Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Confessions of an HIV+ Pinoy
It is my privilege to introduce my newfound friend, Dr. Elroi (not his real name). In this post, he is going to share with us intimate details of his life, his SSA struggle, his HIV story and how this event completely turned his life around for good. Dr. Elroi is a facilitator/lecturer of Channels of Hope, a World Vision program which trains and educates pastors and leaders of faith-based organizations about HIV/AIDS. He is currently traveling all over the Philippines for this noble mission.
This will be my testimony to our church when they are prepared and ready to hear this. The first time I told my story in front of people was during the workshop of "Channels of Hope" by World Vision last April. This is the longer and complete version.
A couple of years ago I have contemplated suicide several times but it never happened. I stand here before you today by God’s grace because He has a purpose for my life that I almost failed to see. Perhaps some of you noticed that, every time you ask me questions I can not give a direct answer. The reason is I am a bit scared of your possible reactions should I reply with an honest answer. I don't know how church people would react to someone in my situation. Now that I have experienced God’s redemption, I want to be free in this congregation by sharing with you my story.
January of 1999, 3 months after passing the licensure board examination for electrical engineers I was blessed to be offered a job and got employed by one of the multinational manufacturing firm as a production line engineer. I earned good money that I was able to help my parents financially and sent my younger brother to college.
June of 2001, my younger brother took his own life with a gunshot leaving us with no reason why he did such thing.
July of 2002, I have decided to leave the company I am working for and accepted the early retirement pay. I enrolled myself in a modeling institution for two years and did modeling projects for less than 4 years though this career did not really took off.
Early 2003, I started to put up my own business with my friend. It’s a food retail business that lasted only for less than a year leaving me with a couple of hundred thousand peso losses. In the same year, I lost more than half a million pesos in a pyramiding scam together with my friends who persuaded me to invest. This was the first time when I thought of committing suicide.
September of 2005, I have decided to apply for an immigrant visa to Australia to start a new life with the hope of recovering everything I have lost.
Early 2006, I got myself employed in a call center while waiting for the result of my application.
March of the same year, the immigration services informed me that my visa was ready to be released but I need to do my medical examination first. I had my medical exam done and then a week after, I received the most unexpected and worst news I could ever receive. The result of my HIV screening test was positive! The doctor called me on the phone and asked me to come back for another blood sample to repeat the test for confirmation. It did not surprise me that much but it was the last thing I have expected! I knew I had a few unprotected sexual encounters before, the reason why it was really possible. My initial reaction was to cry and suddenly I was so furious at God and asked why me? I have not stepped on anyone just to get what I wanted. I showed respect and kindness to people especially to my family and friends, I have stolen nothing, and I never killed anyone.
I prayed every night to give thanks to God, and asked for His forgiveness for the wrongs I have done. Why do I deserve this? There are many people out there who I think have done far worst things than I did but why me? For a couple of minutes I was so furious at God that I even swore at Him! I was trying to emerge from a great misfortune and migrating seemed to be my last hope for a better life. But now I can no longer migrate and work in another country for greener pasture as they say. My life seems to be a series of unfortunate events. My dream of giving my family particularly my parents a well-off kind of life has been shattered and I felt like I was broken into million pieces. That's why I was so furious and I felt like God was punishing me for all the sexual immoralities I have done. Then I realized that I was wrong and I immediately asked for His forgiveness, and asked Him to take care of me. I then cried for hours until I fell asleep hoping that when I wake up it was just a nightmare. The next day after work, I went to the hospital for confirmatory test and the doctor told me to wait for a month for the result. It was the longest one month of my life. October 2006, it was confirmed that I am positive with HIV!
At first, I had no idea what to do with my life and how would I tell this to my parents. I disclosed to a few trusted friends about my condition and I am blessed that they accepted me and did not judge me. I have decided to continue with my life as if nothing happened; but I felt like I was a dead-man walking for the next couple of months. I felt hopeless. Life has no value. I saw no way out; death became very appealing as I contemplated suicide for more than a dozen times. The problem was I just can't do it coz I know it would really hurt. But the biggest reason why I can't do it was; I have seen how my parents suffered emotionally when my younger brother took his life. If I did the same thing, I don't know how my parents will handle it this time. So, I told myself I can’t go on like this, I need to do something!
December of 2006, I decided to seek medical help. I was referred by a friend to an NGO that supports People Living with HIV. The doctor I talked to told me that there's an organization consists of people living with HIV or PLWH who can relate to me and give me the moral and emotional support that I need. From there I was linked on how to access free medical check-up at San Lazaro hospital where I met Dr.P. After the lab test determined how strong or weak my immune system was, the result indicated that I needed to start taking medication or ARV. Thus, a series of pre-trial counseling sessions with Dr. P ensued. She discussed how the medication works and its side effects and the details about HIV. Because the drugs have fatal side effects, Doc. P insisted that I tell my parents about my condition.
At first, I was so firm with my decision to handle everything all by myself and not to tell my family about it. I was eventually convinced, realizing that they have the right to know for the simple reason that they are my family no matter what. So 8 months after my diagnosis, I told my sister first about my condition of which she cried, and requested her to give my letter to our parents. I can't bear to see them hurting because of what happened to me that's why I opted to mention the details through a letter, in that way I won’t miss anything. I came home a week after. We didn’t talk about it but I was surprised to receive their letter of reply; understandably because, we don’t vocalize our thoughts and feelings to one another. Suffice that we know that we loved each other. The content of my parent's letter was enough for me to face this dilemma dauntlessly. The line where my father told me that he's willing to take my place if that disease can only be transferred brought so much tears to me coz for the first time, I felt that my father really loves me and my mother reassured me of her love. I was so thankful to God and felt so blessed with a very understanding and loving family!
August of 2007, I have started to bum around; Dr.P asked me to quit from my call center job coz it will gradually kill me. I left Manila and just stayed at home with my parents. It was during this idle season of my life when I began to contemplate about everything I have been through. I came to realize that all my actions and decisions have been motivated by my ambition to become wealthy and to be recognized. I wanted to give my parents a luxurious life after all the sacrifices they had done for us, to travel and visit parts of the world and the country with them, to have my own condo unit and a car, and probably my own business too. There's nothing wrong with that I guess, but I was so consumed by all of these desires that somehow I forgot about God! Yes I have thanked Him and asked forgiveness every time I prayed to Him every night, but it was obviously not enough.
Late 2007, my visit to Dr.P became frequent and every time she asked me how I am doing, I always tell her that I want to make something good out of my condition. I told her that I believed God has a reason and has a different plan for me why He did not allow my plans to succeed and let this tragic thing happen to me. I have started to look at the brighter side because that's the best thing that I can do so far about my situation. I began to ask not only myself but her as well as to what is the purpose of my life, why am I here and still alive if God will only hurt me by not giving me all that I have wanted even though He witnessed that I worked so hard for all of it. I thought my parents’ support was enough for me to move on but as the days passed, death became very appealing to me again. Out of desperation, I talked to Dr.P and then she took that opportunity to share me the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She told me that the Lord wanted me to completely surrender my life to Him and leave the kind of life I used to have and dreamed about. She prayed over me and instructed me to ask forgiveness with all my heart, and to accept Jesus Christ to be my personal Lord and Savior. I was very emotional that time that I cried for like half an hour coz I have felt I have nowhere left to go but only to Him. I am sick, out of job, homeless and totally destitute; it looks like God allowed all these things to happen to leave me no choice but Him since He knows that I am scared to commit suicide. And last December, I came to this church.
Being HIV positive became the turning point of my life. Through it I became a Christian. Now, I want this unexpected consequence of my sinful actions into something beautiful that will affect change not only to me but to others as well. I prayed that God will use me and give me ministry that will help stop the increasing number of people infected by HIV, and He answered.
April of this year (2008), I was so happy and blessed to be invited to participate in the workshop for Channels of Hope by World Vision. It was a facilitators training that aims to educate faith leaders on HIV and AIDS and eventually have them lead the de-stigmatization of the community and this country about this pandemic. This is a big task because we are tasked to educate faith leaders and the community as a whole about HIV and AIDS and the Christian response to this pandemic. Christian living is the answer to this problem, which is now my ultimate goal as a Christian with HIV. There are lots of patients out there who still continue to walk in darkness for reasons like they believe that they are sinners and God hates them. They want to approach church people but they are afraid that they will be mistreated and condemned; or perhaps they don't know how to approach God and children of God while the others simply choose to live their life on their own apart from God. I hope that our church will be one of the congregations that will embrace PLWH and help me or us to carry out this ministry as it entails a lot of work, planning and funding.
If you are going through a time of terrifying darkness and despair, or are plagued by doubts that are slowly eroding your hope that things can get better, I urge you to surrender it all to God; give Him full control of your life. It is the only way to live. Thank you.
Thank you, Dr. Elroi, for that powerful and inspiring testimony. We are supporting your worthy cause of educating people about HIV/AIDS. In response to this, I am posting on Thursday a special documentary on HIV/AIDS in the Philippines aired on GMA-7 a couple of weeks ago along with a list of testing centers in the country. Please watch out for this video clip.
Also, please do visit Dr. Elroi's blog to learn more facts about HIV/AIDS.