Support groups provide comfort

Bryan Wroten


Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Viral loads.

CD4 counts.

Medication side effects.

Doctors’ appointments.

Just being scared.

Worrying about these can be overwhelming to a person already dealing with HIV/AIDS. But they don’t have to do it alone.

Joe, a 52-year-old Kent resident who wished for his last name to be kept anonymous, said he’s been living with AIDS since 1995. He moved to Kent from Long Beach, Calif., to live with his sister last year. New to the area, Joe had to find a case manager and doctor. His sister saw Violet’s Cupboard, an AIDS holistic service program in Akron, and thought the program could help him, he said.

One of the services Violet’s Cupboard offers is support groups. After the first meeting, Joe had to wait for his ride to arrive while others were leaving.

“The other guys waited with me until my ride came,” he said. “That (sort of thing) hasn’t happened to me in a long time. That’s a place I can go to and discuss about every issue I have without being judged.”

AIDS support groups offer people a chance to not feel alone and to connect with others, said Arianna Lee, social worker with the Columbus AIDS Task Force.

“Support groups are based around trying to give people living with HIV a place to talk about stresses in their life,” she said. “It helps get rid of the isolation feeling.”

Lee moderates a Tuesday evening group for women. She said it started out as an educational group for the newly infected. After the 10-week program ended, she said the women wanted to continue.

The meetings are laid back, she said. Members can talk about what frustrates them as well as check up on each other.

Jim Werth, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Akron, has been moderating a support group at Violet’s Cupboard since April of 2001. The groups offered through Violet’s Cupboard are for gay and bisexual men who are HIV positive or have AIDS. Straight men can join the group, he said, but only after the group agrees to it.

He said his role in the meetings is basically to just make sure everyone who wants to talk gets a chance. The support comes from peers, he said. He can answer factual questions or provide information, but he said he lets the group members help each other.

Growing up in the foster care system, Anthony Brown, 25-year-old resident of Akron, said he had a very stressful life. He said he went through 15 to 20 homes because he couldn’t get adjusted. Sometimes he was abused, other times he just didn’t feel comfortable, he said.

It was while he was in prison for robbery that he was infected by his partner with HIV, Brown said.

“He told me, if you don’t do it like that, you really don’t love me,” he said about having unprotected sex.

He was new to prison, so he didn’t know much about what could happen, he said. Later, he tested positive for HIV. He had to be put on suicide watch.

“I just wanted to die,” he said. “Why should I live? I’m going to die anyway.”

In 2003, he was released from prison, he said. He moved from living with his mother to his sister to his brother. He said his family supports him at times, but he feels he’s doing it mostly on his own.

March 23 was the first time Brown went to Werth’s support group.

“I needed to be around people going through the same thing I am,” he said. “I needed that. It was a big, big release. All the time I’ve been dealing with that, it’s what I needed.”

He said he plans on going to more meetings.

It was most likely his drinking that led to his infection, Joe said. He said he doesn’t know who it was who infected him, but he prefers it that way. That way, he can only blame himself.

Joe said he found out he was HIV positive in 1990 when he went in for foot surgery. The doctors did a blood test before the surgery once they learned he was bisexual. When they found out, he said they didn’t want to do the surgery.

“They didn’t want to touch me,” he said. “They came up with some excuse.”

He said he likes the atmosphere at the support group. He said Werth is a great guy because he just lets everybody talk and say what they need to say. He said other members gave advice about medication, which doctors to go see and what to expect at certain points.

“It’s given me comfort that other people are going through the same difficulties I am,” he said. “I get real good feedback there.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].