I knew that my life was steeped in shame. I was under a doctor’s care for Hepatitis B, injecting myself with interferon every day, which left me feeling perpetually achy and sick. I developed an eye infection, and was under the care of a retinologist, who could not figure out what was wrong. I was deeply ashamed and couldn’t tell anybody what was going on. This shame made my physical suffering even worse. Finally the retinologist ordered extensive blood work to determine what was causing the deteriorating vision. The wait for test results seemed interminable. Finally, everything came back negative except for one test – syphilis. My heart and self-esteem sank even farther than before. The next day I got the dreaded call – from the health department demanding that I come in for further testing.
I took off early from work to keep my mandated appointment at the health department. I was in a complete fog, so demoralized and despondent that I could barely walk or drive. As I entered the health department, the receptionist asked where I was going. Could things get any worse? Now, as I mentioned the STD Clinic, even the receptionist knew how filthy and contaminated I felt. Checking in at the clinic, I was given a number and told to wait. I no longer even had my name. Not only did the wait seem interminable, it was. I had an hour to study the faces of the other people there. Most of them seemed rather unconcerned with being there, like they had been there many times before. I was dressed in business casual clothes since I had come straight from work. My clothes and my race made me stand out so that others were looking at me too. Finally my number was called.
I first saw a nurse who took a blood sample and told me to see the social worker down the hall while they ran tests on my blood. The social worker was not new to this scene, but the questions were new to me and I was mortified. She asked about sexual partners, and I could not name most of them since we never exchanged names. When I had learned names, they were only first names and often pseudonyms. The only name of a sexual partner that I knew was the name of the man I was dating, who lived out of town. I gave his name and immediately regretted having done so, knowing that this man would be contacted by the local health department. Finally I was summoned back to see the nurse, who confirmed the positive results for syphilis. In fact, she said, it was one of the worst cases she had ever seen. She immediately started me on penicillin shots. I would have to return weekly for at least eight weeks for additional shots and blood work.
In some ways, this was the beginning of an extended cycle of shame. Each week I would be reduced to a number and have to wait in that dreadful waiting room. However, in other ways, redemption had begun. Now the secret was out of the bag. Once it had been aired and discussed in clinical terms, it could no longer be contained – at least not at the health center. One form of shame – secrecy – had lost its power. I began slowly to understand that my actions had led to my infection. I had reached a bottom and was able to recognize the resurrection that I felt as the readings got better. With a decrease in shame, I was able to begin to rebuild a shadow of self-esteem through prayer and meditation. Slowly I was able to feel God’s hands cradling me and freeing me from the self-abasement that had wracked my entire being. This led me to a new appreciation of the power of God’s grace and healing. There was still much work to do in my efforts to rebuild my life, but I now knew that my Higher Power was walking the road with me. Although it still took me awhile to come to grips with my addiction and join SLAA, this experience initiated my sense of renewal and care has remained with me since this period of healing.