By Rukh-Shana Namuyimba:
“All it took was one day. In December of 2008, I had a friend fly into town. It was a friend who I dated exclusively and who I thought dated me exclusively. I told him to bring a condom since we hadn’t been together in a while and so he did. In the middle of our encounter, he removed the condom because it was bothering him. That’s all it took.”
“My husband contracted HIV from a waitress. I contracted it from him and my infant son contracted it from breastfeeding. We were all well and healthy at that time and non-the-wiser of the virus within.”
“I am currently 6 months pregnant, I am 25. I found out that I have HIV when I went to my first obstetric gyn appointment. I just got married a month prior to the man of my dreams. When they told us my whole world stopped. I was petrified.”
“I’m 21 yrs old and I’m HIV+. I was told this awful news when I was 5 months pregnant with my first child. I don’t know how I contracted the disease since I had been with my baby’s father for 2.5 yrs. He turned out to be negative! So I must have got it from a previous partner. I felt ashamed, guilty for allowing someone to ruin my life like this! I lost my Virginity when I was 18 so I wasn’t even promiscuous; it’s not fair that this has happen to me.”
“He didn't rape me and he did not trick me. It was through our unprotected sex that I became HIV positive. When speaking to him a couple months after my diagnosis I gathered that he knew he was positive when we had sex. But that is beside the point; my sexual health is mine to control, not his.”
We have all heard the painful stories that leave us in a raging fit of fury over the perpetrators of such callousness. Sometimes we sit numb, not sure how we would have ever walked a mile in the shoes of the 'victims' (and I use the word victim loosely for I don't believe a victim mentality serves any one any good).
The excerpts above are from real stories of women living with HIV from different parts of the world, united by their sero-status but distinct by the way they have chosen to respond to their situation. If you know anyone that is living with HIV/AIDS then you must know that with the pronouncement of HIV comes anxiety, fear, shame, anger, pain – the list is endless depending on the circumstances. But what we do with the cocktail of emotions could very well be the difference between life and death. The easier choice has always been to 'Sign over the powers of attorney'. Whether it is driven by a strong sense of self preservation or simply the natural instinct to pass the buck is a different matter all together but I daresay, it behooves anyone who finds themselves in the unfortunate situation to forgive and resist the temptation to blame the perpetrator. I have learnt through life's many lessons that when we blame someone else for our situations, we choose to be powerless over those same situations. HIV/ AIDS is no different.
When people 'sign over powers of attorney' to others whatever their reasons or motivation, they inevitably give up their power to deal with the situation and ultimately to live. I know a good number of people who are living positively with HIV and the one thing they have in common is the fact that they, with God's grace, were able to move past the cocktail of emotions and realizing that while they can't change what happened to them they can pick up the pieces and make the best of the rest of their lives. I have also met people who've made it their lives mission to punish everyone they chance upon for the sins of those that came before them. And at the risk of sounding very insensitive or judgmental, I dare ask, what good comes from that? I have often heard people say, “The person who gave it to me never thought twice about it. Why should I?” It incenses me just as much as breaks my heart. Incenses me because the selfishness and cruelty doesn't make one feel better and it certainly doesn't change the situation if anything it only puts one at risk of repeat exposure.
There is something about this HIV ish that encourages us to think about prevention and transmission in terms of responsibility. Someone must be at fault. We are always hunting for the secret villains at whom we can direct HIV blame rather than have honest conversations about sex and relationships. And as long we keep 'signing over powers of attorney' we have lost the battle and the war.
Difficult as it may be, taking charge of the situation may very well be the difference between life and death. And it all starts when one can find the strength to say, “I am HIV positive, and I don't blame anybody for it—not myself or anybody else.”
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