For the "I'm Still Surviving" blog we've invited the narrators who participated in this oral history to write some of their own reflections, either about their experience working on this project or about their lives since we finished our interviews. We're very excited to introduce Alicia Diggs, from North Carolina, as our first author.
We are Queens, we are women, we are mothers, we are sisters, we are aunts, we are nurturers, we are leaders!
We smile, we support, we hug, we help, we give, we live, and we love!
We laugh, we play, we cook, we clean, we mend and we work! In all of those things...we still hurt and we still cry in the late-night hours and in the early morning sunrise.
This is not a poem but it is instead me being transparent as I write this. I have been thriving with HIV for 20 years and it has been a great journey sharing of myself, learning, educating, advocating, and supporting others in the HIV movement.
The beginning of my journey in advocacy was not an easy start. I was very nervous, even scared, concerned about increased stigma against me and even backlash from people who disagreed with my truth when I started. I could not worry about that because I truly felt it was my calling to be a voice for the voiceless and I knew it was key to my own healing emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically.
Before an HIV diagnosis, I was a single mother trying to make ends meet by working as hard as I could and going to school for computer programming in hopes that I would make enough money to support my children. I fell in love with someone from my past, married him and married into an HIV diagnosis. While this added additional trauma in my life, I had a decision to make and it was to stand and move on.
I will honestly say that I have no idea where my life would be now had I not been diagnosed. Through my years in advocacy, I changed my career path from Social Work to Public Health when I discovered that my true passion was helping the public. I now have a bachelor’s degree in Social Work, a master’s degree in Public Health and have completed all courses for a PhD in Public Health with a focus in advocacy and leadership. Along with furthering my education I have received the Dorothy Height Humanitarian Award and am an author of my own book, Standing On My Healing: From Tainted ToChosen, as well as a co-author in several book collaborations.
I have worked as a medical case manager providing services for persons living with HIV. I am currently a Community Engagement Manager for the Centers for AIDS Research through NC Chapel Hill University, NC State Lead for the Positive Women’s Network USA, a NC leader for the Black AIDS Institute and a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. These are just a few organizations that I am a part of in addition to my public speaking work locally and nationally. I don’t share this information in a bragging manner but to share that while HIV may have a history of stigma, sickness, death, and isolation many of us are thriving and advancing in our lives.
Still, in all of the advocacy that I do, in all of my leadership characteristics, and in all of my sisterhood... there are times that I cry. For me personally, I do not cry because I am a woman living with HIV. Many times, I cry because I am beautiful, loving, supportive, genuine, authentic, and amazing, yet I am still hurting deep down inside. There are past traumas that I have buried with the scared, insecure, and fragile little girl inside of me. While I have healed and triumphed through some of those traumas, there are still some that have followed me through my adulthood and even shaped some of the decisions that I have made in my life—some good and some not so good. Some of us come from a culture where you do not talk about those deep dark hidden traumas. We were taught to keep them to ourselves. Some of us have buried them so deep that we have forgotten about them until a keyword, a smell, a sound, or a situation causes those hidden traumas to resurface and remind us of how hurt and broken we still are.
It is OK to have emotions because of those traumas and hurts. It does not make you less of a woman or weak but instead it reveals how human you really are. Your feelings are real and you should not let anyone, not even yourself, minimize the truth behind your hurts. Feel them, talk about them, and heal from them in your time so that you can be free. It is OK to be angry, those feelings need to come out.
It is OK to talk about it because it needs to come out so that you can heal and truly see the beautiful creation that you are. Do not be afraid to ask for help, you need a support system to get through the effects of hurtful trauma. Lean on your support. There are more people than you know who are going through some of the same feelings that you are going through, you are not alone.
Stay strong and know that you are beautiful, you are important, you are needed, you are loved!
There are multiple television shows that I love and have connected with the characters as I watch, so I want to share a quote with you from one of the shows that truly touched my heart:
“Carl Sagan said, ‘Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.’ When your life, when the world feels like a never-ending emergency, sometimes just making it through the day can be a struggle. We collect scars, physical and psychological reminders of what we’ve been through, of who and what we’ve lost. But those scars can do more than memorialize our past traumas. Maybe they’re also a testament to the fact that we are still here. We are exceptional. We are survivors. We move forward.”
This quote was said by the character Bobby Nash, played by Peter Krause in the show 9-1-1. Bobby is the Captain of Station 118 at the Los Angeles Fire Department. He had worked as a fire captain at the St. Paul Minneapolis Fire Department but relocated to LA after losing his wife and two children in a fire that he inadvertently caused while dealing with alcoholism. Bobby started his life over and married Athena, a police chief, who is played by the phenomenal AngelaBassett.
This is a great show to me and there is always a life touching message either at the beginning or the end of the show. I felt the need to share this with everyone because like the character Bobby Nash who is still healing through traumas in his life, many of us are as well. In all of that, sometimes we need reminders that “We are exceptional. We are survivors. We move forward.”