Well, this blog thing has me staying awake at night thinking about how to best tell the stories, move our community to action, reach your heart, tick you off, make you giggle, and make you come back for more. I've been reading my fellow Community Bloggers and enjoying the heck out of it! It's a neat feeling to use my words and thoughts; my company's laptop, and a big dose of insomnia to spread the substance abuse and HIV prevention message.
I'm packing tonight to leave for 6 days in HotLanta for the 2011 National HIV Prevention Conference - sponsored by the CDC, and for a Grantee Meeting with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (who fund the prevention programs at HSC, where I work). So it's going to be an exciting and busy week for me.
Some of the stuff I'm thinking about - Six days of conference chairs (probably those with no cushions), conference chicken lunches (there is a secret farm with a special breed of rubber chickens bred solely for this purpose), conference schedules (the meeting room you need for the 3:00 lecture is 3 football fields; two escalators and one long jog away from the one you're in now, and it's 2:59), conference room sound systems (with the required feedback howl that could just possibly bring on a seizure I'm sure), 4,231 PowerPoint presentations (three of which are simply amazing and make it completely worthwhile that I'm there!), I'm mostly joking - cause above all it's the opportunity to exist for almost a week with my awesome colleagues and fellow Prevention professionals, who most likely have a "calling", and are just meant to be doing this work.
If you grew up a "trailer park kid" like me in rural Alabama, you may remember the first time you traveled to the BIG CITY. Maybe it was New York, or Chicago, anywhere that was NOT Alabama. Seems like the world was faster, more colorful, louder, weirder and definitely exciting. That's how I feel when I'm with my peeps at a Prevention Conference. Because substance abuse and HIV do not discriminate there is the most diverse, edgy, intelligent, creative, and often just plain bizarre group of people who work in this field.
Risky behaviors such as injecting drug use, binge drinking, commercial sex work; and lifestyles that most likely would make your Mama blush are commonplace among the clients I work with daily. In order to effectively serve my community, spread the prevention message, and provide testing, counseling and treatment services, it is imperative that I and others like me maintain an impartial and non-judgmental perspective at all times.
So, for this chubby grandmother it is just a "regular day at the office" to be found alongside persons with a purple Mohawk or pink wig, piercings and tattoos, glittery nightclub attire with construction worker boots; persons in recovery from drugs and alcohol or deeply troubled by their misuse and abuse, persons who identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and a long list of other "labels" that they may have possibly chosen to call themselves or been given by others, some not printable here.
At a national conference such as the one in Atlanta, it is a hoot to people-watch. I absolutely LOVE "different". Unlike some of my stick in the mud relatives who get their panties in a wad because they still reside in that world where if your skin color, hairstyle, accent, or pedigree isn't like theirs you aren't welcome - I delight in the parade of beautiful people who seem to often wear their heart like a blinking neon sign because they care so much and want to make a difference for those who suffer from addiction or illness. To work in the social service or not for profit field, especially prevention, you don't have to be a former drug user, homeless, hungry, or be living with HIV or hepatitis, although many have "been there-done that" you can be an advocate for those who need help whatever your personal history. And these are "my people" (saying that just made me grin).
Some other stuff I'm thinking about:
1. Will Atlanta traffic be awful?
2. Will one of the researchers who speak at this conference be the ONE who finds a cure for AIDS?
3. I'm definitely going to get some of that awesome Mac and Cheese from that seafood restaurant down the street from the conference hotel.
4. Please let my federal Project Officer be proud of the Poster Presentation that we will be doing on Wednesday for our fellow grantees, I want to make them proud and I want our projects to continue to change people's lives.
5. Are flip-flops acceptable conference footwear? (mine have jewels, so I'm thinking YES).
6. Will I learn some new teaching technique, tip, or skill that will help me provide exceptional prevention counseling to someone who wants to change their life and behavior?
7. Please let there be speakers and presenters at this conference who have a sense of humor, live in the real world, and aren't "know it alls"!
8. I'm going to miss my hubby (from here on we'll call him Babe) my precious Shih Tzus; Rhett Butler and Dandy, and my Tempurpedic mattress. My Babe will be fishing, boating, having a nap in the back yard swing and missing me terribly I'm sure.
9. Saying to myself - "Please don't forget the IPhone charger when you checkout of the hotel".
10. I'm hoping you are enjoying the blog so far, and will give me your feedback and comments.
If you'd like to know more about the 2011 National HIV Prevention Conference check them out at www.2011nhpc.org and I'll keep you updated throughout the week.
Some stuff for YOU to think about:
Marijuana Fact Sheet http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/pdf/Marijuana.pdf
Prescription Drug Abuse Fact Sheet http://www.theantidrug.com/pdfs/prescription_report.pdf
Homeless Resource Center - http://homeless.samhsa.gov/
Suicide Prevention Resources - http://www.samhsa.gov/prevention/suicide.aspx
Health Services Center - www.hscal.org
HIV Testing Fact Sheets - http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/testing/resources/qa/index.htm
What Women Can Do - http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/women/protection.htm
Gay, Bisexual, Men Who Have Sex With Men Fact Sheet - http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm
Be Safe, Know Your Status, Get Tested!
Hello again, thanks for coming back. I told you we'd have fun (and maybe learn a thing or two). Thought today I'd share a little snapshot of the Prevention professional's daily grind. Most days we love our job, some days are filled with dread that the risky behaviors we encounter are just going to prove to be too much for some poor soul.
Phone rings - can we provide an exhibit table for a local health fair? Sure! That's our job, no matter that it might be outdoors in the lovely Alabama summer sun, under our tent, in a sizzling parking lot where we gladly pass out educational brochures and safer sex supplies! That's what we do, the message is too important to NOT be there for that community. Thanks for inviting us! And by the way, our federal funder requires that we complete several pages of paperwork to document our day; it's just part of prevention, we may complain but we learn from it and it helps us evaluate the programs that make a difference!
Phone rings - can we provide substance abuse education to at-risk youth in a nearby community? Of course, that's where we need to be. School-aged youth are experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an earlier age, often at 10-12 years of age. Most of us have children of our own, we want them to grow and prosper, enjoy their youth and stay drug free; we bring the prevention message with age appropriate language and materials, and hope that we reach their hearts and minds. When a young athlete approaches you after a school assembly and says he's learned a lot today and wants to know how to help his friend who is using drugs...it's all worthwhile.
Several times a week - A young adult, a teenager, a senior citizen, a mother, a grandfather, walks into our agency and our receptionist pages a Prevention staff member, our guest has requested an HIV test. Believe me, it takes amazing courage and strength to drive yourself to a clinic or health department and lay your sexual history and recent drug use on the table for a testing counselor to assess.
I admire all those who seek HIV screening, it takes guts, especially when you KNOW you've made some poor decisions like having unprotected sex; had sex with multiple partners, had sex while high or intoxicated, traded your body for money or drugs or food for the baby, on and on the stories spill out, and often the tears.
Heard during the testing and counseling interview, "Miss Julie, I've never had sex with anyone except my boyfriend", "Miss Julie, I've never injected drugs or used a needle in my life", "Miss Julie, I'm on the Pill, I wasn't worried about HIV, just didn't want to get pregnant", "Miss Julie, I was faithful, but my wife has just confessed to an affair", "Miss Julie, I was drunk and high and I don't know what happened that night". And those are just a few. The number one comment is probably, "I didn't think it could happen to me".
And the Prevention professional's day is filled with lists; crack, weed, crystal meth, oxy, X/Ecstasy, heroin, Spice, Special K, Salvia, Purple Drank, Powder, herb, acid, angel, crank. Whew! There are new ones to add to the list each day, and the names change from neighborhood to neighborhood, town to town, city to city. If you can smoke it, snort it, shoot it, drink it, we hear about it! Our lovely town of Anniston sits right between the cities of Atlanta and Birmingham, with all the enticing bright lights and exciting offerings that big cities may offer. If it's not sold or distributed or passed out at a party in our home town, a quick ride on I-20 and the menu expands, for both sexual and drug using temptations and delights.
And I have to say that the best part of a Prevention day is when you get to tell someone that their test result is Negative, but now we need to talk about how to KEEP you that way. We need to promote safer behaviors, and abstinence does work no matter what age you may be, whether we are talking about sexual activity or drug and alcohol use. Behavior change can happen, attitudes can change, that's our goal.
It is our responsibility as Prevention professionals to provide non-judgmental, compassionate, comprehensive risk reduction information for those who choose to be sexually active, or struggle with drug and alcohol abuse; it's about public health and disease prevention.
It is our mission to provide resources and referrals for those who desire treatment and counseling for their substance abuse behaviors; to provide medical care and support for those who test positive for HIV and still struggle with addiction. So, often our day continues with the creation of a prevention plan for those who want to live healthier, get clean and sober, and protect their health and that of their loved ones.
Some days we laugh after the person calls after picking up some of our free condoms and asks for "round ones" because the ones in his safer sex kit were in a SQUARE package! And we giggle when we ask a grandmother in a church-sponsored prevention class for women to put that condom on an anatomical penis as she turns beet-red. We de-brief at the end of a huge community health fair to discuss what we could have done better, what worked, and what didn't. Should we have had hip-hop music for the teens? Coffee for the adults? Will this group come to hear our Substance Abuse program if we give them a free T-shirt or would they rather have a water bottle? Prevention works (that's the name of my blog in case you've forgotten) but we have to "sell it"! And that is what I'm hoping to do as we continue on this adventure together, till next time. Be safe!
Alabama Dept. of Public Health HIV/AIDS data www.adph.org
17,674 persons with HIV/AIDS in Alabama (it won't happen to me)
64.10% of all AL cases are African Americans (I thought it was a gay white male disease)
4,498 cases are females (I didn't know how to negotiate condom use)
8,936 cases are persons over 35 years of age (you need to talk to those "teenagers")
24.84% of all cases are in heterosexuals ( but I'm not gay, why should I worry?)
Once upon a time there was a world without HIV/AIDS. Ask those who live with it daily; provide medical care to a patient, sit by the bed of a loved one, search for a cure, or grieve over the loss of a friend, lover, or family member - and they'll tell you it's hard to remember the time "before". Three decades have passed with this virus bringing pain and suffering to our planet, whether it is one individual or entire generations, it has been deadly!
My introduction to working in this field came through my years as a Health & Safety Educator for the American Red Cross. I remember clearly the day my Chapter Director told me "there is this new disease; it has something to do with blood. Are you willing to go to a workshop and learn about it?" Well, I did, and here I am thirty years later.
Yup, it is a disease spread via blood, the blood and infectious body fluids of an infected person. How did someone get infected? Well, after much research and investigation we knew it was through unprotected sex with an infected person through vaginal, anal, or oral sex (semen & vaginal fluids). Also by sharing contaminated needles and syringes when injecting drugs (blood), and an infected Mother could transmit the virus to her baby during pregnancy; at birth or even through her breast milk because the virus was found in breast milk of infected mothers (breast milk).
It is not spread through casual contact, it is bloodborne not airborne. So it can't be coughed on you, it isn't spread on toilet seats or by drinking or eating after someone who is infected. But sadly, fear, misinformation, stigma and discrimination related to HIV/AIDS continues to this day. It's been 30 years folks, get educated, get tested, know your status and that of your sexual and drug using partners! Enough is enough already! I'm not going to let you off easy on that one; we are going to talk about it!
I want us to learn all we can about this infection, talk about it, think on it, dwell on it, chew on it in our mind and then I want my community to PREVENT it. Yes, I don't want another darn person in our community to become infected, cause we know how to stop it! And yet it continues to take our sons, daughters, uncles, mothers, brothers and on and on and on.
Over the next few posts I want to share with you some links and websites so that if you are interested you can learn more and share the information. And don't tell me this doesn't affect you because it does. The toll on our country is significant and it is especially so in the Southern states where the epidemic is at crisis level. So here is your homework...(just kidding) but please hang with me and let's make a difference by at least knowing the facts and how we can make a difference in our community.
Sites to check out:
www.cdc.gov (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) go to the HIV or AIDS pages, lots of great resources and fact sheets)
www.adph.org (Alabama Department of Public Health, go to the H page for HIV, or the A page for AIDS, find out what the statistics are for your county, and what our State health departments are doing to fight HIV in Alabama)
www.samhsa.gov (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, they provide funding for the substance abuse programs at the Health Services Center and are the premier provider of substance abuse and addiction/recovery information in the U.S.)
www.nmac.org (The National Minority AIDS Council, a national organization focused on HIV/AIDS in minority populations)
www.southernaidscoalition.org (The Southern AIDS Coalition, get the perspective and information for the Southern States from the experts; HIV professionals, persons living with HIV, advocates, and those of us who live and work in the South, and care about the South)
Okay, that's it for today. I'm in this for the long haul, as my truck driver Dad used to say, so come back and join me on this journey. My grandson has assigned a picture for me when I call his cell phone the picture that comes up on his screen to tell him his Nanny is calling...a Trojan condom! So you are "safe" with me. Leave me a comment if you have questions or concerns, I'm all about some conversation.
"Sex, Drugs, & Rock n Roll"?? I've been told that's what I speak about most often, but I plan to chat with you about much more than that as we get acquainted. As a long time HIV/AIDS and substance abuse prevention educator I do tend to spend my working hours talking about risky behaviors, body parts, sores and symptoms, condoms and needles, and lots of other cringe-worthy topics.
With over 56,000 new HIV infections occurring each year in the U.S, too many of them in the South - it is definitely a topic we need to discuss, the "silence" is killing people! When you add addiction and substance abuse to the mix we have the rocket fuel for disaster for people of all ages. I hope to share with you the signposts to a road map that will help us find our way through this thing called HIV/AIDS, and perhaps we can increase awareness in our community, help ourselves and our loved ones who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviors. Maybe we can all find the courage to speak out about "taboo" topics and find effective methods to make our community safer and healthier.
I like to laugh, I cry over sappy commercials, I'm a sucker when my grandsons ask for electronics or anything that lights up, I love my hubby of 42 years for putting up with a wife who always has anatomical penis and vagina models and condoms in the back seat of her car, and I'm looking forward to getting to know you too. Please come back, we'll have fun!