The first thing I did when I found out I was positive, 15 years ago,
was go to the diner. Well, maybe not the first thing. Actually, my
boyfriend and I first stepped on the subway, he told me it was “gonna
be OK,” and I broke. I wanted to scream. Instead, I
visualized…pancakes. Ice cream. Frosting right out of the can. I
decided the only rescue from this nightmare was food, especially sugar,
one of my favorite vices.
At the diner, I ordered French toast,
syrup and butter. It was so good I ordered another. I’d heard sugar was
bad for the immune system, but so were the depression and hopelessness
that had just swallowed me. When you get horrific news, you often stop
caring about what is good for you, about what you should and shouldn’t
do. You escape reality by gliding on auto pilot, searching for blissful
anesthesia. For me, that meant sugar’s giddy highs, the feeling of
fullness, the exhilarating sense of transgression and indulgence. I
also became very self-righteous, feeling entitled to do whatever would
make me feel better. “If I’m going to die,” I thought, “I’m going to
die fat. Fuck ’em—they can buy an extra-large coffin.” Besides, I had
endured salads and health shakes for decades to keep svelte. Now I was
ready to rumble.
I’ve long stopped the bingeing that followed my
diagnosis—but sugar still rocks my world. And that’s why I’ve had a
nonstop yeast infection in the butt and weewee for two years! I’ve
tried prescriptions like gynolotrium and fluconasol by the boatload.
What I couldn’t do, despite my doc’s wrist slaps and my own common
sense, was ditch the Ho Hos.
Yeast beast or not, I still felt that
if I had to endure the indignities of a terminal illness, even one
upgraded to a manageable disease, I should be able to down my weight in
doughnuts. When I found myself lying on my side as some hospital
resident tried to get a biopsy needle through my back for a bone
biopsy, testing for HIV-related bone-marrow disorder, I at least knew a
pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, chocolate sauce and whipped
cream awaited in my home fridge. Once I was safe in the cocoon of my
bed, each mouthful would erase the pain and humiliation of exposing my
ass on a gurney. Mounds of Twix bars, Oreos and Krispy Kremes worked
better than any drug, recreational or otherwise, I’ve ever tried—and
I’ve tried them all.
Few of us would ever admit it, but many
HIVers consider the virus a gift certificate—a pass to unlimited
pleasure. Some think they’ve earned the right to unprotected sex. But
whether you’re barebacking, maxing out credit cards, smoking like a
muffler or guzzling alcohol, the trigger’s the same: “Compensate my
As in any addiction, I had to face the
consequences of self-abuse. I hit bottom (an itchy one) and had to grow
up. I realized that HIV isn’t an excuse for a cupcake orgy and have
done the unthinkable: cut out all sugar. I’ve been two months sugar-free and sent Mr. Yeast packing.
At first, I’d get homicidal
if I saw someone chowing on chocolate chips. The real test came last
week, when I went to get some test results. They sucked, and I left
with a familiar emptiness. I got in the car, and pulled into one of my
sugar-shack convenience stores. I sat in the parking lot for 10
minutes, imagining chocolaty peanut M&Ms rolling around in my
mouth. I fingered the money in my pocket…then put the car in reverse
and tore out of the parking lot. I went home, sat on my deck, drank
some green tea and ate an apple. I started to feel like I was going to
be OK. Did I just say, “I’m going to be OK”? I never thought I could
survive without my sweets, but now I know it’s about quality of
life—not just smoothing over challenges with a chocolate coating.
Meet River Huston—writer, poet, performance educator, sex goddess extraordinaire—at www.riverhuston.com.