Sharon on Getting Sober and Getting Custody After an HIV Diagnosis
October 12, 2010
Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us Sharon Gambles. When Sharon was diagnosed with HIV in 1989, like many other people, she thought HIV was a gay white man's disease, thus she knew nothing about the disease. To make matters, during this time, there were very little resources for women living with HIV -- Sharon felt completely alone and lived in denial for years. This recovering addict, mother of three and out lesbian shares talks about her journey to sobriety, coming to terms with being HIV-positive and how she started to love herself again.
Let's start at the very beginning. What year was it? And what happened when you found out you were HIV positive?
It was September of '89, at Highland Hospital. I had just had birthed my daughter. After delivery, they asked me, did I want to take a test? And I was, like, "Yeah, I'll take a test." I didn't know what the test was for, but I took it anyway. About two weeks later, I was called back to Highland. A midwife called me in her room and said, "I want to tell you that your test came back positive." And I was, like, "OK, positive for what?" At that time, it wasn't called HIV. If I'm not mistaken, she said "GRID" or something like that.
So I'm thinking I'm going to get a shot. That's what I thought I was going to do, because I had had STDs before. So I thought I was going to get a shot, and it was going to be over. She was like, "Not only do you have it, but your daughter has it, too." So, again; there was no support. There was no emotional support for me. No one sat down and talked to me, knew exactly how I was feeling. It was just like a bomb dropped on me. I didn't know anything. I had no knowledge about HIV. It didn't apply to me, because I wasn't a gay male. But somehow I had this disease.
They said, "You have to also take your daughter to the Children's Hospital." And so that's what I did. I just disconnected myself from whatever was going on, that I had HIV, and just took my daughter to the hospital. I took her there for 18 months and then one day the doctor told me I didn't have to bring my daughter back anymore. At that moment, I didn't quite grasp why I didn't have to bring my daughter back anymore, because I was still sick.
When you say sick, what kind of symptoms did you have?
At that time, I didn't have any. But I knew there wasn't a cure for it. I did know that much. And so the doctor told me I didn't have to bring my daughter back, so I didn't. I was in denial for a long time. I just did not grasp what they were talking about that I had. I couldn't grasp it. I didn't understand. I just knew I couldn't get rid of it. That's what I did know. They told me there was no cure for it.
Just to make it clear to our audience: 1989 is ancient history in HIV. I mean, there was no outreach. I don't know when GMHC was founded, or any of the big AIDS organizations. But just about then; they were just looking at it. They said no women could get it.
Right. And it didn't apply to me.
They didn't have booklets, you know; and they didn't have phone numbers.
No. They just told me and sent me on my way.
And there was no real treatment.
No treatment. There was nothing at that time. And so I stayed in denial for many years. And I think around '90-something, they came up with AZT, or something like that. I was called in to get a prescription for that medication, which I was taking four times a day. I don't remember what milligrams it was, but I know it had to be pretty high, because I had headaches, real bad headaches. So I completely stopped taking AZT. I just stopped taking it.
How do you think you got infected?
I don't know. I can't pinpoint it, because back in '89, and in the '80s, I was an active drug user.
Yeah. I was shooting drugs and having unprotected sex. There wasn't anybody telling me about using no condoms back then and there. You know? So I was having unprotected sex to get my drugs. You know, I was sharing needles because they wasn't saying anything about that. So I couldn't pinpoint how I got it. I just know I was doing risky things at that time, and that's how I got infected.
What kind of drugs were you using?
Heroin. Yeah. I was using heroin. I was using heroin. I was shooting crank. I was just like a garbage can.
Why were you doing that, do you think?
Um, numb. Didn't want to feel. I couldn't put anything else on that. I just didn't want to deal. I didn't want to feel. And this was something to take me outside of myself. I didn't want to think about what was going on.
Did you have a really rough childhood?
Yeah. Kinda, sorta. Because the addiction was already there. Our parents were already using, were already in their addictions, in their disease.