Living with HIV is not a fear, but it can bring you many troubles in your life.
The most common things that the newly diagnosed fear, is the fear of rejection from a potential partner because of their HIV status. It can truly be one of the most self-destructive cognitive beliefs when you test positive for the HIV virus and you begin to doubt if anyone will ever love you again. Equally as difficult if you are partnered, is when your current mate dumps you or begins to close themselves off to you emotionally when you disclose to them. Both situations speak to a great fear of somehow being unlovable because you are HIV positive, and both can have important implications on who you disclose to in the future.
If you don’t have a partner when you find out your status, it may feel like an insurmountable challenge to find someone who will love you for everything you are, including being HIV positive. When I found out over five years ago (Feb. 14, 2004), I belonged to this group. I was single and the last thing on my mind was ever having sex again. The idea of dating with HIV seemed like an oxymoron to me, and I had all but decided that I had better get used to the idea of being alone. I put my sexuality away in one of those crevices in our mind we reserve for situations that could potentially be devastatingly painful. No more sex, no more men, look what it got me into anyway.
But a funny thing happens when you try to suppress human nature – it manifests itself in remarkable ways. In my virulent attempt to suppress the basic human need for companionship, I built an impenetrable wall between myself and the social world around me. I found myself obsessing with my daily activities, my to-do lists, my health regimen, my school – anything that would help me to forget how alone I felt. My answer to feeling alone was creating a life that would indeed guarantee my loneliness. The self-perpetuation of this cycle became so insidious, that even when I did meet men, I did not allow them to meet what was inside of me.
I starting dating a wonderful guy a few weeks after I found out to whom I never disclosed while dating for 7 months. To this day this is one of my deepest regrets. Not because we had unprotected sex (actually we didn’t have sex at all, just mutual masturbation), and not because I believe we would still be together now or that he was the one that got away. It’s because… well, he deserved to know. He gave his heart to me and looked into a bright future with the two of us together, and I never so much as allowed to imagine a bright future. He deserved to know why I would kiss him without the passion I felt for him, why I made excuses why we couldn’t have sex, why in the end it really wasn’t him, it was me. I allowed my personal fears to hurt someone else, and that simply isn’t fair.
I have slowly reincorporated my sexuality into my cognitive processes and into my life. I have made it a personal rule to disclose my HIV status within the first week of meeting someone who I felt could potentially be a partner, and even quicker than that if we are just having sex. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have had any of the rejection that I so feared, and expressing this vulnerability to someone has actually had the opposite effect of laying the foundation of trust and honesty for three subsequent long-term relationships. I try to remember that if the rejection does happen, then it is the HIV virus they are rejecting, and not me. But HIV is indeed a part of me, and if that’s something he can’t live with, then he’s someone that I can live without.
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