Given the number of recovering addicts with HIV, it's no surprise that someone would take the much-followed, much-parodied 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and tailor them to daily life with Da Bug ("God, grant me the serenity to accept the virus I cannot clear..."). What is surprising is that Glen Caulkin, 49, the Californian and former junkie who launched www.hivanonymous.com (and www.hcvanonymous.com), isn't HIV positive -- he just felt so lucky to be spared, unlike many shooting-gallery friends, that he spent his first 14 years clean writing an HIV workbook based on the same "Steps" that helped him kick dope. In other words, he told POZ in his surfer drawl, "I live my gratitude."
Free or not, why an "Anonymous" for HIVers, who can't exactly "quit" a virus? "Empathy is why 12-Step programs work," said Caulkin. "There are a lot of people in 12-Step programs who have HIV, but the primary 12-Step purpose is to stay clean. It's not the place to talk about HIV." In HA's nightly "virtual meeting" chat room, people talk (uh, type) openly about any aspect of living more happily and healthily with HIV (under an anonymous "handle," of course).
Although the site's manifesto proclaims, "We abstain from high-risk behavior," if someone said in a meeting that they were barebacking, "then that's what they needed to share," Caulkin said. "No judgments." Not so among some visitors -- like the guy who Caulkin says e-mailed him, "I can see money and personalities written all over this." That feedback doesn't merit a blink from Caulkin, who hopes soon to get nonprofit ("dot-org") status for his site. He says the hep C site, which has been up longer, "is rocking" -- with 100,000 visitors and 500 members. "We're always moving forward, and I have an open mind. It's about letting people share."