How to Cope With Being HIV+ and Married to Your Infector
Happily Ever After...
Being married and having a family was all I ever thought about as I was growing up, just like in the storybooks. I remember dreaming of having the perfect house, the perfect husband, and beautiful children. Perhaps this is every little girl's dream, but my hopes for marital bliss were magnified due the tough childhood that I endured as a child, marriage was my way of escape from a very strict, religious family household environment, consisting of my parents and six siblings. We were a struggling family, parents that worked hard to take care of us the best that they could, living in neighborhoods that most people wouldnt dare move to, much less raise a family, in New York City.
So yes, my thoughts and dreams were of a knight with a shining armor coming to rescue me, someone who would love me and take care of me. I left home at 18 and moved from pillar to post with family and friends. At 21, I finally ending up living with a friend, whose brother I would marry 4 months after moving in with them. At that time, I owned just one suitcase, filled with my clothes, shoes, and my Bible.
Mama, I'sa married woman now...
Although my wedding day wasn't as pretty as the picture below, it was still a special day to me. So, against my mother's warnings not to marry someone I barely knew, I took that train ride to the county courthouse in Brooklyn, paid the required $30 application fee, and was soon standing in front of the county clerk, finally going to be a "Mrs. Somebody" to a "Mr. Anybody."
Back in those days, a medical history or bloodwork wasn't required, so there I was, wearing a blue jean skirt and a sweatshirt that read "Brooklyn Bums" on the front, saying "I do" with a borrowed ring (from the clerk). I had always wondered what sex was like, and that night I would finally experience just that. Now I was legal in the eyes of God to finally "do it."
17 Years Later...
Four children and 17 years later, after having come through some rough patches in our married life—overcoming homelessness and living from paycheck to paycheck—we were finally in a good place. We had just bought our first home in the suburbs, my husband had an excellent city job, and I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home and raise my children.
You can only imagine my shock when I accidentally found out that my husband was HIV+ and had been so BEFORE he married me. My doctor then confirmed that I had indeed contracted the HIV virus, but it hadn't progressed into full blown AIDS yet at that time and nor was the virus severe enough that I would require medication, so that was some relief, but it was still shocking to say the least.
I remember coming home in a stunned daze, hearing this phrase being repeated over and over in my head: "Dead man walking, walking the green mile... Dead man walking, walking the green mile." I had HIV. My blood was contaminated, and it had been transferred to me from my husband, the only man I had ever had sex with. Unprotected sex, of course. After all, he was my husband.
I was filled with rage, excruciating hurt, numbness, and a heart-wrenching pain in the pit of my belly. To top it off, when I asked him if he knew he'd been infected before he married me, he dropped his head and his shoulders slumped. He said he'd had a feeling but was scared to tell me because he thought he would lose me. You think? So, he had remained silent, always trying to figure out a way to tell me that due to his previous lifestyle on the streets as a drug user, that there was a possibility he might have the disease.
We divorced 2 years later. I had to fight for the divorce because he still loved me deeply and didn't want to lose me—but I couldn't stand the sight of him much less be in the same room with him. When he came near me, my skin crawled.
Thank God my children were fine and still are to this day, but unfortunately, I wasn't. The HIV soon became full-blown AIDS because (hold onto your seats folks), during the time that we were divorced I became extremely lonely on top of being depressed and in that state of dejected loneliness, I succumbed one night to my ex-husband and ended up sleeping with him again. That became the nail in my coffin, because the very next morning, I went from being HIV+ to full blown AIDS...I was dying and I didn't care. How could I have done such an idiotic thing? I still can't answer that question to this day, except that my thinking at that time was, what difference did it make, HIV and AIDS was the same thing to me, they both pronounced a death sentence and although I was very much wrong in my facts, I didnt care enough to understand the differences. Being HIV+ was completely different from having full blown AIDS. But get this, my husband was doing well! I was dying and he was fine. We were apart for eight years and during those years feelings of hatred, embarrassment and a never-ending sense of uncleanliness hurled me into bouts of deep depression, sometimes pondering sucidial thoughts. But no one ever knew and these emotions left me feeling full of shame; it was eating me alive, literally. The doctor said the stress and feelings of hatred had become fuel for the very sickness that I was trying to get rid of. The virus was producing at an alarming rate.
Medication followed, consisting of a cocktail of 12 pills daily to try to keep my CD4 cell count high and the viral load low. It was during that time that I had to make a decision to get better and the only way to even begin to do this was to first forgive myself for my part in it and then start to entertain the idea of possibly forgiving my husband.
I was so depressed and discouraged during that time of my life. I threw myself into my business and church, striving daily not to think about my personal life too much or allow it to control my day or consume my thoughts. I was afraid of people finding out the real reason for our divorce. The only people who knew the truth were my pastors, a few family members and close friends. I didn't tell my children right away; I waited until they were emotionally ready to handle the truth of what was going on. The divorce was hard enough, let alone the real reason for the divorce in the first place.
My paper-thin heart starts to heal...
I am in no way trying to paint the picture that this was an easy thing to do, because it wasn't. Forgiving him cost me. It cost me some of my closest friends, who walked away from me because they could not wrap their minds around the idea of my wanting to even do such a difficult thing. It cost me my vindication of wanting some sort of revenge. It cost me my pride, because I knew I would be looked down upon as being this weak-minded woman who is some sort of fool for letting this man get away with bloody murder. Or that I would be viewed as stupid or desperate for a man simply because I forgave him. I beat myself up, calling myself stupid and an idiot. Why would I ever want to forgive him? What kind of example am I setting for my girls? Am I sending them a message that a person can just do anything to you, even something as vile as this, and you're just supposed to take it?
Take Baby Steps...
Forgiveness; the releasing of another from a suffered wrong whether real or perceived. It was time, and so I did it. These are some of the actions I began to implement in my forgiving process, I believe that forgiving my husband is part of the reason why I am still living today:
- I simply changed my mind from continuing to be angry at him. I did this even though every cell in my brain told me that I was justified in staying angry at him and even hating him, that I had every right to be violently mad, that I was the victim here not him so he didn't deserve my forgiveness. I verbally started pronouncing out loud "I forgive you_______", and I said it out loud so my own ears could hear what my mouth was saying. I found that actually saying the words, the act of releasing it from my mouth was key, for it began a chain reaction for my mind to obey and although my heart was still resisting, almost heaving as if it was going to start having convulsions, speaking the words out loud did something in the atmosphere and something inside of me. I could literally feel something heavy just lift up off of me and I started crying right then and there as if my husband was right there before me. I cried out to God that it wasn't fair, why me? But I kept repeating those three words followed by his name out loud "I forgive You________"
- Realize that you, yourself will one day be in need of being forgiven too. Understand that you nor anyone else truly "deserve" any type of forgiveness. No one can truly say that they've never harmed anyone because we all have the potential of hurting someone or we have already hurt someone whether you was aware of the hurt or not, and whether you meant to do it or not, either way you're not blameless.
- Do not ask anybody else their opinion on if you should forgive or not, their opinion doesn't matter because its not affecting them, its affecting you, your body, your heart, your emotions. Be prepared for some to even become angry at you because you want to forgive.
- Forgive by faith, what does this mean? The act of forgiving is always done in faith, faith in the fact that one day your feelings will line up with what your mouth has already spoken. Confession is good for the soul, this is truly a dynamic saying because words are containers, they release good or they can release bad, words have the ability to tear down and words have the ability to build up. Death and life are truly in the power of the tongue, your mind and your heart will eventually catch up with what your mouth is saying....just keep speaking it into existence.
- Your forgiving someone is not just helping them the accused, its helping you the accuser as well. When you remain in a state of unforgiveness, you actually keep the person that you want to be free from, securely bound to you. Forgiving them releases them from you, not forgiving them, keeps you bound closely to them and vice versa. The whole idea is to be free of them right? How can you be free unless you forgive and release them?
- Do away with the saying I will forgive you, but I will never forget what you did to me. Make up in your mind that you will forgive with no strings attached. Stop holding things over your spouse's head or conveniently bringing it up to throw it right back in their face, either you're going to wholeheartedly forgive AND forget or not and please understand that I'm not saying to forget what was done but forget the pain and hurt that was once attached to the wrong done. Be willing to stop revisiting that painful event especially when they do something wrong or that might upset you, people change over time, the spouse you married 20 years ago is no longer that same person in the present, so even if there was only a small change its still a change.
- Do not put all your trust in no man, it even says that in the Bible! Even God knew that, so if HE the Almighty, All knowing God had sense enough to put it in the Bible and He's God, what makes you think that you can do the very opposite? You must be willing to understand that people are human and are prone to make mistakes all the time just like you are. And although you should have some level of trust in the one you love, don't go giving them all of it in one lump sum, not even the one you are married to... does a wise investor throw in all of his money in one stock NO! Dish it out in doses as they earn your trust. Trust can grow or depreciate in value just like currency, it has to be earned. Be honest and open with them, I love you very much but my trust in you, has to be earned back, because it's gone.
- Silence the voices of shame, guilt, and condemnation because you choose to take the the high road. You are not dumb, stupid, easy or feeble minded. Destroy those thoughts about yourself from the gate. You can never make a mistake by giving your forgiveness to someone even if they don't ask for it, give it anyway, it helps you to move on and embrace others.
- Finally, find a way to tell your loved one or the offender that you have forgiven them, this act makes it real and holds you accountable to actually carrying it through. If you can't face them just yet then write a letter and mail it to them, email it, text it but make sure they hear it from you somehow. I realized my husband needed to hear the words from me and it needed to be spoken from my lips.
Its True... Time Does Heal Old Wounds
Several years later, my now ex-husband became deathly ill and the doctors had given him two weeks to live. He had contracted pneumonia and fluid was all in his lungs. When I went to see my husband in the hospital, I arrived with the intention of telling him I forgave him, nothing more. I had no intention of trying to re-establish a relationship with him; I just wanted to make amends. In case he did leave this world, there was no way I could bear the thought of him dying, thinking that I still hated him.
Well, that all changed when I stepped into his hospital room. The moment I saw him, the love that I thought was irradiated came rushing back into my cold, stony heart like a tidal wave. I couldn't believe it. After all those years and everything that had happened, I couldn't believe how easy it was for me to love him again.
But I dared not say a word. I wasn't quite ready to jump back into bed with him, either (no pun intended). He wept when he saw me and cried even more when I told him that I forgave him. My heart was putty when I left him that day, and I kept thinking about him days thereafter.
Thank God he recovered completely.In fact, his HIV status went from being detectable to undetectable—and so did mine. Months later, my children spent Thanksgiving at his home, and I attended, as well. What was supposed to be a 4-day trip ended up being a 3-month stay, and it was during that time that we reconnected.
Although I had forgiven him, and we seemed to have rekindled our love for each other, my ability to trust had to be rebuilt and he understood that he had to re-earn my trust as well, and it definitely took every bit of two years to do so.
I can now say that we have been married for 29 years and counting. My trust is still growing—I would say it has reached 89% capacity. Remember, you want to leave room for mishaps. If I hadn't forgiven, if I hadn't silenced the voices of worthlessness and shame, if I hadn't told myself that I'm not desperate or a fool in love to remarry the man who had infected me in the first place, if I hadn't stopped listening to my family and friends, I know for sure we wouldn't be together today. I'm not saying that would have been a bad thing, either. But I know for sure I would not be as completely happy and satisfied as I am today.