My name is Traci, and I am HIV+ with CDC defined AIDS. I started dabbling with marijuana in my teens in 1976. I married an IV drug user three years later in 1979, and by 1988 I was crack addicted. HIV was all around me. My hometown of Hempstead was a Red Zone – an epidemic in terms of AIDS and drugs.
Prior to my diagnosis, I was in a fog and my addiction was at an all-time high, but I didn’t think I had a problem. After becoming homeless in 1990, I decided to try a Therapeutic Community (TC) called Topic House for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. I was clean for 9 months, met a guy and left the program. I went back out and used again.
In 2000, I got very sick. I wasn’t eating and I started to lose weight. Someone suggested that I get tested for HIV, so I went to Family and Children’s Association in Hempstead. The testing took place in a 4×4 room, and I had to wait 15 days for my results. When I went back, I was ready for the diagnosis. They told me I was HIV positive, and I wasn’t surprised. My first medical appointment was at the HIP center. I was treated very poorly – there was no confidentiality, no concern. I left and never wanted to go back there or to any doctor. I shut down.
At some point that year, I found an Options pamphlet. Fear of dying brought me to their office in Hempstead. They took my information and said someone would call me, which they did. The voice on the other end was warm and friendly. My case manager came to my house and did my intake. I remember her very well because she cared. I had already accepted I was going to die but she encouraged me to seek treatment. She linked me to Nassau University Medical Center and accompanied me to all my appointments.
I found my voice when I began attending a day program at Catholic Charities. Education and peer support was crucial, and therapy helped me like myself again. Along the way I have had many case managers, and each one has given me a different gift that made me stronger. I have walked for the cure, I’ve lobbied in Albany, and sat on numerous client advisory boards, including the Nassau/Suffolk Planning Counsel and United Way of Long Island. I have come a long way.
In July 2017, I became one of the first 45 Certified Peer Navigators in the State of New York. My greatest accomplishment is that I am employed by my beloved Options for Community Living. Now I am that warm voice on the other end of the phone, the friendly face at the door. I am giving back what was so freely given to me over 20 years ago.