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, myboyfriend and I first stepped on the subway, he told me it was “gonnabe OK,” and I broke. I wanted to scream. Instead, Ivisualized…pancakes. Ice cream. Frosting right out of the can. Idecided 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 wasbad for the immune system, but so were the depression and hopelessnessthat had just swallowed me. When you get horrific news, you often stopcaring about what is good for you, about what you should and shouldn’tdo. You escape reality by gliding on auto pilot, searching for blissfulanesthesia. For me, that meant sugar’s giddy highs, the feeling offullness, the exhilarating sense of transgression and indulgence. Ialso became very self-righteous, feeling entitled to do whatever wouldmake me feel better. “If I’m going to die,” I thought, “I’m going todie fat. Fuck ’em—they can buy an extra-large coffin.” Besides, I hadendured salads and health shakes for decades to keep svelte. Now I wasready to rumble.

I’ve long stopped the bingeing that followed mydiagnosis—but sugar still rocks my world. And that’s why I’ve had anonstop yeast infection in the butt and weewee for two years! I’vetried prescriptions like gynolotrium and fluconasol by the boatload.What I couldn’t do, despite my doc’s wrist slaps and my own commonsense, was ditch the Ho Hos.

Yeast beast or not, I still felt thatif I had to endure the indignities of a terminal illness, even oneupgraded to a manageable disease, I should be able to down my weight indoughnuts. When I found myself lying on my side as some hospitalresident tried to get a biopsy needle through my back for a bonebiopsy, testing for HIV-related bone-marrow disorder, I at least knew apint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, chocolate sauce and whippedcream awaited in my home fridge. Once I was safe in the cocoon of mybed, each mouthful would erase the pain and humiliation of exposing myass on a gurney. Mounds of Twix bars, Oreos and Krispy Kremes workedbetter than any drug, recreational or otherwise, I’ve ever tried—andI’ve tried them all.

Few of us would ever admit it, but manyHIVers consider the virus a gift certificate—a pass to unlimitedpleasure. Some think they’ve earned the right to unprotected sex. Butwhether you’re barebacking, maxing out credit cards, smoking like amuffler or guzzling alcohol, the trigger’s the same: “Compensate myterrible loss.”

As in any addiction, I had to face theconsequences of self-abuse. I hit bottom (an itchy one) and had to growup. I realized that HIV isn’t an excuse for a cupcake orgy and havedone the unthinkable: cut out all sugar. I’ve been two months sugar-free and sent Mr. Yeast packing.

At first, I’d get homicidalif I saw someone chowing on chocolate chips. The real test came lastweek, when I went to get some test results. They sucked, and I leftwith a familiar emptiness. I got in the car, and pulled into one of mysugar-shack convenience stores. I sat in the parking lot for 10minutes, imagining chocolaty peanut M&Ms rolling around in mymouth. I fingered the money in my pocket…then put the car in reverseand tore out of the parking lot. I went home, sat on my deck, dranksome green tea and ate an apple. I started to feel like I was going tobe OK. Did I just say, “I’m going to be OK”? I never thought I couldsurvive without my sweets, but now I know it’s about quality oflife—not just smoothing over challenges with a chocolate coating.

Meet River Huston—writer, poet, performance educator, sex goddess extraordinaire—at