that’s the good news. and it is good. the other side of the story is that i have not been on my best behavior nor in my best frame of mind. i have wallowed in a little pity, played a bit of the victim, been a bit gamey and childish, and worked it more than i would like to admit. being human is really damn humbling…
am offering 2 selections with today’s post- 1 with homage to the mindful part of myself and the other with a nod to the diva that walks the catwalk inside my head with repetition…. mercury in retrograde leaves november 10- fingers crossed we make it without too much more destruction and re-creation..the title of this post is practicing mindfulness – the emphasis is on practicing.
august 26 2012 i will have my 54th birthday. it seems very surreal to even be walking in this truth. i am living well today and manage to find contentment most of time. i am happy and at peace. i went to the wedding of a friend (alone) and was reminded that deep in the recesses, there are some things i believe will never be part of my journey. for some reason i have found myself a little weepy this week.
in 1984 i was at the precipice of something remarkable in my life. i lived in chicago and held court at an after hours dance club in chicago. the party had been going for a decade, but some unexpected turns had begun. boys were disappearing like cattle in the darkness being abducted by aliens. in my world, it started with john bennet. i remember him talking with my friend blue in the loading dock recounting his fears of this virus thing. john was gone within a few months. and soon it was almost like he was never there. then there was hot rod- a dj friend of my friend mark stephens. hot rod left earth early on. i will never forget the night that mark spread his ashes on the dance floor at medusa’s per hot rod’s request. it was at once pagan, macabre, as well as celebratory..
a year or so later my best friend, paul pfohl, who was living in nyc and going to columbia was unexpectedly returning home to chicago. when he arrived back in town he had lost so much weight it was shocking. for so long we had spent so much time trying new restaurants and basking in conviviality, but upon his return and a gnarly case of thrush, food made him cry in discomfort as his tongue was unable to take the stimulation.
he continued to deteriorate over the next 13 months or so. he died on thanksgiving in 1985. but one month before he did, after nearly fainting in an aerobics class, i was diagnosed with that new virus and dr. bernie blau put a check mark in a column next to my name just in case quarantine might somehow become reality. i went numb that year. not until these last few years did i realize that some old trauma was reignited and new trauma was unleashed. but paul’s death that next month really sealed the deal.
i had been dating a young man named todd thennes from mchenry through about 6 months of this 1985 drama. he was sweet and definitely a welcome distraction. my drug use had already begun to morph from fun to frightening. todd was sweet and a rascal- which was kinda perfect for me. but of course with the diagnosis and the terror that came with it, i cut that relationship out just like a benign mole at the dermatologist. it sealed the deal as he informed that he had tested positive as well. he had befriended my entire social circle by that time though and he became part of the family of choice that was ours at medusa’s.
1985 signaled the onslaught of the tsunami that was the holocaust of our time. hot rod, mark stephens, todd thennes(who did a lot of the holiday decor at the club and for david), neil adams (nealina), bruce bliss and rick(who did much of the styling for the club the first couple of years), paul pfohl, sugar(medusa doorman), michael hamburger, jc, chicky are only a handful of the medusa boys who went to carousel. there’s a scene in the beginning of “hereafter” where a tsunami hits a beach town in thailand and washed over people and takes them with it. some are gone and some miraculously are not touched. this is precisely how it felt. once we were all there, but in what seemed an instant they were gone. and there i stood in a holding pattern.
it took awhile for the fear to recede – about 12 years actually. research, science, and advocacy changed the course of that story. after i started meds, i found myself really angry. angry because i didn’t have a plan, i had spent 1/3 of my life waiting for that tsunami to take me. and it fucking didn’t. out of that anger came a decision to move to san francisco. albeit an incredible city without compare, it took me on a darker path than i had traveled. and it left me like wicked witch of the east, crumpled up silently by the weight of a dark empty house.
in my recovery- which started in september 2004, i have made a conscious decision to not be like some men i know in my long-term position. i don’t want to be bitter, burnt out, sarcastic and cranky queen. it wouldn’t seem respectful to all those boys that got swept away. what would it say if i was a complete asshole when i had been granted an opportunity that they were denied? no better to embrace joy and work for happiness and to give care and love to others. besides, with all my experience in the darkness i can understand fear, denial, and drug abuse in a real and connected way. so that is what i do.
i was 27 years old in 1985. that was exactly 1/2 my life ago. i have traveled the world, laughed out loud, cried in silence, made messes and cleaned them up, engaged in 2 careers, gone broke, started over more than once, and still i am here.
i have been weepy this week, mostly thinking about those boys i loved that went missing 1/2 my life ago. i don’t ever want to forget them. it is by grace that i am still here. that is the only explanation that makes sense. and believe me boys- i haven’t at all forgotten about you. this much i know is true.
this year has opened up the realization that i still have some anger issues. not just current ones, but some residual leftover justified and ancient pissed off. haven’t actually taken the time to figure out what the f**k i am angry about, but i have learned that it’s okay to move one step at a time.
as i do the work again with my sponsor i find that the revelations are more intimate. at the same time, my work grows in intensity- both quality and quantity- at the hospital. i am discovering just how primitive and how intricate working with others can be.
what i do know is that this hidden side of me- the angry side- has protected me for years. it has allowed me to operate “as if” when i most definitely could not have otherwise. this makes good sense to me, but i honestly had no clue that my rage and i had formed a symbiotic relationship. i’m not even sure i have a clue as to how not to be angry- that’s a scary statement.
now i am not talking about typical garden variety anger here. no, no, no. i am talking deep rooted thistle type anger that keeps coming back even after you pull it, burn it, dig it. that’s the kind of rage i think there is. rage so thick that it protected me from all the times i was used and discarded, all the names i was called growing up. anger that encircled me in denial for the 1st 12 years of being hiv positive- that double helix kept me alive and strong for over a decade as if i had an inner layer of titanium protecting me from the environment. i know it has been there since my childhood. and i know that it has been my soldier and hero. but i can definitely say it’s not serving that purpose in my life today.
this is probably the 1st post of at least a few to process and saute this issue. i pray that i am actually ready to let go of this no longer needed companion. i ask for the strength to trust life today. no doubt this will take time. and i’ve already been given more time than i had ever imagined.
i wrote about an encounter with someone who was deeply lost in his drinking last week. 4 days later he had died. i was very saddened by it all. feeling quite helpless and ineffective is just a fraction of the things that i have tried on. it’s better today. i am accepting and letting go. it is a process though.
the flip side of course, is that the struggling soul- my friend- is struggling no more. he doesn’t have to hate his hiv and his hep-c any longer. he doesn’t have to deny that he doesn’t feel his best.any more. he doesn’t need to imbibe till the blackness rolls in any longer. and he doesn’t have to hide who he is and how he is. he is free.
this space i now find myself in is part of my reality. strangely, it has been for half my life-in one way or another. in the 80’s and 90’s it was the virus that was taking out many of my contemporaries. drugs and alcohol took out a few too, but it was mostly aids. now i find the opposite to be true. working within the hiv field, the virus takes out a few, but more than anything else, i see multiple earth departures fueled by substances.
i am practicing staying grounded as i continue to remember that people die. this death is not an isolated incident. thankfully, it is not a daily one, but it happens more than i would like. i am thankful i am able to available for others. the 80’s found me numbing out myself. today i am listening. i honestly am changing. one day at a time.
tough transitions is a book written by dr.elizabeth neeld and it speaks to the tough times in life that are driven by circumstances, mostly unavoidable. these times come and go in life. this is undeniable. undoubtedly i have not met the challenges at my potential at every given turn. to reflect on a transition that worked me instead of working for me, i look back to 1996. i had been pushing myself to get through my community service hours to satisfy my probation requirements for my dui. at the time i worked about 50 hours a week and then put in 8 hours on saturdays shelving books at the public library and finished hours out shelving at the school of mines. with all the pressing on, i became weary and overtired. i went to the doctor and my doctor ran blood tests- it was confirmed that i was hiv positive. the wanted to start me on meds to address the onset of viral replication.
since i had been confirmed positive once before in 1995 and kept that truth in the dark corners of my mind, there was once again a process of acceptance that was required. and i agreed to start meds, even though for the 11 years prior i had renounced the medical field because of their naivete around hiv and their willingness to prescribe and over prescribe. yet, here i was in 1996 imbibing meds that were not self-prescribed and had a nervous breakdown. i didn’t sleep for a week, lost touch with good sense, and became paranoid and goofy. i finally slept after being diagnosed bi-polar and given more meds that helped bring me back into general focus(along with regular sleep).
funny thing was , after about a month on these new meds, i felt better physically and energetically than i had for as long as i could remember. and strangely, along with this renewed feeling, a very fearful sense that these past 11 years had been in vain as i had not really planned for any kind of future. yet there i sat with a bleak and black future in front of me. what followed was my usual practice in life- act on instinct. i quit my job of 11 years and started a new gig. i started partying heavily again, worked out a transfer with my new company to san francisco, and kept the party going. soon cocaine and meth were on the guest list, and i couldn’t keep up with my own version of a grimm fairy tale that was reflected in my life. buildings in new york toppled after swallowing planes, economies tumbled like stacks of jengo logs, and realities shape-shifted just as quickly as my waistline did with 2 full years of daily meth use.
this transition in my life, the onset of hiv meds and the conquering of my denial, was an opportunity that was missed, or at least very painfully delayed. instead of being open to moving forward with my life, i became intoxicated with not feeling the strangeness that acknowledgement and treatment delivered. i kicked away my stability and concentrated on trying to rebuild a foundation, in lieu of remodeling an already sturdy casement.
according to dr. neeld, transitions such as these happen in our lives. and they will continue to happen. we age, we lose jobs, we divorce, we lose friends, we become ill, etc, etc.. and her insight is finding the poise to recognize when we are in a transition and find a way to look to the outcome in lieu of becoming lost in the process drama. there are 3 questions she offers to guide us through highly troubled times. i believe that some of the power of change is in the asking of the questions, and some comes in our own answers.
How can there be any hope when we have already lost what we hold most dear? Where does hope live when we hear the words announced to us, “There is no hope”? We cannot bring the person back. We cannot return to life as it was.
For a long time people have been thinking about this dilemma. One of these individuals was Immanuel Kant who lived and wrote in the 1700s. Kant thought a lot about the kind of subjects we might label as “the eternal verities”: hope, ethics, God, morality, the meaning of life. Kant came up with three questions that he thought expressed the central human concerns. Here are his famous questions:
What can I know?
What can I do?
What can I hope?
this is an ongoing topic for me right now…. more to follow…
Characterised by – Greed; Insatiable cravings; Addictions.
“I want this, I need this, 1 have to have this”.
This is the realm of intense craving. The Hungry Ghosts are shown with enormous stomachs and tiny necks – they want to cat, but cannot swallow; when they try to drink. the liquid turns to fire, intensifying their thirst. The torture of the hungry ghost is not so much the frustration of not being able to get what he wants. rather it is his clinging to those things he mistakenly thinks will bring satisfaction and relief. The Buddha in this Realm holds a Bowl from which the ‘gifts of the gods’ are distributed. This is to entice the hungry ghosts to desire for the Truth which is the only way that the deepest longings and hungers can be satisfied.
Consider: ‘Gollum’ from Lord of the Rings; The obssessive nature of Video Games; Addictions of various sorts; We can be helped in this Realm by our willingness to ‘look up’, to see beyond our obssessions…… reposted from buddhamind
i went to a dinner hosted by the harm reduction action center in denver last night. the hrac work with injection drug users to reduce health risks and also inject human kindness into their worlds. the evening was also benefiting improbable pictures who have been filming the creation and development of u.s.e.d (underground syringe exchange denver) as needle exchange has been completely illegal in colorado until may of this year. btw, exchange has not been implemented anywhere in colorado to date, the only legalization was that local governments can now decide for themselves about appropriateness.
the keynote speaker was dr. gabor mate, a vancouver physician who has been working with idu (injection drug users) for 12 years and runs a residential program in that city. he recently wrote a book that i have previously written about briefly called “in a realm of hungry ghosts”. it refers to a buddhist concept of the 7 realms that we move through in life. the realm of hungry ghosts is depicted by a very thin dark creature who is always eating and never full. his perspective on addiction and causation and treatment. he blends 20 years of addiction science with a sense of common sense and simple human kindness to highlight a whole new direction of treatment which makes the assumption that the reason someone is over medicating is due to pain. and he maintains that instead of asking individuals “why the addiction”, we should ask the question “why the pain” and his experience demonstrates a completely different response. he frankly finds that all the female addicts he works with were sexually abused when they were young.
“why the pain” is a question that seems so simple, yet i don’t actually think there is an easy answer at all. i don’t mean that the response “my mother abandoned me” or ” my uncle molested me” or ” my father abused my mother during my childhood” are not simple. the words are simple. not more than 7 or 8 strung together at one time. no, the complications are not in the expression of the concrete aspects of theanswer. the challenges in the answer come forward in the manner in which the individual comes in the treatment door.the bio-psycho-social factors that have brought them this far. they have a lifetime of (not) coping skills that have been built up. a trauma that happens early in life (especially when repeated or endured over time) can cause a person to shut down so as to stop the emotional pain. it makes complete sense that these individuals would find external chemicals such as opiates or alcohol that help them feel (especially pleasure). what makes even more sound sense is that letting go of these compounds is not an easy task, especially since for most of them, they may connect to the only pleasure these individuals have felt for as long as they can remember. btw, they usually forget a lot of the pain that led them to addiction with good intention- survival.
for me, i look to the explosion of crystal meth use in the gay male population in the industrialized world in the last two decades, with the highest percentage being hiv positive. this reasoning brings clearly into focus an explanation of this madness. is it not common that gay men identify feeling love and intimacy through their sexual contact, and being hiv positive would directly inhibit this process. crystal meth no doubt allows men to circumvent this inhibition and refill their emotional coffers. but when the emotional coffers never feel full, happiness is elusive, and continues to be chased.
it’s a simple question… why are they doing meth? to feel better. to connect with ohters sexually, to feel loved. if sex is how we communicate- how else do they make this happen? the only way they have known to feel loved has been diminished and neutered?
i met with a man today who is struggling with life. he’s been wooed by tina for about 10 years and lost his way home probably a long time ago. feelings of futility, uselessness, frailty, and abandonment seem to be his greek chorus. and their songs return him to inertia with overwhelming regularity. about 4 months ago he began to hurt himself after arguments with a partner. it is a trend that has caused pain and scars in different dimensions and it’s a trait that continues to rear its head. frankly, he has opened my heart.
without a doubt, men who overuse meth develop hollow interiors. perhaps it’s like being the remains of a scraped out melon after making classic style melon balls for a cocktail party. what remains is a sticky, runny, meatless shell that is just aching to be filled and seems such a waste. i understand that ache well and i respond to this man’s predicament from my core.
as i sat with him, i found myself remembering a time when i had just tested positive for that damn AIDS virus. it was the mid 80’s and there was not much information about what it was and certainly no medication of any kind. there were guys like me all over this country who were struggling with fear and a helplessness. out of la, there was a woman who began working with some of these guys, helping them to regain a bit of their balance and composure. she would infuse their hearts and minds with the idea that our thoughts had power and that we had the ability to have an effect on, my sponsor our own lives. even if the scientists, doctors, and nurses didn’t have that ability. her name was louise hay and she facilitated a weekly group called the hayride and wrote a wondrous small book titled ” you can heal your life”. she not only touched and transformed hundreds of gay men in california, she is credited with sparking a movement in our culture. but i remember her mostly for the profound affect she had on me then and again.
strangely enough, 20 years later, i found myself trying to dig myself out of a very dark and dingy hole that my dance with meth had dumped me in. paralyzed with fear, anger, and frustration i turned to 12 step to help me figure a way out because i felt completely bamboozled. in that process i began working with a man who suggested i develop some spiritual practices that would intermittently and consistently keep me connected to a spiritual force. as i worked through this task, i remembered this song and the gift it gave me. i incorporated it into my daily routine again and i have found it reborn in its magic and grace.
i know that her voice, her ideas, and her words, comforted me in ways that nothing else could during two very painful and pivotal times in my life. and i still carry some of that ideology within me today. i don’t know if sharing the lyrics to this song she included on her taped affirmations offered my companion any solace, but if it gives him even a fraction of the power it has imparted on my life, then it is a good move.
I Love Myself
I love myself the way I am,
there’s nothing I need to change.
I’ll always be the perfect me,
there’s nothing to rearrange.
I’m beautiful and capable of being
the best me I can.
And I love myself just the way I am
I love you just the way you are,
there’s nothing you need to do.
When I feel the love inside myself,
it’s easy to love you.
Behind your fears, your rage and tears
I see your shining star.
And, I love you just the way you are.
I love the world the way it is,
’cause I can clearly see, that all the things
I judge are done by people just like me.
So ’till the birth of peace on earth,
that only love can bring,
I’ll help it grow by loving everything.
I love myself the way I am,
and still I want to grow.
The change outside can only come,
when deep inside I know,
I’m beautiful and capable of being
the best me I can.
And I love myself just the way I am.
~written by Jai Josephs ~
TEN encourages you to take a look HIVSTER at a new site from Seattle featuring a collective of writers with some fresh perspectives and thoughtful points of view. click on the link below and read a bit about the soul of this new project. My previous post indicated it was in collaboration with gay.com, however this is incorrect. it is the efforts between Jesse Kendall and Brad Crelia of Seattle, WA.
a new hiv site has been borne from collaboration in seattle. gay.com has sponsored an hiv friendly site that brings cultural competence out in the open. it feels right. here is one of the articles i found posted. i am gently reminded yet again that being different has a dark side.
Today marks 12 years since Matthew Shepard’s tragic death. In 2001, my Mom wrote about his death and how it deepened her fears for about me being young and gay. Written almost ten years ago, her story still speaks directly to the violence and turmoil we endure. My mom passed away 7 years ago but I know wholeheartedly she’d be fighting with all her might to help the LGBTQ youth who are hurting today.
Judy Shepard, mother of murdered gay teen Matthew Shepard, is determined to use her grief over her son’s death to make a difference. She is now speaking to audiences nationwide about what they can do to prevent hate crimes in their schools and communities. To find when she might appear in your community or to sponsor her appearance, contact Keppler and Associates, at 703.516.4000 or visit http://www.kepplerassociates.com. –
Seeing it felt like a blow to my gut. My eyes immediately stung with tears, the kind that grip the corners of my eyes, refusing to fall. I came across it while researching the Internet for information on Matthew Shepard.
There wavering on my screen was an image of Matthew Shepard’s disembodied face frozen in a sad expression engulfed in animated flames. The words jumped off my monitor: “Matthew Shepard has been in hell for 838 days. Eternity — 838 days = Eternity.” Even the URL made me grimace — www.godhatesfags.com.
On October 7, 1998, Judy Shepard’s world shattered. I can’t begin to imagine her pain at knowing how her son Matthew suffered, just because two sick young men hated gays, found a victim on which to unleash their rage, and left her son Matthew to die on a Wyoming fence.
I remember seeing Judy Shepard on TV. She said, “In a perfect world, because your child is gay, you don’t worry about their safety.” A chill ran through me. I couldn’t help but try to imagine Matthew Shepard’s terror, his parents receiving that awful call….. read the rest of this article at hivster