Positive since 2010
My name is Twana Lawler. I am a poet, playwright, screenwriter, motivational speaker, gospel songwriter and an AIDS survivor. I was diagnosed HIV positive in 2010 after 10 years of celibacy.
The news was devastating and depressing. I wanted to die. I had changed my life, and it was like I was being punished once again. Two and a half years later, I had a seizure and was diagnosed with AIDS, dementia and severe depression. I was given two weeks to live.
During this time, I had to wear diapers because I could not control my urine or bowels. I had to use a wheelchair. I could not write, brush my teeth, take a bath, wash my hair, feed myself, etc. I lost my memory, and I felt that my world was collapsing.
In 1999, I checked into the hospital for a surgery that I had to have. At the time, I tested HIV negative. I became celibate and did not have sex for two and a half years.
Then I met a “minister.” We would talk several times a day. He was living in one state and I in another. After about a year of talking on the phone, he wanted to meet me in person. It had been nearly a year, and I thought it would be OK. That was a mistake.
Although he treated me very well, he tainted my blood. I informed him that he would need to wear a condom. He indicated that he had one, and I thought he was putting it on. When he got up, he did not have on a condom. Mind you, I tested negative in 1999, and he and I were together in 2002. I was celibate before and after I met him. I slept with him one time.
I would like to rewind a bit. In December 18, 1974, Alfred Lee Lawler Sr. committed suicide. The event was one of the most horrible points in my life. This man was very important to me. This soft-spoken man was my dad.
I was just 12 years old. My oldest brother was 11. My younger brothers were 10 and 9. Words fail to explain how this affected us. Our dad’s demons followed us for many years, but I have been the main target.
I lived a life of hell for most of my life after my dad’s death. I could never comprehend what would depress him so much that he would do this to his children, his family and friends. Nonetheless, later, I considered doing the same thing.
My name is Twana, and this is my story. My brothers and I became fatherless on December 18, 1974. It was then that things in my life took a turn for the worse. My life spiraled downhill. I had a lot of unanswered questions for a very long time. This was the beginning of a life of turmoil.
At 14, I became pregnant. I had my daughter at 15. I married her father at 16 and then had another daughter. This man began to overcome me on a daily basis. I left him, and because I left the abuser, he took my children. I was informed that I would never see my daughters again.
I was yet again alone and did not want to be. I was advised by a policeman to take their father to court. I did, and I won. I was 19 with three children. I questioned why I had three children so young. I never had guidance once my dad passed.
At 21, I was sexually assaulted. This led me to drink beer to forget about the awful act.
I went on with my life, but I still sought something that no man could offer me. Twelve years later, I met a guy and found myself in love. He and his friend date raped me. I was sick of the things that I was going through. I began to drink beer more.
Ten years later, I discovered the love of God. That is when I changed completely. I stopped drinking beer, stopped smoking cigarettes and became celibate—until I met that minister. He told me that he loved me. He wanted me to relocate with him to Atlanta. It all was a lie. That one mistake cost me.
I was so depressed when I heard that I was HIV positive. After nearly three years of denial and depression, I was diagnosed with AIDS. I wanted to die. While my daughters were taking care of me, the doctor told them that I would probably die in a couple of weeks.
Today is a new day. I am no longer depressed. I am still celibate. And I am happy. I wrote a book about my life, and I speak in churches and at conferences. I went to Africa to speak in 2016. I am still writing, and it is much better. My CD4 was 20. Now, I’m over 240. My viral load was half a million, and now it is undetectable.
What three adjectives best describe you?
Creative, honest, comical.
What is your greatest achievement?
What is your greatest regret?
Sleeping with that minister.
What keeps you up at night?
If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
I am used to it now.
What is the best advice you ever received?
What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
What drives you to do what you do?
What is your motto?
Use it or you will lose it. We all have some type of gift. Use yours.
If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My cell phone.
If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?