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In my twenties, my low self esteem and self doubt often created a constant need for validation. This usually got appeased through my sexuality and getting other men to desire me. With my wild streak in full swing, it seemed like a natural fit to become a stripper at one of the local bath houses. When meeting with the staff, they mentioned that a public health tester was present in their facility if I wanted to get tested (although it was optional). And this is where I got the HIV rapid test indicating that I could be positive.

My first stage appearance was set for the following Thursday, but I wouldn’t get my confirmatory results until the following Monday. How could I go through with this gig while my HIV status hung on the line? I sought out the help of a friend who wouldn’t judge me.

“Try this,” he said. He handed me The Secret by Rhonda Byrne: the 2006 pseudo-spiritual, self-help book that focused on the power of positive thinking. Based on the law of attraction, the book promised that anyone could achieve anything as long as they truly believed in it. If you faithfully believed you could have a million dollars, then you’d get a million dollars. But any smidge of doubt would cause the reader’s dreams to fail.

desperatelyseeking_ed__optThe book had been incredibly successful, yet I always remained a cynic. It seemed like a lazy approach: You don’t have to do anything but think really hard. But now, I was absolutely desperate and would try anything not to be HIV positive. So I shelved my skepticism and took the book from my friend.

The Secret focused mainly on concepts such as gratitude and visualization, but I was far too much a pessimist to be grateful and too ADD for any solid visualization. Nonetheless, I tried my damnedest. I hung signs up all around the apartment saying “You will be HIV negative.” I created a ‘vision board’ of what my life would look like as a happy and healthy HIV-negative man.

Come Thursday night, The Secret had at least given me the confidence to go through with the new job. I arrived extra early like they’d asked me to. And there I sat … in a dark room in a bath house frantically trying to finish the book before I went on stage to take my clothes off. I couldn’t help but feel a bit ridiculous, like a bad cliché: a stripper reading a hokey self-help book. If low self-esteem had been my problem, then clearly I was far from resolving it.

On Monday, the doctor told me I was HIV positive. According to The Secret, it would have been my own fault for not believing hard enough. My friend encouraged me to continue working with the book, that perhaps I could make my HIV disappear. Instead, I decided never to touch the stupid thing again. Not because I blamed it for inefficacy, but rather because I blamed myself for thinking I could resolve such a serious problem with a such a quick fix. Thus, my one night as a stripper would be my last.

In the panic of a possible HIV diagnosis, it felt reasonable to desperately seek help from a popular gimmick. Yet, through some hard work on myself, I still achieved health and happiness despite my HIV status. Something about that seemed much more incredible than simply having been able to wish all my problems away. And that was what became my best secret of all.