HOCC Women Moving Forward: The Journey
How could I have known that the greatest challenge of my life was not the ending of a 30 year marriage, bankruptcy and becoming homeless. I kept thinking “I’ll get through this; at least I have my good health. Things can only get better – “Right" I found a place where I could live, the position of house-sitting gave me the space to be alone to process this part of my life.
I continued to work at my business as a holistic health educator, teaching yoga, stress reduction, nutritional classes, and women’s wellness retreats. I had the unique opportunity of walking my talk, and to this day, I believe the work that I did, was also the glue that held me together during that chaotic time.
Having been with my first husband since the age of 13, I was now living alone for the very first time, believing that at the age of 48, I would never marry again.
During this time of struggle, spring arrived and I met a man who became a friend. I was grateful to meet someone who was kind, generous, and truly seemed to care about me. He too, had been through a divorce after 25 years of marriage. I believed that I had met a man who could express himself, someone who was not afraid to talk about his feelings, he made me laugh and I felt alive again.
Spring turned into summer we began to date, my business was doing well, the relationship was moving forward and life was improving. Ironically on Labor Day, I awoke to my body at war with itself, excruciating pain in my muscles and joints, a fever and chills all lasting two weeks.
Eleven months later, a routine exam changed everything. I tested positive for the HIV virus. Panicked and confused, I shared this devastating news with my new partner. Two days later, this well known pillar of the community, my companion, confessed that he had been living with the virus for 6 years.
The depth of emotional paralysis was indescribable. It was than I understood the significance of the Labor Day pain and agony. I was experiencing a classic case of serum conversion – “the HIV virus was making its way into my body” was how the doctor explained it to me.
The man, who said he love me, had betrayed me. He expected me to hide what happened and I did. We even married as planned and everyone believed we were a normal couple. While out in public, I appeared to be happy, when alone I could only feel numb, and as time went by, I began to understand that I could not hold this secret in any longer. It was making me emotionally and physically ill and my grown children were sensing something was not right with me.
After some counseling, I realized I needed to tell my family about my condition. I began to open myself to all the feelings I had buried: anger, fear of dying, constant fear of rejection as a person living with the stigma of HIV, understanding I would have to be dependent on powerful medications for the rest of my life.
I told myself, “If I try hard enough, I can forgive him”, it didn't work. I disclosed my status to some close friends. My husband and I separated and I embarked on a powerful healing journey, I was done protecting the man who infected me.
I began to travel to Boston to seek out other HIV positive women and I found HOCC and got the support and knowledge to deal with this disease. I enrolled in some trainings, to better understand what I was living with. Following the trainings, I began to facilitate a support group for women living with HIV, and shared some of the health practices that I continue to teach, so that they too, may take better care of themselves.
Speaking my truth began to help me heal, and at the same time help others. I spoke out publicly for the first time on December 1st, 2008 at the World AIDS Day at Fitchburg State College. I hoped to bring awareness to this epidemic, and by educating others, maybe prevent others from becoming infected.
My message is that this can happen to ANYONE. This is not; I repeat NOT a virus that only happens to gay men and IV drug users. The fact is, one quarter of all people living with HIV do not know they have it!!! One time of unprotected sex can lead to a lifetime of living with HIV – it doesn’t go away! Unless we all become educated about this disease people will continue to infect others knowingly or unknowingly.
If we ignore this epidemic, the number of HIV cases among women and teens will continue to rise.
Please get tested and protect yourself.