Stories Of Promise - Learning My Status Made a Difference
It all began with me getting trapped in the Dope Hole at Overtown, and it was difficult for me to leave because everything comes through there like male callers and drug dealers. It’s set up like a town, and my drug addiction had me believing I had everything I needed right there. I was a 32-year-old Black-Puerto Rican woman living on the streets because “stay high” was my motto, and there wasn't a day that I could blow a sober breath. Sometimes gentleman callers refused to use condoms with me. From my point of view as an alcohol/drug user, I thought, “If I don’t jump on this, then I’m going to miss out on an opportunity for getting some money to stay high.” So sometimes I would give in and not use protection. I also donated blood a lot because it was another way to get money for alcohol and drugs. I was already at rock bottom when the Blood Bank sent me a letter later that year, and I knew it couldn’t be good news, so I avoided reading it.
My mom found out about the letter. She has been HIV positive since the early nineties, and she was like, “Take that pipe out of your mouth, Tanisha, and go to the Health Department. You need to find out what the letter is all about, and you need to get tested because the earlier you deal with it, the better it will be.”
I didn’t listen to her at first. It had been about 3 months since I got that letter and I tried forgetting about it by using more and more drugs. The truth is I knew I should get tested, but I was afraid because then I’d have to face it. My mom kept telling me to “go and handle it,” and because I was tired of missing out on the normal things in life, I decided to get test-ed the next time I saw a testing van on one of my routes to the dope hole. One day I happened to be on 10th Street and 5th Avenue right next to the projects and saw a testing van there. I was like, ‘You know, I’ll just knock one of these tests out,’ cause my mom kept telling me it was either hepatitis C or HIV. Well, the lady who tested me explained that my HIV test came back reactive and asked me if I’d like to be linked to services. I told her no because my mom has been positive for years and she knows where to go. I remember feeling depressed at times about my
status because I thought I was going to die, but then I’d look over at my mom and would think, “She’s still alive. There’s no way in hell I’m going to die.” My mom explained that I didn’t have to go through all that she went through from back in her day. She’s like, “People aren’t dying from HIV anymore. You’re going to be fine because the medication today is so damn good! Just go to the Health Department and get your confirmation.”
So, I finally went to the Health Department to get tested, and they linked me to an HIV doctor. Getting tested and learning my status made all the difference in helping me become the healthy woman I am now. I just had to change my perspective that the virus was not a death sentence and that it meant I had to take one pill a day for the rest of my life. My HIV has given me a reason to maintain a positive, healthy life free from drinking and drugs.