Shame on Sheen?
by Skip Sams
Another celebrity has come out and revealed to the public he is HIV+ and it is bringing the virus to the forefront of discussion again, for a moment at least. What is unique about Charlie Sheen’s public announcement is that it brings many issues in the spotlight all at once: One’s right to be private, extortion and hush money, when to disclose, criminalization of HIV are just a few. There is one thing in particular topic that has been on my mind since the Matt Lauer interview and that is stigma.
During a segment of the interview, Lauer had read a few tweets from viewers. The first three were very supportive and seem to have touched Sheen in a positive way. Then the fourth tweet from Jack Jackson read “I’ve always liked Charlie Sheen, funny guy. Feel sorry for him, but his lifestyle left him open for something like this.” I knew right away that something was off about this statement but I couldn’t quite get it. Then I heard how loudly the word “but” was screaming. This was an accusatory remark that, though camouflaged by sympathy, speaks loudly of the tweeter’s intention: blame and shame. HIV is not a punishment and “you should have known better” remarks are not only condescending and judgmental, they are hateful. It’s these words of contempt that keep people from getting tested and seeking treatment.
To be honest, I am not a real fan of Charlie Sheen, probably because his life reflected the life I lived before I got sober, but I do empathize with him. I was a promiscuous drug addict and thought of no one but myself, and actually I did very little of that. I put myself in situations that were dangerous, but that does not mean I deserved to be infected with the HIV virus. My problem was not a moral dilemma, it was a disease called addiction and it led me down a dark dark road.
I am a recovering addict and I take responsibility for my life, both past and present. I have come to forgive myself for getting high and putting myself through Hell. Part of my forgiveness came when I was able to see that HIV/AIDS is not a punishment of any kind and that there is no shame about being HIV+. Today, I still encounter people who point their finger in my face and try to humiliate me. I take the opportunity to remind myself that “I am better than no one, but I am better than I was.”
Skip Sams is a composer, multi-media producer and success coach He is dedicated to men and women who share his diagnosis’ of HIV/AIDS, mental illness, and/or drug addiction, to help them aspire to a healthy and prosperous life.