by CHRISTA WEATHERS
Every day at Open Aid Alliance, we work with people who are trying to pick up the pieces of their life after an HIV diagnosis. Many of our friends are battling not only the virus that resides in their body but the social and emotional effects of dealing with a highly stigmatized disease that still frightens many people.
One client shared with me that he’s been rejected by 23 potential partners- and he’s not just looking for physical intimacy, but true companionship. It starts to weigh heavily on a person. Through my experience working with others like this fellow, I’m convinced many of our clients suffer from some form of post traumatic stress disorder brought on by the initial diagnosis, the process of telling family and friends, navigating the complicated health and financial implications and dealing with the social isolation. HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was and we are grateful for the advances in treatment; but it’s still very complicated. Living and surviving with HIV means that you are reminded of the virus that resides within you by the medications you take every day, every job you apply for or new friend you meet you wonder if you should share your HIV status, and then wonder how they will respond. We have clients who aren’t welcome to attend Thanksgiving dinner with extended family because someone is afraid of their disease.
Maybe you’re reading this and you didn’t know that Open Aid Alliance existed, or you have no idea what services we offer. I had a woman who tested positive for hepatitis C once tell me, “I always thought your organization was for those other people until I became one of them.” Open Aid Alliance is here for the Missoula and western Montana community as a resource for sexual health, and that includes education, referrals, HIV and hepatitis C testing, support groups, housing assistance for people with HIV and free condoms and personal lubricant. It’s true we serve the other people, some of the most underserved and marginalized people in our community, but we also serve your neighbors, family members and friends. OAA is a safe place to seek answers and receive open and non-judgmental support.
We are always looking for ways to connect to our community and tell our story- though it’s sometimes hard to tell stories about things most people don’t talk openly about. The 2013 calendar we’ve created is our interpretation of what sexual health can look like in our community, it’s playful and celebratory and most importantly it’s beautiful. We need your support to continue doing what we do, please consider supporting Open Aid Alliance and our programs through the purchase of this calendar or other products this holiday season. You can see the whole line on our website or at various businesses throughout Missoula. You can also learn more about our programs, schedule an HIV or hepatitis C test, and find other resources on our website www.OpenAidAlliance.org
Christa Weathers is executive director of Open Aid Alliance.
She can be reached at 543-4770.