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
Anonymous written submission
Lea este blog en español.
The first tale is the story of the trauma I experienced leading up to my diagnosis. It begins within the environment that I was born into and how it provided opportunities for early traumas to happen. I suffered molestation from family and friends of family alike. I was subjected to child abuse: physically, emotionally, and mentally. These abuses occurred up until the age of twelve years old. The harshest part was being molested by my step-father and paid for by friends of the family to my mother to be alone with me, and my mother deciding to put me on birth control. In an attempt to protect me, she ended up misinforming what reproductive justice should mean to a young girl growing into a young lady and what these changes mean physically, emotionally, and mentally. I was not being protected in the ways in which I needed and this would end up setting the tone for future decisions. In an effort to cope with the abuses I was facing, my mother introduced me to alcohol at the age of 12 years old.
As a teenage alcoholic I found myself encountering many more traumas. Rapes were a reoccurring theme. I became a teenage parent having my fist child at fifteen years old, followed by two abortions because the father was physically and mentally abusive. He would ultimately end up taking custody of our son from me when I was only seventeen years old. I would end up not seeing my son for another ten years. Then, I would have more children by a different man at eighteen and nineteen years old who, sadly, was killed when I was pregnant with our second child. My other children would be born after my diagnosis. I suffered domestic violence, homelessness, prostitution, and loss in these early years of living. The alcoholism and trauma became a never-ending cycle that kept pushing me further and further into a darkness that seemed almost impossible to get out of. I became pregnant with my fourth child at the age of twenty years old and this pregnancy would end up being the one that would discover that I was HIV positive.
The diagnosis was determined in a small city hospital during a time when HIV was not well researched in women and therefore, treatment and resources were very scarce. Medicines had many side effects and resources were more available to gay men. I remember going to my first check-up in the hospital and had to go down into the basement across from the morgue to go into the office they provided for their HIV patients. I remember the doctors pushing me to get my tubes tied on a regular basis, suggesting that I already had three children and one more on the way, and if did not survive, I would be leaving my family with a lot of responsibility. The lack of knowledge and data at the time impacted my options towards reproductive justice in the future. Well, needless to say my drinking increased and my mental health decreased. I would end up having a healthy baby. I would end up having a couple of people looking for me to do harm because I made the mistake of telling my mom my diagnosis and she told a couple of men whom I had been dealing with. I ended up catching pneumonia and recovered and that is when I decided to leave that place and start over somewhere else. I moved me and my children to California and there is where the second tale begins.
The second tale takes us on the journey of early diagnosis and homelessness. The decision to move to another state meant leaving everything behind and starting over. My children: four, three, and two years old, and I were homeless for the first year living in California; moving around from shelter to shelter. During this time, I reconnected with an old friend whom I would end up dating. I did not disclose my status to this person so, I also did not seek out care during this time. I ended up getting pregnant from this new relationship two years later—this would be the beginning of a different way of life.
We all moved into an apartment and began a life together. When I went into labor the doctors realized that I had HIV and wanted me to disclose to the father. I cannot express the magnitude of fear and uncertainty I was facing in that moment, as well as regret for being misleading. Disclosing my status would end up being one of the best choices I had ever made because we are still together twenty-two years later and he is still HIV negative. Alcoholism would still be an issue for me during this time, propelled by untruthfulness I was still carrying even though I had disclosed. Now, I would begin pursuing treatment once again.
Treatment options during this time were still not ideal and resources were still geared towards gay men. Yet, they tried really hard to be accommodating and for that I am grateful. I once again stopped taking medication because of the side effects and this would have an impact on my status changing several times, back and forth, between HIV and AIDS because of my relationship with medication. We moved to San Diego, California. It would be here that I would finally be in a place that had access to the resources I needed. Medications were still not favorable and I would end up going on and off many times over the course of the years. I eventually found a medicine regime that works for me and have been able to stay pretty healthy overall and I was still in the right place to receive the care I needed. USCD Medical Center Owen Clinic, UCSD Mother Child Adolescent Program, Christie’s Place would end up being the support system I needed to help me get better.
This access would be the thread I needed to begin to change my life. I would end up getting a DUI which would end my drinking and put me on the path to recovery. I have been sober for 14 years now. I would begin seeing a therapist and working through all of my childhood and addiction traumas. I would most importantly have spaces to be in that were true to who I was, with people just like me. Though my husband requires anonymity in most cases, I have still been able to navigate the HIV community with ease and comfort. Both receiving help and growing into a position to help others. I have learned that I am not HIV, rather I have HIV. I can say that my tale begins with very little hope and ends with nothing but hope. The medicines creating the foundation for U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable), resources for family planning, mental health, and family support that has evolved over the years is a clear picture of hope to me. I am a survivor and you can be too.