Harnessing the Healing Power of Community through Honoring our Experience: A Recap from USCHA 2023

Submitted on Sep 26, 2023


Heather O'Connor and logos for USCHA and The Well Project.

By Heather O'Connor

The 2023 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA 2023) returned to Washington, DC, this September 6 – 9. Members of The Well Project's community were involved in the conference on various levels, and several of them wrote blog entries, session summaries, and other reflections on their experiences at the US's largest annual HIV community convening.

I was sitting there sorting through my schedule in my jumbled head before the workshop began and we caught eyes. I knew her, even though I couldn't pinpoint where; I could see that she knew me too. She ran over and hugged me. It was warm. She then explained that when she was diagnosed, she reached out to me on social media and I answered her. I remembered her immediately and there we were, existing as a community together in a room full of people who understood exactly where we were coming from, as individuals who have planted roots and grown through the trauma of being diagnosed with HIV.

We stood in a circle, and she recited a poem she'd written from the day she received her diagnosis. Tears rolled down her cheeks and down the faces of everyone surrounding her and I felt the release in the room. No one could ever understand the sentiment she was expressing through her words like someone else living with the virus in their blood. It makes us connected.

We moved through the circle and someone with kind eyes expressed that he felt as though he didn't have a community or friends. I watched as the person next to him squeezed his hand to let him know they were there. We all were there. On the way out of the room that day, I smiled from the inside out witnessing the countless number of hugs he received. Exactly what he needed, and everyone knew. He grew that day.

Shitty things happen to good people. They happen every single day and sometimes without recognition or support to follow. That day in that room we all rose above that shitty thing and took ownership of our identities outside of our diagnosis. Together we cried and we healed, with a promise to stay connected with one another. And we will. Love keeps us connected and love heals. That's what I learned that day. To love and allow myself to be loved. All of me is worthy. You, too; remember that.

More from The Well Project on the 2023 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA 2023)


Members of The Well Project community at USCHA 2022.

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