As I sit here on the couch, with the test on my lap, I wonder what you will think of me when you know that I am taking a home HIV test. Will you think that I have lied about my sexual history? Will you look at me differently than you did yesterday? The twenty minutes wait for the test results is a long time for a worrier to think about all of the consequences of every action she has ever taken, including the purchase of this test. Maybe I should tell you a little about myself, while we wait for the results.
I am a single (divorced people should be able to call themselves single after 15 years, right?) 41-year-old woman and mother of a fabulous daughter. Most people who know me would describe me as dependable, reliable, honest…blah, blah…all those words that describe a woman with a rather boring and vanilla sex life. As much as I would like to tell you that they are wrong, that my sexual history is full of wild, crazy and even risky encounters, I must admit that they are right. My sexual history will never be made into an erotic novel. I’ve had a handful of long term relationships where I was monogamous and that is it. Nothing risky. As far as IV drug use? Please refer back to the beginning of this paragraph and just substitute the sex for drugs. So, no risk factors in my personal behavior for potential HIV exposure. Why would I buy and take a test for HIV? The short answer is, why not? What makes me so special that I am immune from possibly contracting HIV?
Wait, I know where your mind is going. You are thinking back to my being a worrier, maybe a little crazy, worrying about contracting strange diseases that I could never have. Yes, I realize that is exactly what I thought a year ago, but this past year has changed me. In this time, I went from a being someone who had nothing but a basic and fairly outdated knowledge of HIV and AIDS to pacing the halls outside of health clinics with a friend, crying and devastated over a positive test result and then elated over subsequent negative results; meeting people living full, happy and mostly healthy lives with HIV and watching others with untreated HIV infections go from bad to worse. In my growing desire to help those living with HIV through my massage therapy profession, I have educated myself by reading article after article on both the current state of HIV in the United States, and how bodywork can help those living with HIV.Contrary to popular belief, this disease has not gone away and is actually on the rise again. It is frightening and unless you know people affected by HIV, you just have no idea.
This still doesn’t quite explain to you why I am sitting here on this couch, waiting and actually worried about the results of my test. Well, it suddenly hit me a few weeks ago, that for all of my personal and professional experiences this past year, I was still viewing HIV as something outside of myself and my possibilities. I was still seeing this with a sort of ‘me’ and ‘them’ viewpoint. I wanted to help ‘them’, but I never saw myself or ‘women like me’ as potentially ever being one of ‘them’. What a huge realization this was for me and quite honestly, a bit shameful. I mean, where do I get off thinking I am better or somehow safer than anyone else?
Here is where we get to the reality of the matter. I am not any safer from HIV than you or anyone else. There are no guarantees no matter what your sexual partners have ever told you, and their previous partners have told them, and on and on. You cannot be sure of your HIV status and exposure unless you have been tested or have never had any sexual encounters whatsoever, consensual or otherwise. For me, that worrier with trust issues, the idea that I have spent my adult life trusting the word of not only my previous partners but their partners before (and possibly during) our relationship…well, I will just say that is quite a reality check. As a woman, I suddenly felt like I had unconsciously lived this societal programming to just go along, behave, believe and stay ignorant. That is not the woman I strive to be.
So, with the support of a trusted friend, I ventured alone to the pharmacy this morning and bought this home HIV test. Today, I am taking back both control and responsibility for my life, my health, and my sexuality. My twenty minutes are up and it is time to check my results. Thankfully, it shows that I am HIV negative. Now I know and there is power in the knowing.
Dawn Welburn is a Licensed Massage Therapist on a journey of reawakening, reconnecting and rediscovering her Self and her World. She hopes that in sharing this journey through her hands, her words and ReAwaken bodywork, others may find their own Path to ReAwaken.
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