This Positive Life: An Interview With David Adkins
January 3, 2011
Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us David Adkins. When David tested positive in 1997, he was utterly shocked: He was confident that he had used condoms with his partners over the years. But when he put two and two together, he realized that he had been drugged and raped one night and as a result of that sexual assault, he had contracted HIV. This openly-gay executive director of an AIDS organization talks about his struggles with drugs and alcohol after his diagnosis; the obstacles in doing prevention work in his rural Pennsylvania town; and how working in the HIV/AIDS field has changed his life.
So let's start from the beginning. How did you first find out you were HIV positive?
Well, I was dating a guy in the military and he had asked if I had ever been tested before. And I hadn't because I always used protection. I went and got tested and found out I was positive.
Yeah, it was a pretty big shock.
How long ago was this?
It will be 13 years tomorrow.
So what year were you diagnosed?
And you were completely surprised?
Oh yeah, floored.
Do you think you have any idea where you...
Yes, I know exactly. I know exactly the week, I know exactly who, everything.
Can you go into some more detail? You don't have to say anyone's name.
Well, I was under the influence of alcohol at the time. I believe they slipped me something in my drink and I was raped. I didn't think anything of it at the time.
So did you think you had been assaulted after the assault or when you tested positive you put two and two together?
I put two and two together.
What did you do?
Well, first thing I did was called and told my mother, then my sister, then my dad, some other family members. I broke up with the guy. I made up a lie to the guy I was dating in the military. I just wasn't ready to deal with it, I guess. I quit my job, moved back home, because it was '97. It was right when the cocktail came out. My first medicine was one of the original cocktails. I just started to take medicine and went from there.
Where did you live before you moved back home?
It was only about 30 miles from my house.
This was in Pennsylvania?
And so you quickly disclosed to your family. Why did you feel compelled to do that so quickly after diagnosis?
Because they're very supportive. They're supportive of me being gay and everything. So I knew they would be. I mean I had to tell somebody. I'm very close with my mother.
So did you think, "I'm going to die"?
Yeah, at first I did, but then after I hooked up with an AIDS service organization, Beaver County AIDS Service Organization, they helped me deal with some things. I did get back into drugs and alcohol for a while.
Yeah. I was involved in a serious car accident. But I've been clean since. Doing great.
So when you moved back home, were you depressed?
Yeah, I had gotten an infection. It was nothing serious. It was like the flu -- oh, not the flu -- pneumonia. I just went back home. I said, "It's just time. Just go back home and recoup and regroup."
What was your CD4 count when you first were diagnosed?
They were over 500.
OK, so you were doing OK.
Yeah, and I had had it for two years before I knew.
And you said you had started doing drugs and alcohol again. Was that to self-medicate your diagnosis?
So what were you doing? Partying a lot?
Partying, going out to bars, drinking, smoking pot.
Yeah -- making an alternate reality to my own. I just didn't want to deal with it. Just put it in the back of my head. What really put the trigger back into the alcohol and drugs was my grandmother passed away. I was very, very close to her. I helped take care of her. That's the reason I told the partner from the military I was moving home, was to take care of my grandmother because she was sick. Which wasn't actually totally a lie because I did do that.
Just wasn't the reason that you were moving.
Yeah. Which recently I just met up with the guy from the military again on Facebook and I've disclosed everything with him. And he figured that's kind of what it was anyway. So we're talking again.
So your grandmother passed away, so that triggered a lot. When did you decide, "I'm done"?
The car wreck.
Tell me about that.
I went out to a bar, and drank a bunch, and took a bunch of pills and thought I could drive home. Ended up driving over a cliff. A tree stopped me about 50 feet over the hill. I was [lifted] to Pittsburgh, had a bunch of broken bones, a bunch of broken ribs. I got a scar across here. [pointing at his...] I don't know if you can see it or not. It's from the windshield.
So you woke up, you were in the hospital?
No, I woke up in the helicopter. Actually, the first memory I have of it, I was telling them, "Don't touch me. Don't touch me. I'm covered with blood. I'm HIV-positive." Even the ambulance people told me I kept saying that over and over to them. They said, "We understand." I just was so traumatized, I guess, and was fearful for anyone to touch me. I woke up in Pittsburgh, in a CT machine, next thing I remember.
So after that you just kind of realized?
I went to a halfway house. I went to a rehab. Got involved with AA [alcoholics anonymous] and NA [narcotics anonymous]. Got more involved with the Beaver County AIDS service organization, which I ended up being the executive director of for three years.
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