As an Ambassador for Greater Than AIDS and one of the women who is part of its very important campaign, Empowered: Women, HIV & Intimate Partner Violence, I am here to be one of the voices of so many of us women who are going through this or went through this type of abuse, like myself. Statistics show that one in three women experiences intimate partner violence. For women with HIV, it is one in two.
Intimate partner violence, including physical violence, emotional abuse and/or controlling behavior, is a major issue for many women in the U.S. Less often discussed is the concerning connection with HIV. I realized a long time ago that the trauma that I endured as a child, the sexual abuse as an infant, and mental and spiritual abuse I saw growing up by the man who was supposed to protect me, my father, was a predictor of future relationships and what I felt was normal to me: VIOLENCE, SELF-HATE, ABUSE and FEELING UNWORTHY. It took many years for me to understand that I am deserving! That I am worthy of love and respect! But I had to love myself first. We women who have experienced trauma and have endured abuse are more likely to contract HIV. Trauma and HIV goes hand in hand.
From my own experience, I tell women and men that it is ok to seek help! That all of us are worthy of all the good things that we deserve! That we have to break the cycle. I found myself in relationships that imitated my mother and father’s relationship and thought it was ok for someone to hurt me, and it just made me feel how I always felt as a child, unwanted, unloved, and, if you put HIV in the mix, the abuse can get worse.
Many women and men feel dirty and shame living with HIV and they feel that they will never find love—and abusers pick up on that! I had one partner who even told me that if I left them, no one would want me because I was living with HIV! HIV is used as a tool against us to abuse us. But we have to understand that HIV is nothing to be ashamed of and no one is less than anyone else just because of the virus. I am a twenty-seven-year survivor and forty-two years-old..it has taken me a long process to believe that. Healing is part of the process and I am still in that process. I do not have all my shit together and I still cry…which is ok!
Many do not know this. I have a loving wife, Lisa Laing-Mejia, of nine years, yet our first year was very violent..me towards her and her towards me. This is what was expected and normal for me. I was abused as I child and, even though I was in those violent relationships, I became violent myself and would fight back. It was a vicious cycle. We had to sit down and say, we can’t continue to go on like this….If we want to make it, we have to stop abusing each other and so we broke the cycle.
So to anyone out there that is going through this…do not beat yourself up! This is something that in most cultures is not talked about. We have to start-up the conversation! Please get help.
I am The Well Project’s Global Ambassador and CAB member; we focus on women and girls from all over the globe living with HIV or affected by it. This is a wonderful place for us women to empower each other, just like the campaign that I am in. We have resources and a sisterhood like no other. We are here to uplift each other in a world where many of us are dealing with depression, anxiety, and survivor’s guilt, like myself! We have become very sociable on social media, but we are losing human contact. I know many of us isolate, especially when we are going through these situations, but we have to break this pattern—this is exactly what an abuser wants. So find support off-line, too.
This past year, 2015, was one of the hardest years of my life. I basically broke into pieces. I realized I was just glued together and, even though I am in a healthy relationship, the demons of my past returned, and lurking in my brain, at times my own worst enemy, were those feelings I have of worthlessness and depression. This is when my real healing started! I realized that my biggest battle is with my own mind! I will continue to heal my mind, body and soul and I hope you all do the same. And always remember these words from a wise friend and sister, Diana Aguiar, who shared this quote:
“I have permission to rest.
I’m not responsible for fixing everything that’s broken.
I don’t have to try to make everyone happy.
For now, I take time for me.
It’s time to replenish and that is what I will always do. I come first.”
For more information and to seek help and support, log on to: www.greaterthan.org/campaigns/empowered/empowered-women-hiv-intimate-partner-violence-about/; www.thewellproject.org. Domestic Abuse hotline: www.thehotline.org.
An award-winning HIV activist, consultant and educator, Maria Mejia-Laing is the co-author of the book From a Warrior’s Passion and Pain, a real-life account of her twenty-seven-year battle with HIV. She is currently the co-chair of the Women and Minorities Outreach for the Dab the AIDS Bear Project. Maria is a part of the CDC campaign “Let’s Stop HIV Together,” and an ambassador for the The Stigma Project. She is an advisor for Janssen’s campaign Your Story, Your HIV Wisdom and is also an Ambassador for Greater than AIDS and its campaign Empowered: Women, HIV & IPV. Maria lives with her wife Lisa in Miami, Florida. She continues to build support, educate, and encourage testing and healthcare in a city with one of the highest new HIV infection rates in the country.