Thursday, April 25, 2013

Addiction and HIV; Jason's story


I have been very public about how I contracted HIV,  but what a lot of people do not know is that I have relapsed twice since being diagnosed with HIV.  My partner and my two (former) best friends know that.  For me, after I found out I had contracted HIV, I just gave up.  In my head I figured I had already hit the lowest point that a person's life could get because I could not imagine a life after HIV.
 
At the time of my diagnosis I truly did not know much about HIV, even though my senior paper in high school was about HIV testing.  Unfortunately, my beliefs and knowledge about HIV remained the same as back in 1993.  

 
Prior to contracting HIV I thought HIV was something only bad, promiscuous people got.  I thought someone had to be really stupid and/or slutty to get HIV.  Ironically, I held these beliefs even as I was having unprotected sex (before I had began doing drugs).  My experience with HIV involved knowing exactly one person with HIV, a person who had a crush on me and who I had a crush on in return.  Needless to say I was in a relationship at the time so that was truly the reason our mutual crush never developed.  But, had I been single I would have dated him.  Needless to say in my life prior to HIV I had some very opposing ideas about HIV... vilifying it one minute, and seeing past it the next moment.  

 
Mostly though I think I avoiding thinking about it.  Mostly I subconsciously though that by ignoring HIV and the risks I took by having unprotected sex then I would not get it.  I figured HIV was something that happened to other people.  There was absolutely no rationality in this thinking but it was how I thought at the time.

 
After my 9 year LTR ended, I did not know how to cope with the loss of almost a decade.  I had spent my entire 20's minus a year with someone and now having exited that relationship I truly did not have a compass to know how to deal with the feelings I was having.  The choices I began to make was the start of a downward spiral into meth use...first as a casual smoker of meth and very quickly I graduated to shooting it up.

 
Fast forward 4 or 5 years...I became sober, was sober for almost a year.  I moved back home to get away from meth (naively thinking I could move away from the issue).  I was surrounded by a very close support network, living with my parents for 5 months.  I moved out on my own and was still sober, attending AA and NA meetings regularly.  Then I got a bump, what I thought to be a spider bite, on my ass nonetheless (yes, it is ok to laugh, haha).

The abscess ended up being a MRSA infection, and in my ignorance I thought surely that had to be the precursor to HIV.  I had been feeling so very tired and the antibiotics were not working very well on the MRSA, so I assumed I must have HIV.  (Of course, now I know that is silly, but my ignorant self thought it made total sense at the time.)  So I go to my family doctor and get an HIV test.  And yes, the result was positive. 

 
I didn't relapse back to meth use immediately, but it was about a month or two later that I was using it again.  I started right back as if I never had stopped in the first place.  I was even so addicted to it again so fast.  Every word and minute spent at the AA/NA meetings flew right out the window in the face of meth's promise of strength, confidence and sexual desire.  On meth I wasn't a dirty, bad gay guy with HIV.  On meth I was absolutely drop dead beautiful and everyone wanted me.  On meth everything was OK.  The harpy screech of low-self esteem became silenced.  On meth I felt alive and vital and in total control - the irony and tragedy of meth being that none of that was truly the reality of addiction.

 
I was on and off meth for a couple of more years.  My immune system began a fast downward spiral. My HIV doctor had previously told me that if I ever tested positive for drugs he would drop me as a patient because it wouldn't be fair to either one of us to try to treat my HIV if I continued on meth. So...I stayed on meth, shooting up when I could and stopping 2 weeks or so before I had to get my labs done again, to give my blood a chance to rid itself of the meth.  I never tested positive for drugs, so I guess my strategy worked.  If you can call a slow, tortured suicide a "succesful" addiction.  

 
My HIV doctor had also told me that he estimated (tentatively of course) that I probably would not have to go on meds for several years, so I should have at least 8 years or so to decide when to go on meds.  At the time (I was diagnosed in 2007) it was not the norm to start treatment immediately after HIV diagnosis.  Well, on meth, I went from 780 T-cells down to 300 in 2 years.  I had become symptomatic with HIV...I kept a thrush infection that never seemed to go away.  I was always getting strep throat.  I was having skin rashes and breakouts.  My night sweats were happening almost every night.  I went from an already underweight 150 pounds down to 115 pounds.  I lost most of that weight within a 3 month time frame.  

 
It wasn't until I met my (now) partner that I finally had gotten off meth.  I can not tell you why or how I came to the decision to stop doing drugs.  I do know that the last time I shot up, I hurt myself pretty bad, very bad.  I have small veins, so why I thought I would be a "succesful" IV drug user is beyond me.  Add that to the list of bad choices.  Anyhow, that last night of shooting up I must have stabbed myself a hundred times all over my body trying to find a good vein.  I had resorted to trying to inject it in the vein in my foot.  I stabbed myself so many times with that needle that I did some damage, damage I didn't feel at the time.  But the next day I was so sore, as if I had broken my ankle.  It was swollen up, sore, tender...I never did go to the ER or the doctor so I do not know the medical reason of how I injured myself.  But I was injured, physically.  I had bruised all over my body from the punctures from the syringe.  I felt tore up, literally tore up and beaten.

 
I couldn't stand what I had done to myself.  The physical pain was awful, the mental anguish was worse.  I broke down that night with my roommate (now my partner).  I called my two best friends and confessed that I had relapsed.  I told them I was so ashamed for having failed them, my family and myself.  That night was the worst night of my life, even worse than when I was diagnosed with HIV, because I knew that now going forward I would not have meth as a crutch to keep from dealing with my troubled thoughts about my HIV.  Now I knew I had to think through all of my negative assumptions about what it meant to be HIV positive.  I knew I had some work to do on myself.  I knew it would be tough and I knew it would hurt to feel the roller coaster of feelings this type of self-examination required.  But I knew I wanted to live and I knew this internal work had to be done in order for me to move forward in my life.

 
So, I stayed off of the stuff now for a little over 3 years.  The cravings have mostly gone.  I still can not stand the sight of a syringe though.  Ironically up until 2 weeks ago I worked in a hospital, though I was very, very careful to avoid needles.  Mostly since being off meth these last 3 years, the challenge has been to feel anything again.  Meth is such an explosion of dopamine such that it literally fries the happiness receptors in your brain.  It takes years for one's brain to literally/physically heal and rebuild the damage.  Mostly I deal with feeling numb all the time.  Or I have intense bursts of sadness and even longer, though not as intense, bouts of depression.  But...I take the feelings as they come, I find joy where I can, I try to give back to the community of fellow HIV people that I had previously looked down upon.  I finally forgave myself for thinking I was less than.
 
 

2 comments:

  1. Good for you. I hope your story helps someone at the time when they need it most. Thanks for sharing and be encouraged.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Jason..
    I'm glad that I could read your story. It might were not the same story but I am related to this topic. I had once a guy, I meet and we had make love I never thought this turn to a big mistakes in my life. I think he got HIV but he never told me about this. Until one time I feel some strange feelings like sweating at night and day, got some rashes over my hands and also in my bum. I don't know if this are the symptoms of HIV but i am so worried about it. I am so curious about HIV and started to know about it. Right now I feel those symptoms more or less 1 month. I am scared to go for medical check-up cos i feel scared to know the result, and one thing more it is expensive at the moment I couldn't afford so i have to wait until I can afford. Right now i couldn't believe this is happened to me. I was too "fool" that I've than this in my life to have sex with someone that I really don't know him well. i just meet him for 3 week then we had sex. I had my first bf and he is my first guy in my life, we last for a years. Then when I am free again I meet that guy who gave me sickness. I must say i am really stupid. And now i am scared to meet a new guy. This time I don't know what to do. I haven't talk to anyone about me even my family and friends i just keep private until i get cured but maybe it take longer i don't know. Anyway thanks a lot for posting your story. God bless and take care I hope one day you get cured. I will pray for your health.
    Elize...

    ReplyDelete

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