Valentine’s Day Reflections

 

Valentine’s Day Reflections From A Straight Black HIV Positive Man

by Reggie Smith

My name is Reggie Smith and I have been diagnosed with AIDS since 1988. I likely contracted the retrovirus in 1984 from either IV drug use or unprotected sex. I have been in a committed relationship since 1985 with an amazing woman who remains HIV negative to this day. We have spent 36 Valentine Days together and I love her more now than ever.  As I reflect on what Valentine Day means to me, I am considering the effect my experiences are having on my feelings about holidays, and Valentine Day in particular.

I come from a family filled with Jehovah Witnesses, but I can’t say that religion is the reason why I was never impressed with American holidays. As a young black boy growing up in the Southside of Jamaica Queens, I was certain that no jolly fat white man was bringing toys to anyone in my neighborhood. Indigenous and Black peoples had little reason to be thankful at Thanksgiving; Halloween seemed to be pagan; and Valentine’s Day was about people desperately seeking love and approval.  It was clear even at the age of eight that American holidays were a capitalistic tool.

I realized these things at an early age, and I vowed not to get caught up in the hype.  Holidays did provide a great excuse to be even more inebriated or high than I was on any other day of the year.  Peer pressure is a hell of a thing though. More women, and society at large, put pressure on me to conform.  As I grew into young adulthood it became clear that if I were going to have a girlfriend, and if I wanted to have sexual relations, I was going to have to make some concessions.

When I cleaned up my act in 1985, and then was diagnosed with AIDS and hepatitis C in 1988, I became intimately aware of my own mortality. As a virile young man seeking sex, peace of mind, and love, HIV was a serious mental and emotional impediment. This was especially true in the 1980s and 90s prior to any effective medications.

My great blessing was that I was in a committed relationship since 1985 with a beautiful, loving and courageous woman who was willing to engage sexually with me in spite of the obvious danger to her own well-being. I, like many of my peers, simply wanted to be loved. Valentine’s Day magnified that desire, and amplified any insecurities that existed in me along with HIV.  I felt like damaged goods unworthy to be loved.  I was happy to have someone who would love me beyond my shame.  Thanking God for the safety of our relationship gave me some time to learn how to love myself in spite of the diagnosis.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for HIV positive people who were not in committed relationships trying to navigate the dating game back then. As human beings we all seek love and intimacy. I imagine that is probably where Valentine’s Day got started… until it got to be over commercialized.  The stigma surrounding HIV presents a lot of challenges in our relationships with loved ones and friends as well. HIV caused us to consider deeply when we would feel comfortable disclosing our status and maintaining those relationships. I did not tell my mother or children my HIV status for the first 14 years after diagnosis.  No one, including me, wanted to lose love or even the opportunity for sex just because they were hosting a virus. Often, the fear of not getting love or losing love causes people to be in denial of their status and places others at risk.

I guess my point is that people that are in my generation, commonly known as baby boomers, who are still alive and living with HIV, have learned a lot and have great wisdom to share with the world. Maybe instead of the focus on the commercialized aspects of Valentine’s Day, we can use this time to be grateful for the love in our lives. We can strengthen our bonds with those that we love and that love us.  Most importantly, we can put some extra effort into loving ourselves. Maybe we can begin some type of wellness regimen or simply spend some time in meditation giving thanks and showing gratitude for being alive.

Although the desire for sex is most certainly still alive and well and can be a driving force, the fact that we have survived and thrived is no small feat and should be celebrated. With all that is going on in the world it is easy to get lost in pomp, circumstances, stress and peer pressure. Although there is no comparison or measure of who appreciates love more, we who are long term survivors and people living with HIV certainly should understand very well how important love is.  Love heals all.  May you be healed now.

Speaking for myself, and acknowledging that other long-term survivors probably have experienced the same thing, I can sincerely and gratefully say that love has healed me. In 2005 when I was supposedly three days away from death, the love that my wife and I had put into the world came back to us tenfold and miraculously healed me. No human power could have relieved me of both a heroin and cocaine addiction nor imminent death from complications due to AIDS.  Love channeled through human beings, music, and nature was and remains the most powerful healing force in my life. Even though I have spent a good portion of my life since being diagnosed searching for a cure for HIV, I can without hesitation proclaim that I have been healed by love.

Although I still rebel against the concepts of commercialism and peer pressure, I have gained a new respect for Valentine’s Day as a holiday. I guess with time and experience comes wisdom, and those who have received great blessings have a responsibility. Not everyone will have the opportunity or desire to share their feelings and experiences in a public forum like this one, and I am most grateful for the opportunity to do so. But all of us have the opportunity to share love. This world right now needs you, and it needs you to share your love to heal the world, our personal relationships, and ourselves. Happy Valentine’s Day to you all. I love you very, very much.

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More about Reggie Smith: 

You can read more about how I overcame a heroin and cocaine addiction, my worldwide adventurous search for a cure for HIV, and the amazing love story I share with my wife Dionne in my latest bestselling book; “Resurrection”- Participate in your Own Salvation, or be Complicit in your Own Demise.  A portion of the proceeds goes to support our 501(c)(3) the Reginald & Dionne Smith Foundation which is focused on providing education, advocacy, resources and linkage to care for families affected by HIV, viral hepatitis, and substance use disorders.

You are invited and most welcome to come share love and encouragement towards reaching your self-directed goals with us inside our private virtual community focused on wellness, awareness, and recovery at www.TheRDSF.com

Here is a short video about my journey to self-discovery.  If you are ready to love yourself more and looking for healing solutions:

ReggieSmith770@gmail.com, facebook.com/reggiesmith7704, facebook.com/ReggieSmithAuthor

TheRDSF: Our 501c3 providing education, advocacy, resources and linkage to care for people affected by HIV, viral hepatitis, and substance use disorders.

Read about and purchase my latest bestselling book; “Resurrection”- Participate in your Own Salvation, or be Complicit in your Own Demise

 

All opinions, advice, and values expressed in this article belong solely to the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the values of the COMPASS Initiative®, its coordinating centers, and its community partners.

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