My name is Ron McAdams and I am a recovering alcoholic and crystal meth addict. In August of this year, at seven months sober, I took an HIV test because of a discrepancy in my life insurance policy application.
I remember sitting with my wife when we opened our letters from the insurance company. Her’s said she was accepted and this made me extremely happy because that meant she had tested HIV negative. Mine said they were unable to insure me and asked for the name and address of a doctor where they could send my test results.
Inside I went into a silent shock. My wife asked what the letter said. I told her I hadn’t been accepted. She encouraged me not to worry, that it was probably just my herpes, but I told her it was probably something else. During the last two years of my crystal meth addiction, I had started shooting it, and from what I knew about AIDS, that meant I could be infected with HIV. In fact, the idea I might be positive had motivated me to keep me using drugs and continue on a sick cycle of shooting and sexually acting out followed by shame and fear, and then a brief period of sobriety before I’d start using again. Every time I would relapse it was because of my fear of HIV.
Since I didn’t have a doctor when the letter arrived, the insurance company would not release the results of my tests to me, so I went to an AIDS testing clinic to find out if my worst fears were true. The results of that test were positive and I felt scared to say the least. Because I tested negative six years ago, I began to focus on how long I might have left to live. I wondered how my son and family would take the news, how sick I was going to become and how I would pay for all the medications. I was so overcome with fear that I couldn’t speak to anyone for a couple of weeks.
At the time I tested positive, I had been sober for seven months and had worked so hard to get to that point, I knew that getting high or drinking was not an option. I also knew that being HIV positive was nobody’s fault but mine, which made it even harder to face the situation sober, and stay sober.
My impression of HIV positive people was pretty bleak. From what I knew, they had to take a lot of expensive medications and despite the treatments, they were still very sick. An HIV positive friend only validated that impression. He was always in the hospital because of side effects of his medications and was always worrying about his T-cell counts. His face had sunken in and he was having problems keeping his weight up. So, that was how I envisioned my future: illness, medications, and hospitalizations, and of course, no more surfing.
I live to surf. My whole life, I have always been active doing something outside and despite my addiction problems, I have always been healthy. In the past 10 years, I’ve never been to the doctor for any illness, not even the flu. Even though every couple of months I would go on a major crystal run doing up to 16 grams over the course of a few days (and drinking bottles of vodka), I could always sober up and get back to good health in a short time. If I felt a cold coming on, I would stop eating sugar, quit coffee, milk and other dairy products, take Golden Seal and Echinacea, and feel better in two days. I never missed a day of work because I was sick, unless it was from a meth run.
Turning to the program that had kept me sober for seven months, I called my sponsor and confided that I had tested HIV positive. To my surprise, he told me that there were a couple of guys in the program he knew who had been HIV positive for more than 10 years. They were healthy and didn’t take AIDS meds. I had never heard of healthy HIV positives. My head was spinning.
In the next two days, I met with both of the guys. One had tested positive 15 years ago, and the other has 20 years of living HIV positive. Neither has ever taken AIDS medications and both are remarkably healthy. One even works as a personal trainer. The personal trainer told me that testing HIV positive upset him so much that he smoked rock cocaine almost every day for six years after. But despite the six years of abuse, he’s never been sick to the point of having to go to a doctor. I was amazed by his story.
After meeting him and the other guy from the program, I decided not to take medications and since then, I’ve spoken to a lot of people who decline the meds. I’ve also done a lot of research on the experiences of those who are on medication and really feel I’ve made the right choice. To me, HIV drugs are experimental and the people taking them are guinea pigs. From what I see, there is proof out there that people who are HIV positive can live long, healthy lives without medications.
When I speak to doctors and researchers about my decision, most all say that I am lucky to be healthy for now, that eventually I will get sick and that I need to take AIDS meds to keep me from becoming ill. But the side effects of the meds say something completely different: liver failure, facial deformities, memory loss, diabetes, death, cancer, muscle wasting, sleep disorders, kidney stones, thoughts of suicide, and on and on.
To continue my education and to help other HIV positives make their own decisions about drug treatment, I started an Alive & Well Health support group here in San Diego. It’s important to me to give people a place where they can speak openly. I feel that if my two new HIV positive friends had not spoken up at AA meetings, I would still be living with the fear that I’m dying.
I agree with doctors on one thing: I am lucky-lucky that I know about living positive and healthy without medications, lucky to have been given a chance to make a choice to not take the meds when that choice is not put out there as a reasonable alternative. I want this choice to be made available to every person who gets a positive test result. I think everyone should have the opportunity to make a decision about their life without being pushed or punished.
To help me and help others, I’m asking anyone who’s HIV positive and living without medication to contact me. People like you are a huge inspiration to me and to others facing decisions about how to live with a positive diagnosis. With your permission, I’d like to use your stories for a phone or email contact list for people new to this issue.
I know from experience that sharing our stories can make a big difference. If the guys from AA had not spoken out, I would be living with constant stress and fear and perhaps be sick or on my way to an early death from AIDS meds. Instead, I am not afraid and I don’t live with shame or self pity. I’m going on12 months sober, surfing almost every day, eating healthy (except for my one cheat day each week) and working hard to get the message out to as many people as possible. We have options and can be in control of our lives and health.
You can send me an email