My Story: A Two-Part Series, Written by a Positive Woman
This weekend at Mutemwa turned out to be one of the most significant days in my life living with HIV. I learnt a key principle that helped me to forgive my husband, God and myself. Today, this principle still helps me to accept people even in the face of perceived shortcomings. It is interesting that I chose to go to Mutemwa. This place is a home for people who have recovered but are living with varying disabilities due to leprosy. There is an atmosphere of peace. The locals go about their daily chores (those that still can walk and work) with an infectious joy. The place is run by mostly Catholic missionaries who have turned it into a popular destination for spiritual pilgrimage for all Christian denominations. Being alone there, I was able to admit my anger and to vent it at God. My heart was screaming “WHY do innocent women get AIDS?”.
Whilst in Mutemwa, I was able to go back into my faith to search for a meaning from what I had been taught as a Christian. The answer came. I realized that judging Tashaya implied that I was sinless, hence the term innocent. Being in the role of the ‘judge’, I was placing myself in the place of God. I had not seen it that way before. I had tended to see my HIV infection within the context of my personal sense of fairness and justice; he had infected me with a fatal infection and that was something that I could never do to anybody. Even as I said it to myself, my mind challenged those thoughts.Was it really true that I could never infect someone? If I was that pure and Tashaya was the sinner, then where was my compassion for him? This helped me to reduce issues to human levels and to admit human weakness in my husband, in myself and in other people.
This was the beginning of a journey of forgiveness, and I believe the fruits of this journey continue to manifest in the person that I am today. The immediate result was that I was able to cry buckets. Crying did not take the problem away, but it was a relieving beginning. The elephant sitting on my chest was beginning to shift its weight somehow. I left Mutemwa still unable to disclose but there was some progress in the right direction. I had the ability to pray and think.
With hindsight, I see that it was the initial letting-go of anger that led to real forgiveness and to a restoration of my relationship with Tashaya. That being said, our sex life never really got back to pre-HIV standards. However, I had the freedom to address my status and I was able to make major decisions like sending my son away to study in Australia with the hope that he would be sufficiently equipped to look after his sisters in our absence. He didn’t know this at the time he left Zimbabwe in 1996. I got to work on myself, I began to read the bits of literature that were available and adopted healthy eating habits, this kept us in good health for some years.
Without proper counselling, although HIV awareness continued to grow in the country, I could not get the benefits of disclosure that I enjoy today. My own personal stigma was palpable. I was a professional middle-class lady, a church leader of high morals and highly respected within our extended family. Conversely, HIV was thought to be for the ‘uneducated rif-raf’.How could I ever be identified with HIV?
Even though there was an inner peace that enabled me to function, I still focused on my ‘closing down’ mode rather than on hope for the future. For this reason, we decided not to go on Antiretroviral (ART) Therapy. Tashaya and I did not understand ART’s benefits; furthermore, it was prohibitively expensive at that time anyway. All of our resources were reserved for the children’s future.
Tashaya deteriorated during 1998 and went into psychosis. The two years prior to his passing were very difficult but my compassion for him deepened until his end. I lost my friend in December 2000. To this day, I know I have no issues with him and that knowledge has been liberating for me. Soon after Tashaya’s death, I began to have episodic illnesses with my stomach, oral sores, flues and coughs. I began to lose weight and by April 2003, I could not continue working. I took an early retirement, effective end of May 2003.
The physician who knew that I had previously declined to start ART, offered me free ART through a research study by the University of Zimbabwe called ‘Development of Anti-Retroviral Therapy for Africa (DART)’. The target sample was 1000 adults and it was to run for five years.This study resulted in the introduction of ART in the public health system in Zimbabwe.
I agreed to participate in DART, I undertook counselling and was admitted into the program. At the beginning of the program, my baseline CD4 cell count was 114. ART commenced on 14 July 2003. Within 2 weeks, I felt my strength returning and from that moment, I have never looked back.
I strongly believe that for me, forgiveness was the necessary condition that liberated and enabled me to embrace treatment. In my experience, the benefits of forgiveness were life giving to me. Here are a few of those benefits that I have experienced:
- I reserved energy at a time that my physical body was weakening, to plan for the future lives of my children. Today, all my three children have had an education and are successful professional people.
- My children love their father. I think they are better people that way. I do not know what bitterness would have done to them.
- I still believe in relationships despite the difficulties that can be encountered.
- I began to feel compassion for others and started to support other people living with HIV.
- In time I found my passion in HIV work; I took up studies in social work and counselling and helped many people.
- I gave productive time to the organisation I worked for which looked after nearly 7000 patients.
- I have hope today and look forward to a happy life in the years I still have on earth.
Written by a Positive Woman