Once you know about your HIV status and come to accept it, there’s comes the part of looking for support outside of friends and family. In my early days I was directed to several groups. Groups I learned are interesting because you have people who have the same disease but come from different backgrounds. And depending on your personality groups can either work for you or work against you.
The first group I went to which was recommended by my primary clinic was a once a week group of adults living with HIV. I had just turned twenty. I don’t want to knock the group but I’ll put it this way I was the only raisin in the rice bowl. For those who don’t get that comment, I was the lone black young adult filled with white men in their thirties on up. Right away I knew that the only thing we had in common was the disease. They talked about what are they going to do with their 401’s, (which I thought they meant jeans) the property they owned and who was going to take over their cabin homes. As a black man I’m wondering how the hell am I going to pay for the meds I’m on, the racism that I go through despite having HIV (you mean I have to deal with racism and HIV!!) and the emotional struggle of not being completely out. The group didn’t work for me and if you talk to other African-Americans who are in support groups, whether it’s rehab or whatever, they have the same difficulties in groups that don’t address the issue of racism. Racism may not be the cause but it’s an additional barrier black men face when dealing with their issue. Some diverse groups don’t understand that if it’s never talked about or allowed in the dialogue you feel as if no one understands what you’re going through as racism alone leads or contribute to continued risky behavior and/or isolation.
To test my theory I remember talking about how stressful it was to me to be living with HIV and having the cops pull me over while black. They looked at me like I lost my mind. What the hell did getting stopped by the cops have with to do with what they were talking about. Inside I wanted to scream that the underlying stress of the constant stops worsens my condition by creating stress and if you know anything about stress and HIV, they don’t get along very well.as your immune system is usually the victim of the battle.
They just didn’t get it, so I left.
It took me awhile before I got the nerve to join another group and this time I chose an African-American one. For the most part it was good as there was a relation in the dialogue, but I say this not to steer anyone from a support group but you have to know that people go to the groups for different reasons. The underlining aspect is the support, but some also see it as a social event where they can be around people and not necessarily talk about their HIV, some because of their financial situation see a free meal and some use it as a dating opportunity to meet others. And even that can be a turn off as here you are checking in with what you’re going through and someone who planted themselves directly across from you on purpose has a hard-on. But now older and wiser and looking at it differently, for that person it was probably the only time and chance he could be in a safe company of men where he could possibly find a date or partner, knowing that when the group is over he goes back to his downlow life.
So in the end you can’t demonize him.
But groups are what you make it and they do have benefits because you don’t want isolation to be your friend. And it’s healthy to have a frank space where you can talk about your life without judgment or censorship.
And I have meet some cool people through the group. But it all depends on you and what you’re looking for. For me I sat in on a group for five years and it hit me that I no longer had the need for it as my outside support system was in place.
But the connection is the most important piece. Everyone needs a connect to someone on the physical world. Having a connection with God is good but you need that one person to make it seem that you’re not going it alone.
If you’re looking for a group but can’t connect with the people because of age differences, race, gender, whatever, keep looking, especially if you don’t have outside support because there are a circle of people out there waiting to welcome you into the fold as you are. Don’t give up!
Corrine Cochrane on Hurt/Hate/Heal Anonymous on Life’s Lesson with … gerard riveron on Christmas Wish Anonymous on Happy World AIDS Day Anonymous on Happy World AIDS Day