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HIV IV drugs and HIV

I am lying on warm pebbles and sand. Salt water flows under my body and keeps me cool. It's odd being here again, on this secret stretch of beach.

I used to come here, beer in hand. How could I have known where beer and smoking pot would lead? My parents and I never talked about those things.

I lived in a white Cape Cod style house with a rose-covered fence. I had the best sweaters and shoes. I needed material things to cover how I felt inside. I had always been lonely and never felt like I fit in. I was afraid of living. I found my people in the kids with long hair, torn jeans, and silver jewelry. It all said "freedom."

My parents freaked out. But the more they freaked, the more radical I got. I thought anyone over 30 was insane. What mattered was feeling accepted by my friends.

It seemed natural to smoke the joint when it was handed to me. To drop my first tab of acid when it was offered. And to sniff glue. I didn't believe I could get addicted, even though I wanted to be high all the time. I thought I could stop at any time. I was just out for a good time.

I wouldn't listen to anyone who told me to stop taking drugs and drinking. No way. I knew what I was doing, thank you very much.

When I was 16, some guy I had a crush on was shooting heroin. I mean, this dude was cool. A drummer in a band. He handed me his dirty needle and syringe.

Who could imagine that I would turn into a dope fiend? It didn't happen overnight. But addiction crept into every area of my life until nothing else mattered.

At age 24, I had a baby. I got an apartment and tried to be a normal mother. It didn't work. I lived with junkies, and couldn't stay straight. I had another baby and started stealing. When I was busted, I was taken away in chains and handcuffs. I was locked in a cell, shaking from the cold and drug withdrawal.

My children were taken away. I was a mess, but had plenty of time to think. With sunken cheeks, tangled hair, and bloodstained jeans, I entered two years of intense treatment.

I made it back into society and started working with addicts. In college, I made the dean's list. The sun was shining at last.

Three years into recovery, I was exhausted. One doctor suggested I get tested for HIV.

Most people I had shot dope with were either dead or had tested positive for HIV. I thought my symptoms were stress, but I agreed to be tested.

I knew the results before the nurse opened the envelope: I tested positive.

How could God be so unfair? Hadn't I paid enough? Prayed hard enough? Shown enough gratitude?

I hated addiction. It wouldn't let me forget who I had been. But if I were going to die, it would be with dignity. At least my babies could say I was a recovering addict.

One evening, I collapsed. I had to be helped back to bed by my 11-year-old daughter. My kids had seen so much. Still, they didn't realize what was happening.

That night I told my daughter I had caught a virus when I was on the street shooting dope. I said maybe God wanted Mommy with Him. That heaven was a nice place with lots of light. That I would always be looking down on her and Josh, and I loved them very much.

One morning soon after, an orange and red illumination in the east caught my eye. These old junkie eyes had to squint. But I knew God had put the sunrise there just for me. Slowly I regained my strength.

The injustice I once felt has been replaced with contentment. My world is OK. It's a lot happier than any day I had high on dope.

AIDS is part of my life, but it doesn't own me. I try to put things in God's hands. He didn't take me out of 18 years of hellish addiction to die. Not just yet. I have lots of work to do on earth. I am reasonably sane, happy, and at peace, living with AIDS.

Alison's story is excerpted from Risky Times: How to be AIDS-Smart and Stay Healthy by Jeanne Blake (Workman, 1990)

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HIV   Getting tested
Drugs   A letter to heroin
Violence   Dating violence
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