Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sara's Story

Trigger/Content Warning: This post contains references to physical and verbal abuse as well as substance use.

I was twenty-nine years old and had been seeing a certain young man exclusively for a few months. One day the man in my life, Mark, went to the local county health department for a sore he thought might be herpes. When he told me the nurses there had confirmed it as herpes, I thought the responsible thing to do would be to find out if I had it as well. At the health department, I was told that since I didn’t have a sore that could be cultured, they could not test me for herpes; but how would I like to have an AIDS test? They were offering it to everyone these days.

I was embarrassed and confused. I felt that a refusal of this AIDS test would be tantamount to a confession of illicit drug use or promiscuity. I had heard that anyone can get AIDS, but I still felt I was in a very low risk group. I agreed to the test and was told to come back in a week for my results.

A week later, I sat in the waiting area for two hours waiting to get my results. I was finally taken to a private exam room by two women. They apologized for making me wait for so long and then explained that the reason for my wait was because they were trying to figure out how to handle the situation. My test was positive. Almost everyone who tests positive is either gay or on drugs or suspects they are positive for some reason. Here I was a heterosexual female, non-drug user, non-prostitute, and I was really giving them a problem.

Then they told me it was just a “screening” test, which was called an ELISA. They said I was not in any risk group, and it would most likely turn out to be negative when I was given the “confirmatory” test. They wanted to know if I’d been recently pregnant, but they didn't inform me of anything else that could cause a false positive result.

I said, “I have a live-in boyfriend. I don’t want to scare him unnecessarily, but I don’t want to not tell him either. And we have sex practically every night.” I was told to buy some condoms on the way home and to tell him nothing. This advice was abhorrent and absurd to me. It upset me as much as the test did at the time.

I went straight to my most trusted friend and told her what had happened. She advised I should tell Mark, which I did immediately when I got home. I also told her that I would kill myself if the positive result was confirmed. I’m not sure what she said to that. I was uncontrollably crying my eyes out at the time.

When I got the “confirmation”, I felt my life was over. I can remember looking at my cat and wondering what would happen to her when I died.

And then there was Mark. Much to my surprise he wanted to continue the relationship! He said he would stay with me! WOW! I thought God had sent me an angel. Mark and I were married a few months later, and I spent the next nine years living my life for him. But not long after we were married, Mark changed. The sweet, loving guys I once knew was gradually replaced by someone else. Mark had used drugs recreationally during our the time we were dating, but as he slid deeper and deeper into addiction he changed for the worse.  But I made excuses for the way he treated me because I loved him and because the guilt I felt about my HIV status was ever present. It caused me to put up with abuse that was mental, emotional, financial, verbal and physical that would have never been tolerated by my previously HIV-negative self.

During this whole time I sat up a lot of nights crying and reading Psalms. I also sought a lot of advice in the course of trying to save my marriage – a goal solely determined by the presence of the HIV label. By now I had learned how to block out the abuse, but my employer, family, and friends were threatening to call the police on Mark if they saw me beaten up one more time, so I sought help. I went to my pastor who told me to get divorced and wanted to have me put on Prozac when I said I would rather continue to work on my marriage. I refused the psyche drugs. I was then referred by my HIV doctor to a licensed clinical social worker.

Mark and I also saw a clinical psychologist, also recommended by my doc, who told me I was addicted to my marriage and actually convinced me to file for divorce which I finally did. However, not long afterward I was completely destroyed by what I had done in filing for divorce and stopped the proceedings. I begged Mark to come back to me. He did, and I continued to search for solutions to our problems.

More years passed.  I learned to ignore the verbal abuse; and the physical abuse had been abated simply because I asked nothing of Mark at all, not even the simple, polite niceties one would expect in the most remote of encounters with another. Mark, who had lost his job due to his erratic behavior and insubordination, was now a full-fledged addict and was completely dependent upon me to survive.  My job paid for our living expenses, food, all the bills, and of course the money he needed to get high.  Mark was more worried about getting high than hitting me, so I seldom got black eyes or loose teeth anymore. But then my health took a turn for the worse and I had to take a temporary leave of absence from work to recover from my illness.  Instead of being sympathetic, Mark was furious.  The threat of losing his meal ticket brought on a new wave of violent behavior, and for the first time I was more frightened of Mark than I was of HIV. Tired of being treated badly, I kicked Mark out filed again for divorce. And this time I felt strong enough to go through with it.

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