Doris, age 58 & Randy, age 48 / Canada


Doris:       I was caught up in my addictions, and I thought the weight loss was connected to my substance use, until I started seeing other complications with my health. And that’s when I went for an HIV test. While waiting for my HIV test, I made the decision to go back home, because I sort of had an idea what I was gonna be hearing.

So to prepare myself, I went home to my home community. And much to their surprise, and much to their anger – they felt I had thrown my life away, because prior to the addiction journey, I was very successful, working in performing arts. I was living in Toronto, Ontario for a number of years and, um, it was through the course of that eight years that I started using.

You know, if I continued in that lifestyle I would’ve probably ended up dead. And I didn’t want to leave that kind of legacy for my children and my grandchildren. I made this decision to just walk away. And, uh, so I went home from there and never looked back to that part of my life. And so I’ve been able to reconnect to my community, and reconnect to who I am as an indigenous woman.

I had made the decision to really accept where I was at this point in my life. And, whatever came my way, I was accepting of it, even if it was anger directed at me, like why did you come home? What do you need from us? I basically told them: you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to, and that’s okay.

There were two members of my family that were very supportive – my two older brothers. One’s very traditional and follows our indigenous traditional ways, and he’s very kind in that way. He’s also the eldest in the family at that time, and so he was the one that kind of spoke to everybody else. And then I had my other brother that was close to me. And they were my biggest supports.

I mean, there were other ugly parts that happened as well, with other family members, like my one sister. When I had to go stay with her, she made it really, really hard for me to be there. So, I very quietly, uh, packed my little bag of stuff, and I called my primary care nurse that used to do home visits. And I told her, “Come and get me. I can’t stay here. It’s just too hard for me to stay here.” So I packed my stuff, and I told my sister, “I’m leaving. I’m going to go to the women’s shelter, because I don’t want to be a burden to anybody in my family, and it’s okay. It’s okay. I know you’re having a hard time with all of this right now. But it’s okay, you know. Uh, there’s other place where I can get the support.” And she never said one word to me when I left. Not one word.

It took a while, you know. She eventually apologized to me, like, five years later. And she, she told me, “You know that time when you came home? I want you to know that I’m sorry for how I treated you, and I love you.” I stood my ground, because I wanted to be there with them. And now it’s a complete turnaround. They’re all there for me. They’re very proud of what I do.

My son and my daughter, they were already grown up and on their own. And they both had children. And at that time, I had nine grandchildren. When I was hospitalized, they came. My ex-husband came, too, and brought them all to the hospital to see me. And they were the only ones that came to see me in the hospital – my children, and my grandchildren, and my ex-husband and his – uh, the woman that he was with. It was nice that he did that, because I had left him years ago because of violence, you know. It was a very violent relationship, and he used to beat the crap out of me. And that’s why I left him. Yeah, so it was nice that he came, and I said, “I forgive you for what you did, and I really thank you for bringing our children here and, and the grandchildren.”

Randy:    I’ve been living now with HIV for 24 years, I guess. So more than– almost more than half my life. It took me about four years before I told my family. And I told my family because I ended up in the hospital quite ill, and even then didn’t want to tell my family. I had this nurse. I still remember her. And she told me that she had a brother, and if that had happened to her brother, she’d want to be there. And I said okay.

So, I gave them my parents’ phone number, and my family – I was living in Winnipeg at the time, so, my family – all of them – flew on a plane out that very afternoon to see me in the hospital. And I was quite ill. I was in ICU with septic shock from a pneumonia that I had that was not diagnosed early enough. And my organs were shutting down, and I was close to death. That’s when they came. All of my three sisters and my mother came to see me. And that was the start of unpacking it with my family. And, I mean, they know I’m here now today in Australia, halfway around the world from them, and they – they’re my greatest support.

I was in the hospital for, like, almost three weeks that time. And my sister sat down and she crocheted an afghan for me. That’s almost, what? ’94 it happened, so a long time ago, more than 20 years. I still have that afghan. It’s on my sofa at home. My sister made that for me when I was sick in the hospital, to get me warm, yeah.

Doris:       When I was healing, I chose to live on my own. And for me, it felt like I was in this place, just getting to know who I was and reconnecting to my spiritual self. I spent time praying and, actually, writing in a journal. I spent seven years back home in my home community. But I began to emerge, as well, as an activist within months of, uh, when the antiretrovirals kicked in. I think it was the spiritual part of me that had been shut down because of trauma, you know – childhood sexual abuse at a very young age, where I was sexually abused. Um, my spirit had shut down, and so most of my journey leading up to that point when I was diagnosed with AIDS – I, uh, I really believe my spirit was numbed, and, and in shock, still, and, shut down.

The turning point for me in being diagnosed with AIDS was the realization that our family is here, but our greatest support is Creator – the Creator. The Creator is always there, and that’s where we get our strength from, and that’s who gave us our gifts. And so I began to really lean on that, on that spiritual part of me. And, you know, as indigenous people, we look at health in a holistic way, where the – there’s four quadrants, you know – physical, mental, spiritual, and, um –

Randy:    Emotional.

Doris:        – emotional are all part of the, uh, the medicine wheel. And for me, you know, all those pieces came together for me, and I realized that I had much more work to do, and that HIV was a messenger, and that I needed to tell our communities about HIV. And so I, I made that step, and it’s been, it’s been very, uh – it’s what gave me… I got my life back. It’s a journey. And our elders tell us that adversity is a teacher, and I really understand that now. So, my journey, even though it was filled with adversity, has also been filled with many blessings, you know, like my grandchildren, and my children, and my great-grandchild now.