Just Don't Want to Be Lonely
I was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988 when there was little or no hope for a long life, so maybe you can understand why it took me so long to decide to disclose that I was carrying the HIV virus. If you can possibly comprehend or remember how crazy the fear and stigma were in 1985, then you know it was appropriate for me not to tell anyone. Had I done so, it would probably have meant that I and my family would have been treated like lepers by many. As a matter of fact, it took me 14 years to tell my mama, children, and the family and friends what my situation was. I wanted to tell family members that would need to know in case of any unexplainable sickness, but I did not want to worry friends and family with something they could do nothing about. Besides, people have big mouths, and I just didn't want to be lonely -- I wanted to be loved.
It was easier for me to share my reality after having lived 14 years with the virus. I had lived well for so long with the virus, that when I finally did disclose my status, it was easier for my loved ones to feel like I would be alright. In reality, people around me had lived in denial about HIV for so long that no one ever asked me if I had contracted HIV, even though as a part of my recovery from drugs and alcohol, I had shared many times that I had lived the same lifestyle as many of my family members and peers who were either suffering with, or had perished from the opportunistic infections that AIDS made possible. My disclosure was motivated by the fact that so many of my friends and family had suffered and died in the early days of HIV. As a result, I was compelled to write my book Surrender to Heal: Seven Ways to Rise Above the Battlefield of Life, so that I could share how I had been so blessed.
Nowadays, many people are still stigmatized and not willing or ready to share publicly about having HIV. I don't blame them, but I do not mind sharing what my experience and evolution has been, and how healing the freedom to live more authentically has been. There is something very healing about not having to act like I am not listening to anything said about HIV. On a spiritual and mental level, freedom from this secret had a healing effect. I came to find out that something recovering people know -- it is that "our secrets keep us sick." I always say, "you can't save your face and your ass at the same time!!"
Anyway, things have changed a lot, with the treatments for HIV and its associated ailments being more effective. Our fear of imminent death after diagnosis has diminished. There is more hope these days, but there will always be a fear that disclosure means losing your sex life, and nobody wants that! We can talk about stigma in a lot of different ways, but when you get right down to it, being afraid of not being sexual or being loved is what is at the heart of the fear of disclosure. I was blessed to have been in a loving, committed relationship when I was diagnosed. I actually found out I had AIDS when my wife got tested after getting pregnant. If my wife had not been as courageous as she was/is, and if she had left me at the age of 33, I would have been very concerned with finding a mate. I don't know whether or not I would have had unprotected sex with someone else in order to get or keep a sex partner. After all, how do you ask someone who is in their sexual prime to give up that part of their life?
It's not all about sex though. In my experience, disclosure also has to take into account the ability of family and friends to handle the information without becoming an emotional drain on the diagnosed person. I felt like my mother and children would have needed more emotional support than I was willing to give at the time. I was aware that in this case, I needed to be a little selfish for my own good, and the benefit of all concerned. That is why education about the disease, available treatments, and most importantly, how to prevent passing it on or contracting the virus were so important. For me that also meant learning how to stop smoking cigarettes (and everything else), to be very conscious about what I eat, to practice meditation, and to do my best to maintain an attitude of gratitude for every day of life. As a result, with the grace of God, my physical health has been pretty good. I have developed a spiritual relationship with a higher power, been blessed to enjoy a loving relationship with my wife and family, and I have been comfortable enough with myself so that I am not lonely at all. I am loved.