?

Yes. Substance abuse.

So it's trying to get them off the street, not to know their friends anymore, just sort of start anew. Clean slate.

Right. Right. It's actually about self care. They really embed that in you, to put you first, to take care of you. And some good workshops, some good groups to empower women on how to love themselves. Because I didn't like me when I got here -- I didn't love me.

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