In the fall of 2012, one of my sexual partners came forward to share he had been diagnosed HIV-positive. A much younger man, for whom English is his second language, it broke my heart. Having worked in the HIV field, I knew exactly what to do. I made sure he was connected to care immediately. And I encouraged him to talk about his feelings and get support for what he was going through. And I got tested -- as a reflex. Not because I thought I had anything to worry about. I never dreamed that my test would come back positive. For 30 years, HIV was something that happened to other people. After all, I’d dodged the bullet for this long, I’m sure I would get through this.
I had been working as a non-profit consultant, and ironically, was engaged in fundraising work for an AIDS service organization. It was then late November 2012. I had a voice-mail message from my doc asking me to call him. I went into a private office and called him back. He was very straightforward. “I’m sorry to tell you this, Charlie, but your HIV test came back positive.”
I paused for a moment, then countered very quickly with “Well, doc, this isn’t the first false-positive result I’ve had...test me again, I’m sure I’m fine...” He informed me they had sent the sample twice and confirmed that I was indeed HIV-positive. I went numb. And fell silent. I couldn’t make sense of this. It was uncomfortable even thinking about it.
So I decided to go to the gym. Cliche? Yes. Stereotypical? I guess, but as a gay man, the gym was a comforting place. It was a place I could go to feel powerful, when situations like this made me feel powerless. It was part of my routine. It was just another day, right? It was a day like any other. I was in denial, of course, but it didn’t last long. I could not pretend this wasn’t happening. I needed to act quickly. I made a same-day appointment to see my therapist, and shared the news immediately.with her and one or two close friends.
Thanksgiving and the holidays loomed before me. My doc called me at home on Thanksgiving day to check in. Can you believe that? That was hard for me to even comprehend. To have a doctor who is so truly concerned about my physical, mental and spiritual health. I am so grateful. I feel fortunate. I set about making a list of things for which I was thankful (in some 12-step anonymous circles, this is referred to as a “gratitude list”). I knew that I could not afford even a moment of self-pity.
I next talked to my sexual partner to share my diagnosis. It was an incredibly difficult conversation. He blamed himself for giving it to me. I was pretty certain I gave it to him. We went back and forth trying to determine the origin of our infections. It was an absolutely gut-wrenching and painful conversation to have. Thankfully, we soon realized that we both just needed to stop this interrogation and the accompanying self-flagellating, and move on to take care of ourselves. Which we did.
In the coming days, I went to get my blood levels done (T-cells and viral load) and the results suggested a course of medication would be necessary. I did a lot of research and with my doctor’s input, I decided upon a one-pill-a-day treatment regimen. This course of action worked extremely well. Within a month or two, my viral load was undetectable. My partner is also on the same regimen, and it’s working for him, too. We are now both romantically and sexually exclusive. We are moving through this together, and are grateful for our health.
Due to a connection in the field, and my decision to be “out” about my status, I was invited to participate in video series for POZ Magazine’s website, featuring newly-diagnosed people sharing their thoughts. It was difficult to even think about doing this or what I could possibly say that could help anyone, but I committed to the taping date in early March 2013, which was about 14 weeks after my initial diagnosis. And I started getting nervous about it ...