As part of a collaboration with our longtime partner organization Christie's Place, The Well Project will be sharing stories from their book "Healing Hope: A woven tapestry of strength and solace" as blog entries on our A Girl Like Me platform. The views and opinions expressed in this project are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of The Well Project.
**Content Warning** This piece discusses violence, including sexual abuse, as well as suicidal ideation (resources available at the bottom of this page)
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I'd like to start my story the way it started when I was just six years old. My mom died when I was six. I come from a really big family. There are 13 siblings. Our dad was addicted to alcohol and drugs. He was compulsive and he always lashed out at the women in the house. I was the next-to-last kid at home and sadly, when my mom died, I ended up taking care of my dad. My dad abused me from the time I was about nine until I was 12. Years later, I found out that he was also abusing my younger brother.
Except for one of my sisters, all my siblings were addicted to drugs and alcohol. The years that my father abused me were very difficult years because I wasn't brave enough to tell anyone what was happening to me. I felt trapped. When I was 12 or 13, I had the chance to go to my sister's house in the US. I started to go to school for a while and that's how I learned a bit of English. But, while I lived at my sister's house her husband, my brother-in-law, was sexually abusing me.
There were no options for a woman like me. I had to bite my tongue and just let it all happen to me. It was such a difficult time because I was just a child. I remember the first time I got invited to a party when I was 14. Someone gave me a drink with vodka in it. I only had two, but it was my first time drinking, so I quickly got drunk. Those drinks made me feel good—like I was free.
Back in Ensenada, I lived with another of my sisters, and it was really hard because we fought all the time. Because of that, I started to drink a lot and I had to run away from that house. I went to another city with some friends where we got jobs as waitresses. The restaurant sold beer and that's where I felt I belonged and fell back into drinking. I'd go to work and when my shift was over, I'd get drunk. I got so drunk once that I ended up in the hospital for alcohol intoxication. I became even more of an alcoholic and I also started to prostitute myself.
I decided to make a change and I went back to Ensenada and looked for a more decent job. And I found one, but the problems at my sister's house only got worse. My brother-in-law started to blame me for the problems in their relationship and one day, he kicked me out.
When he kicked me out, I moved in with some other people, but I kept drinking. Finally, my sister who lived in the US, sent for me and told me she needed my help. She helped me get back to the US by filing all my documents. When I got back to the US, I started to think about giving myself a new chance at life, to stop drinking, and to start over. A year later, I met the guy who is now my ex-husband. He seemed like a guy that I could build a family with. I thought it would be a chance to make a new life because I thought he was a good, responsible person. But he was also difficult and compulsive.
I stayed with him, and a year later, we got married. I tried to make a life with him and have kids, different from anything I'd seen at home. Unfortunately, after we got married, everything changed. He started to mistreat me, and he became abusive. He drank a lot and I started drinking with him when he drank. I ended up doing drugs just because I was so angry. One day, I realized that he was having sex with my niece who was addicted to heroin. That really got to me because whenever she would come by the house, he always talked bad about her. I used to get so upset about how he would always trash talk about her because no matter what, she's family.
Not only did I not leave my ex-husband for being unfaithful to me, but I also chose to stay with him and start using heroin. That was a serious mistake. He never stopped being unfaithful and he was always very abusive. I was in that relationship for 22 years. Two years after we got married, we tried to have kids, but I couldn't get pregnant.
One day, my cousin came up to me and said that she was pregnant but that she didn't want it. She asked me if I did, and if I didn't, she was going to pull it from the womb and toss it in the trash. And I thought to myself, "How could you throw an innocent baby into the garbage?" So, I told her I would take the baby. It turned out so nice for me because I fell in love with that baby, and I was excited. I thought it might be the best thing for my relationship. Sadly, that was my mental state at the time, but it was really nice when that baby came into our lives.
When the baby was born, his entire body was full of drugs because my niece had taken drugs throughout her entire pregnancy. Having that baby was all the help I needed to change my life and leave heroin behind. When that little boy was six years old, I was still living a very difficult life with my ex-husband, but then through God's grace, I got pregnant. I found out one day because I was feeling some morning sickness and I felt some movement in my belly. I went to buy a pregnancy test and it was positive. With all the health problems I had, it was impossible to even imagine being pregnant.
I decided not to use drugs for two days so I could go to a doctor and get a test to confirm the pregnancy. That same day, I confirmed that I was five months along. At the time I thought this baby might really make my relationship with my ex-husband work because this baby was his. When I got home, I told him the news and he just said he had no idea whose baby that could be because it certainly wasn't his. I really didn't care because I was really happy.
A few days later, they called me from the doctor's office again and they told me they knew that I was taking drugs and offered me some help. I denied everything and I told them that I didn't need any help because I could stop using any time I wanted. Later, they told me that they had also done an HIV test and then I had tested positive. I immediately thought that I was going to die and that my baby was going to die too, because he was very hyperactive and difficult to care for. I asked the doctor how long I would live. The doctor told me that it didn't have to go that way; that there are treatments for HIV.
When I left the doctor's office, I got into my car and the only thing I wanted to do was kill myself. I hit the gas with all I had and when I was about to just explode, I thought about my son and I said to myself, "What's going to happen to him? I'm the only one who can handle him." I didn't think about anything but him and that's what stopped from me making a terrible mistake. My husband was at home when I got there. All I could think of was that I could have infected him. I told him that he'd need to get an HIV test because I'd tested positive. He made me feel like all our problems were my fault.
I started going to all of my doctors' appointments. I stopped using. One day before the baby was born, my ex came to my house and started insulting me and calling me a drug addict. He grabbed the coffee I was drinking, and he threw it at me, burning my leg. Finally, after arguing, he left. I bought myself some crystal meth and I took it even though I was pregnant. My sister came by, and she could see the state I was in. She told me to take a shower. Later, we went to the hospital.
I was in labor for 24 hours with my daughter. When I woke up, I realized that my daughter was not with me and a nurse told me that they were not going to give me my daughter because she tested positive for drugs, but negative for HIV. On one hand, I was happy about the HIV diagnosis. They wouldn't let me see my daughter because she'd tested positive for drugs. The only thing that mattered to me was that she had tested negative for HIV. I talked with the social worker, and I asked, "What do I have to do to get my daughter back?" She said that I had to go to a drug abuse program and a support group. It was so hard for me to leave the hospital without my baby, but they gave her to my sister.
I've learned from all the women I supported. I apply those learnings to my life and offer my own to others because we're here to help each other.
I mostly focused on the narcotics anonymous program because that program led me out of my addiction. It helped a lot. I took a lot of classes including one on how to be a mom. Two months later, they gave me my daughter and I knew that participating in all those programs was worth it.
I went to a Christie's Place women's retreat, and they offered me a chance to work as a peer navigator. At first, I didn't want to do it, but in the end, I decided to go for it. I started to get involved with the community and I started a group of promoters. One of my specialties was empowering women to let them know that everything is possible, even if you have HIV. I've learned from all the women I supported. I apply those learnings to my life and offer my own to others because we're here to help each other.
In the past 11 years, I have seen so much transformation in the women there. God tells me that I had to go through everything I did to learn and to be able to help these women. I share all of my bad experiences with these women. They always ask me what I get out of helping them. I tell them how much I get out of seeing them believe in themselves because I had to believe in myself in order to change my life.
Life gives you chances, and you have to take advantage of them. I'm thankful to God that I was infected with HIV because it helped me to change my life and I've been able to help other women. HIV made me stronger. It empowered me even more.