Diagnosed in prison, denial was DeAlvin Releford’s default status
In 1986, I acquired HIV. I was in prison when I was diagnosed. And it was taboo, secretive because they didn’t really understand how it was transmitted, what it was doing, how it was contagious. So they kept it on the downlow; they didn’t want other people to know that I had contracted it. I didn’t really believe them, that I had really contracted this disease. It really hurt. I was in denial about me being exposed. In between 1986 and 1998, I was back and forth between using drugs and alcohol. I was trying to self-medicate because I wanted to numb that feeling, the “What if I really do have it?” But I finally decided I’m not trying to die like this.
Since I’ve been here at FIGHT, they have helped me incorporate some tools, like the WRAP program (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). It was a concept that I had never incorporated before. They showed me how I can define recovery for myself. As I go through stuff, I grow through it. They taught me that you have to take baby steps to get to higher steps. And they showed me that there is a tug of war and that I have to work on some of my actions and behaviors to get to the other side.
For example, they taught me that I cannot change other people’s views; I can only change how I respond to them. I have to be mindful that other people have different ways of expressing themselves. What applies in the penitentiary doesn’t apply in society, so I have to be mindful that people’s communication skills are different than when I was behind the wall. Through the therapy here and through the groups here, FIGHT has helped me with this. There are a lot of times when I want to go back to my old behavior, because that’s what I’m comfortable with, but they taught me another way around it. I write poetry, so I can honor that state of mind. So I write lines down, and that makes me feel better about myself. Now I can have a vision that things will be better tomorrow without sorrow.
I’ve learned through the years how to teach and how to overcome, no matter what, don’t give up. Just keep coming back.