On October 16, AIDS Walk LA is packing the streets with walkers! Like so many AIDS Walks throughout cities in the United States, it's always a reminder and a statement of an epidemic that is still here. Wouldn't we all like to hang up our sneakers already?
The sunny hot streets of Los Angeles, beginning in West Hollywood, host parades of walkers wearing their team names proudly on their multicolored t-shirts. Streets that are usually traffic jams are for a few hours flooded with thousands of colorful walkers raising money and awareness for a vast variety of teams from AIDS service organizations like Being Alive, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Project Angel Food and The Life Group LA -- who walked with their team name on red umbrellas in case of rain and instead were protected from the blazing sun. Teams from the entertainment industry, hospitals and individual families and friends still walking together for their loved ones, some lost many years ago and some more recently, with photos, a name and years of life never long enough. It keeps us conscious as we remember that in spite of all the treatments, breakthroughs and 30 years of activism, people still die of AIDS. These images are emblazoned in my mind from years of walks.
After the last walker has walked and booths and signs are dismantled and the sun is down, I make my way to CBS Studios for some KLEAN talking -- and sometimes not-so-clean talking -- on KLEAN Radio, a recovery radio show. I was honored to be the guest interview with hosts Judah Friedman and Andrew Spanswick, CEO of the KLEAN Treatment Centers in West Hollywood, California. This was just the treatment I needed. Some laughs, being of service and putting out some important and basic HIV/AIDS information to addicts, alcoholics and the general public, people who don't know and don't even think about HIV/AIDS and really need the information.
I was feeling some guilt about not walking in the AIDS Walk this year. So before I walked into the studio I called my friend Sunnie from the car and told her how I felt. She said, "And what, this is like the first time in how many years you haven't done the walk?" -- knowing that I have walked not just in LA but Boston for the majority of my 27 years living clean and sober with HIV. "Okay," I said. "I guess I can live with that. Thanks Sunnie." Free, I walked into CBS Studios to be of service.
Sometimes those of us who are positive and have been activists and educators for so many years forget that the general population has no education, little information about the basics of HIV/AIDS. So it's important to be out there talking about it not just to our own but to others, like Judah, who admitted he was the "average guy" when it comes to HIV/AIDS information.
As we approach World AIDS Day on December 1st, think positive. Get educated about HIV/AIDS. Get tested! Free anonymous testing is so readily available in many cities in the United States. We are very fortunate. So there is no excuse for not knowing your status. Be brave. Be smart. Be informed. Keep updated on your information about HIV/AIDS, not just for yourself but for others. Sharing your experience getting tested can help others and stop the spread of HIV. HIV can stop with me and in my case, thankfully it has. What's best for one is best for the whole, the entirety. That is the first principle in the first tradition in 12-step fellowships addressing healthier relationships and boundaries.
If you are an addict/alcoholic and want to stop doing what you're doing and can't, you don't have to do it alone. I know I couldn't. I went to treatment and then to 12-step meetings which I still attend regularly by choice. Long before there were HIV medications or information or laws to help protect HIV-positive people from the enormous stigma of AIDS in the '80s, it has been my experience that the hope and help and friendships I found in 12-step meetings saved my life -- first from addiction, then to living with HIV. For that I am deeply grateful and proud to be a woman in recovery.
Get help. Call your local 12-step hotline. Your life is not over, it's just beginning even with HIV!