In my family we celebrate everything. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, birthdays (sometimes even months after the birthday has occurred LOL). However, over the past year we have now included the celebrating of triumphs over illnesses that we have been able to overcome. My mom had two brain aneurysms in 2015 and my dad, open heart surgery. So instead of celebrating their birthdays, we chose to celebrate their one-year anniversaries of recovery or, as we like to call it, the “rebirth” of their health. So this year, for the first time ever I will be celebrating my own rebirth as it was in effort to encourage more to take power back from events we may have once deemed as negative. November 19, 2016, will mark my sixth year of being HIV-positive, and the day that I took back ownership of my health and my life.
I remember going to my first support group in Washington, D.C., when I first ever heard the term “Posiversary.” It was stated during the beginning when we were introducing ourselves; when I first heard the word and I hated it. I didn’t hate the word because of what it was, as much as I hated the word for what it was a constant reminder of. I would go to group every two weeks and I would make sure that loudly and proudly I shared my disdain with the word. In my mind, I couldn’t reconcile the fact that I was celebrating something that I felt should have never happened had I had better control over my sexual behaviors and paid attention to my risk factors. This is where my journey, and many others start—with building the self-efficacy and self-esteem needed to live with the virus and not only survive, but thrive with it.
Week after week, month after month, I would attend these sessions and each time hate having to say my “Posiversary.” The interesting thing was that as I was becoming more and more comfortable with living with the virus I started to become an advocate not only for me, but for so many others who I wanted to see do better as well. This new feeling of empowerment was something that I had never felt, nor anything that I thought I could ever live with comfortably, openly and not feel ashamed of. It’s been almost two years since I attended support group and I’ve never been more in control of my life and how to navigate it publicly as a Person Living with HIV. Learning to live with the virus wasn’t easy, but in a world where we are stigmatized, criminalized, and shamed for our status, being able to celebrate the growth and strength that has come with taking ownership of my life is not only important to me, but to those who follow me.
So the “Posiversary” to me is one of the most important days that I celebrate in my life for various reasons. This was my second chance at life and to make investments in the care of me. I started to look at my health and diet much differently and used this as a catalyst for better health for me. I began working out and eating much healthier. Gained about twenty pounds and started going to the doctor regularly. This also gave me the power to pursue many of the goals that I had put off for a very long time. I always wanted to be a writer and this was the catalyst for me to start living in the present and not being so trapped in the past. Lastly, this day will remain as a constant reminder of how far I have come from that boy, scared and crying in a testing room, to being one of the more known faces in HIV prevention and treatment work. Me, writing for multiple HIV publications and carrying the torch for many of those living with the virus, out, open and proud. It is important that people living with HIV take power back away from that day that changed many of our lives.
So going forward, I urge anyone who lives with the virus to work on building the self-empowerment needed to make that day become something you aren’t ashamed of. Make the day that you found out your status become one that you can use as a measuring stick of how far you have come. Living with the virus isn’t a small task, so give yourself some credit for every year you continue to overcome.
George M. Johnson is an HIV advocate who works for Us Helping Us, People into Living. Inc., located in Washington, D.C. He has written for Pride.com, Musedmagonline.com, Blavity.com, Rolereboot.org, and Ebony.com. Follow him on Twitter @IamGMJohnson.