Written by Mike Rizzo, LMFT
When I was asked to write this article on HIV and sobriety I initially said yes and as I began to research the article it gave me a chance to reflect on my own HIV diagnosis and revisit my journey through my diagnosis and recovery. I have been HIV positive since 1989 and have been sober for 23 years. I can remember when I was first diagnosed and how I felt the floor had fallen out of my life. It was not very hopeful back then and I remember praying for 5 years. My diagnosis led to my crystal meth addiction and a dismantling of my world as I knew it. I had reached a place of zero and I was either going to get sober or continue down this path of self-destruction. Through a happenstance of divine intervention, I chose to get sober and to create a new beginning.
HIV and substance abuse have something in common, they can both perceived as a medical issue and a moral issue, meaning the person did something to cause their addiction or their HIV infection. There is nothing further from the truth. HIV is something you have not something you manifested for yourself.
HIV Stigma / Discrimination
HIV stigma and discrimination can be described as negative attitudes and beliefs about people with HIV. It is the prejudice that comes with labeling an individual as part of a group that is believed to be socially unacceptable. It also comes from a belief that only certain people can get HIV and a feeling that people deserve to get HIV because of their choices. It can make moral judgements about people who take steps to prevent HIV transmission. It’s hard to believe that HIV stigma and discrimination still exist today but it is still prominent in our society today.
HIV Stigma is rooted in the fear and ignorance of HIV. Many of people’s ideas of HIV come from HIV images that first appeared in the 80’s. Even today there are still misconceptions about how HIV is transmitted and what it means to live with HIV. Many people believe that HIV is a disease that only certain groups get, and lack of information and awareness combined with outdated belief lead people to fear getting HIV. This lack of knowledge leads to a negative value judgment about people who are living with HIV.
HIV discrimination is the act of treating people living with HIV differently than those without HIV, such as:
Internalized stigma or “self-stigma” happens when a person takes in the negative ideas and stereotypes about people living with HIV and start to apply them to themselves. This can lead to feelings of shame, fear of disclosure, isolation, and despair. These feelings can keep people from getting tested and treated for HIV.
How do we prevent stigma? Talking openly about HIV can help normalize the subject. It can also provide opportunities to correct misconceptions and help others learn more about HIV. Lead others with pour supportive behaviors. We can all help end HIV stigma through our words and actions in our every day lives.
It is important to remember that HIV is something you have, not who you are. Negative stigma about the disease can lead to shame and feelings of low self-esteem. Whether you chose to disclose your status to others is your decision, but it is essential to remember to engage in safer sex practices. It is important to disclose your status to individuals you are about to have sex with or share needled. Disclose early and remember, if you get rejected because of your HIV status they are rejecting the disease not you. Communicating your HIV to your partner is the first step in keeping you both healthy. There have been some studies that show that people who disclose their HIV status respond better to treatment.