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A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Today, I Choose Life!

On HIV, addiction and being a mom

K.C. Younker

Reprinted from "Stigma" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(6), pp. 19-20

actual photo of kc younker"Wow, you're really healthy for someone who's had HIV for six years. Women with that die a lot faster than the men do."

Coming from a man who has a lot of contact with recovering addicts, this 'declaration' took me by surprise. All hope of a casual conversation lost, I tried to present him with some actual facts about living with HIV-but to no avail. Though I try not to let ignorance affect me, I found myself feeling insulted.

One of the challenges in educating people about this virus is that our knowledge is changing and expanding on a daily basis. Something I learned two months ago may no longer be the current understanding, let alone something learned five years ago. I've met doctors who haven't bothered to update their knowledge, so it's no surprise that many other people still base their ideas about HIV/AIDS on information taken from a 1970s news release.

I know that when I was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1999, I believed even then that I had no more than the expected seven years to live. However, at the time, I was an IV drug addict and wouldn't have lived another year the way I was going.

HIV woke me up enough to save my life. I have accepted this path. I am not in need of pity; I don't want anyone to be 'sorry' for me. I'm a strong woman who has begun walking the lifelong road to recovery. I have nourished myself through two pregnancies in the years since testing positive for HIV and hepatitis C. I do volunteer work with addicts going through with-drawal, treating them with detoxification acupuncture, which I learned to do after I experienced how much it helped me. My two young boys are beautiful, healthy and normal, and I am just as frazzled and content as any other mother I know.

I have challenges, of course. I have adopted a 'high raw' whole foods diet and am doing a liver cleanse to detoxify myself from a 15-year nicotine habit kicked on March 1 of this year. I'm still on a methadone program, though my dose is low and I am tapering off. (From experience I strongly suggest that the process of tapering be done slowly, with patience and lots of support-and not before you are ready!) I feel I've built a solid foundation on which to live the rest of my life, but it has not been easy, nor will it be later. With good management (diet, lifestyle and medi-cation when needed), how-ever, HIV positive people today can plan for a real future-beyond the standard seven years!

When I look back on my journey, one of the issues that really stands out is the deadly idea that once a woman becomes pregnant, being a mother will automatically replace being an addict. I know firsthand how the fear of having one's children apprehended can keep mothers from reaching out for the help they need. My firstborn was taken from me when he was six months old. I took the opportunity to attend a day treatment program, and began to learn what recovery was really about. Six months later, after heartbreak and hard work, my son was placed back into my custody. This wasn't the end of my struggle though.

One of my hopes is to help open a drop-in centre, where pregnant ormothering addicts can come access services such as peer counselling and detoxification acupuncture in a non-judgemental, non-invasive setting, regardless of their amount of clean time. I read about a similar program at a New York hospital which saw a significant reduction in the number of babies born addicted as a result.

Sometimes recovery is all about believing that you deserve to take those two steps forward, after having taken one step backwards. One thing that has helped me immensely has been going into a sweat lodge. It has been necessary for me to connect with others in my community who are familiar with the cycle of addiction and loss, and the process of healing. A descendant of European ancestry, I have always felt out of place, especially in 'normal' working class circles. I have seen and experienced too much to pretend that my own well-being is all that matters, when people are hurting and dying all the time. I get very lonely at times. Some days I think a lot about my old street family and how we were before everyone got messed up on drugs and spread out over the continent. I know that few of us survived to adulthood. Through a group of people who come together to pray in the sweat lodge, I have found quiet support and role models of great strength and wisdom. I give thanks for having met them. I also give thanks for the support from my acupuncturist and my immediate family.

No one's path is an easy one; no one knows what will happen tomorrow. We are all here to learn, and my children have been, and will continue to be, my greatest teachers. Whenever I start to feel affected by someone else's judgements, I try to remember my own tiny glimpse of the big picture. I have been blessed, and I know who I am and where I stand.

 
About the author

K.C. is a 28-year-old mom who loves to play and to eat wild food. She lives in Saanich and the photo on this page is an actual photograph of K.C.

 

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