This week Charlie Sheen sat down with everyone's favorite television physician, Dr. Oz. As Charlie spoke with Dr. Oz, I jotted down notes. I found as the interview progressed there was a recurrent theme: "Charlie is sharing his truth however that truth is not everyone's truth."
Is there an expectation that once people become HIV positive that they will become advocates? I know a lot of people who as newly diagnosed individuals wanted to carry the message and tell our story to help others.
Overall, the interview consisted of a lot of missed opportunities to let viewers know that they are not alone while living with HIV. Time and time again, Sheen and Oz stopped short of having a meaningful conversation and instead opted to have nothing more than personal musings and reflections, which at times are quite bizarre to say the least. If this is what they were going for then, they achieved their goal. However, Sheen cannot declare war on HIV/AIDS in pursuit of a cure in the same breath.
Celebrities Stepping Into the Fight
We have seen other celebrities who attempt to hoist the flag of their cause only to buckle under the weight of scrutiny. Most recently I am thinking of Caitlyn Jenner, who was self-selected to champion issues for the trans community. At times, she has been successful however her privilege and celebrity separates her in grand fashion from the people with whom she tries to advocate.
It begs the question, "Do we allow for new advocates who are newly diagnosed with HIV to be eccentric and tell their story or do we expect that they will conform to the community that they are now in?"
Today a person, specifically a celebrity who arrives on the scene of HIV/AIDS is scrutinized from all sides, and they are expected to get it right, each and every time. As a young activist, there were many times where I made a gaff while making a video or writing an article. Thank God for editors who helped me otherwise I might have sounded just as bizarre as Charlie has at times.
Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Chemical Dependence and Mental Health
Another interesting aspect is that Charlie's story highlights the intersection between HIV/AIDS, chemical dependency, and mental health. This is certainly a significant portion of my story as well as others within the community, however, it isn't something that is talked about a lot.
I found it absurd how Dr. Oz chose to zero in on the fact that Charlie is still smoking. Instead of highlighting the fact that smoking while living with HIV increases mortality at an alarming rate, Oz instead stated it could serve as a gateway to drug/alcohol relapse.
As I watched the interview, I became acutely aware that as a person living with HIV since June 6, 2011, I decided to share my life and story with others. I wanted others to know they were not alone. This decision was done mostly for myself since this was my way of therapeutically working through this new reality that I was being forced to deal with. I believe in the value of this so much that I have encouraged my Youtube viewers to share their stories.
The risk that people run is that they feel the need to announce that they will single-handedly change the landscape of HIV/AIDS or whatever they are passionate about. The problem with this is that this naive-ambition discounts the blood, sweat, and tears of those who have been in the trenches long before you arrived on the scene.
As the interview moved along Dr. Oz would highlight things that Charlie had said, not only challenging Charlie's assertion but also allowing him to clarify himself. At one point the topic of "things that keep you up at night."
Charlie, when pressed, emphasized that HIV is not something that keeps him up at night. I couldn't help but feel as if this was an opportunity to share with the audience that this place of peace and serenity comes to many people who have come to terms with their diagnosis. There is no timeline of when this happens. This is one of the main reasons that I encourage those who are newly diagnosed to become engaged in a support group. This allows that person living with HIV/AIDS a safe space where they can work through the many emotions associated with a diagnosis.
In between his personal musings, there were glimpses of the real struggle that people living with HIV/AIDS feel on a daily basis. Sheen shares with Oz that it took him four years before he decided to "chase the cure." Again I couldn't help but see a missed opportunity to share with viewers that those who are newly diagnosed with HIV must come to terms with their diagnosis on their timeframe. A failure to accept and deal with this new reality can indeed serve as a catalyst onto the path of self-medication and chemical dependence to avoid and escape fear, anger and other emotions.
While Sheen and Oz were tossing a baseball back and forth in the back of Sheen's million-dollar mansion, the topic of HIV medication came up. Again this was a chance to debunk myth and fear that abound about HIV treatment but true to form it was simply a missed opportunity. Sheen remarked, "It is terrible what they do (talking about his medications)."
Again this might be Sheen's truth. However, a majority of patients will get to a point where they experience no adverse side effects from their medications.
Riding off of the euphoria of his disclosure during a TODAY Show interview with Matt Lauer, Sheen has become determined to remain clean and sober. To that end, I wish him all the luck in the world.
Evidence tells us that those of us living with HIV, who also have a history of substance use and abuse need to engage in robust support systems and other providers. Rarely is going "cold turkey" effective and moreover, it is quite dangerous depending on the level of dependency. Ultimately in a theme that was played, again and again, this was a missed opportunity to inform viewers of the Dr. Oz show of these facts.
What I have determined is that the world will learn from Charlie Sheen and any other celebrity who lends themselves to a cause however it may not be the lesson that they intend. It is up to the community to offer support and education to equip better them to tell their story in a meaningful way.