I Have HIV: My #1 Disease Is Drug Addiction

A Former Nurse Writes About Her Life

This is my story of what it was like, what happened, and what I've become today.

After graduating college with a nursing degree, I was diagnosed HIV+ in 1985. I had been a weekend heroin user and completed my nursing board exams on methadone. With everyone in my life agreeing my life was unmanageable, I went to a 28 day treatment program. I left treatment "most likely to succeed." However, the stigma of HIV/AIDS was overwhelming. I was not welcomed back by my employer, boyfriend or family. I decided to make a geographical change and I moved to Florida. The only problem with that was my addiction followed me. I began a 15 year insanity spree which took me to the streets, prostituting, smoking crack, drinking heavily, living from man to man, motel to motel. Even having 2 HIV+ babies didn't break me from the denial I was living in.

I Was a Victim

After 17 arrests, 2 prison terms, and losing both of my children, I thought that my life was hopeless and I was a victim unless I surrendered totally or died. Well I never got any AIDS related illnesses, I was never even sick with a cold. I did however weigh 100 pounds on my 5'9" body and I looked malnourished. So since the AIDS virus wasn't going to kill me, I had to face this addiction head on in spite of myself.

After my last sentence of 5 years for felony prostitution and having no family support and all my enablers gone, I knew this was my last chance to live clean and sober. When I entered prison, there were drugs everywhere and that is when I decided to make the best choice of my lifetime. I entered the Addictions Treatment Unit. I hated it at first, I knew I had failed at this before so I couldn't see myself succeeding. I started to take their suggestions. I listened instead of talked, and slowly I was really hearing what people were saying. I realized I was just like the other women there. My self seeking started to slip away.

I began to accept myself with all my faults. I no longer wanted to be the "victim." Forgiving myself and others allowed me to share, and my self-esteem soared. I no longer wanted to exist with pain. I wanted to live with love. I now have a willingness to help others and to be honest about my feelings and the idea of recovery excites me.

Today I have one more year to go in prison. My T-cells are 500, and my viral load is 200. I am on a Protease Inhibitor cocktail that has agreed with my body from the start. I am teaching a class in this unit and I work in the office with the director.

I finally feel free for the first time in my life. Today I have hope, determination and a willingness to succeed. Today I am truly alive.

"Whenever I am asked by members of the media or by curious healthy people what we talk about in our groups, I am struck by the intractable gulf that exists between the sick and the well. What we talk about is survival. Mostly we talk about what it feels like to be treated like lepers; treated as if we are morally, if not literally, contagious. We try to share what hope there is and to help each other live our lives one day at a time. What we talk about is survival. We suffer from a life-threatening illness, and we suffer the stigma attached to being diagnosed with AIDS."

-- Michael Callen, 1983