When I was diagnosed with HIV almost 17 years ago I dove head first into activism. I was angry and I needed something to do with that anger or I would have turned it onto myself. What I didn't realize is that I had already done that and what I did not know is that I would let that anger build for almost two decades before I accepted it. This anger sat buried deep inside of me festering and growing; bleeding out into the core of my soul. Anger that I should have never directed to myself, as it never belonged with me more than I had already allowed it to for my part. Shame. Embarrassment. Self-hatred. It seeped into every part of me. While I denied its existence, it grew stronger with every ignorant denial that it was there. Refusing to allow the anger to reside with the man that knowingly transmitted HIV to me and at least a dozen others, because I knew the hurt that had to infest a person for them to do such things. I knew that loathing of self was worse than anything my anger would do. I felt giving him any more than I had already was too much for me to bear after everything. Never realizing that this anger was becoming rage and self-loathing. Denying it was killing me.
Pain is pain, even if the circumstances are very different.
I don't know exactly when it was, but at some point over the pandemic when I was forced to sit with myself and face myself and my feelings in a way I never had, it finally surfaced. I could not deny it any longer. But it wasn't just having someone assault me and intentionally transmit HIV to me. It was a lifetime of self-destruction, abuse, trauma, and neglect. It was my sister's death; it was the only man I ever loved dying, and for me to find out all the lies he told me; it was the thousands of excuses I made for all the people that hurt me. It was the realization that there are only two hands and one human that has been in my life who did not abuse, neglect, use or intentionally hurt or harm me.
I had spent a lifetime running, 11 states and 2 countries. Running from myself, only to find myself in every place I landed. People and culture and dynamics changed but I was the same. The forced isolation and solitude of the pandemic compelled me to face myself as I never had. It seems comical now looking back and thinking that was the hard part. That was the healing part. The healing journey is different for us all. What I do know is the strength it takes to face not only yourself, but your demons, when the realization of your own naivety hits you in a loving and kind way is simultaneously the most freeing and challenging journey to acceptance I have made. To not hate myself or take the ownership of what others subjected me to and allow it to rest with the persons who should own it is something I cannot explain in words.
Rape, abuse, assaults, were what I knew of sex or love. Not that I didn't know better, but it was what I knew. At 40 years old that is the reason why I still have never lived with a partner and barely ever slept with one without being completely intoxicated, most often to a blackout. I could not even sleep next to the only partner I have had when he would try to spend the night. I would wait for him to fall asleep and go to the couch. I had a wall built between myself and others that only grew by the foot with each refusal to own my part in the shame, the pain, the guilt and the refusal to accept I was a victim. Taking them all onto myself as though I deserved it or asked for any of it, as though I did not deserve love and opportunity that I had been denied for most of my life.
The bigger issue was that I also have a brain injury that doesn't mix well with liquor consumption. My brain shuts down and I literally can become a person I do not know. The monster that the rage from all these traumas gave birth to. The monster that grew more with my refusal to accept I was angry and it was okay to be. With my refusal to put the blame of others' faults were it lies, with them.
I had spent a lifetime running... Running from myself, only to find myself in every place I landed.
I felt in doing that I was a victim. And I was not a victim. I am not a victim. I am a warrior.
But ... I am a victim. I did not rape me, I did not assault me, I did not lie to me, I did not neglect me or treat me with everything but love and then blame me for denying me that kindness and humanity. It was the ones around me. The ones who were supposed to love me and care for me. I don't own their part anymore, only my own. I own that I love myself and that in loving myself it is my absolute right and duty to protect myself in the ways I'm able to. Boundaries. Standards. Self-love. Autonomy. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Taking my life back to give myself the love I searched for in the faces of strangers but could never find in any of them or even those of my own family, a dysfunctional lot with their own traumas, broken and unable to love me or themselves properly without inflicting more trauma and pain on me or themselves. It was only when I found that in loving myself and giving myself permission to feel whatever it is I feel and to embrace it, feel it, accept it and release it that this self-love is the key to freedom from the burdens and demons of the past. Both my own and others'.
Giving oneself permission to live a full life with love and happiness is a right most are born with. But for some of us it is a lifetime journey of learning that we too deserve this right even if it takes 40 years to learn we do. Your journey is yours and whatever that looks like is yours also. Pain is pain, even if the circumstances are very different. The hurt and the heartbreak and the sadness and the anger with the yearning for love are the truth of our shared humanity that many would have one deny if we allow the societal labels to define and dictate the division of that humanity. The most important thing is knowing that there are others who understand even if the shackles of trauma they wear are very different from your own. There are people who love just to love. Free from the judgement society, family, or even ourselves places upon us. So even if it takes 40 years, finding those first steps to freedom, to healing and to happiness are worth the hurdles; the highs and lows. My journey started when I was born but my life starts at 40.
I hope you will start your journey also because I look forward to seeing you on the road a little less traveled on.
A poem on forgiveness:
Do your best they say, with no account for the damage that can cause along the way.
Excuses for the misuse and abuse a confused soul can bring to truth.
Well I say it's not okay.
Not okay today or any yesterdays.
We walk our path with lack and cause worry in a hurry.
We tramp and tromp our way through the day and we don't consider the flower we stepped upon was full of life, not even with the faintest of wither.
Consciousness out of mind because without that we can pretend to be blind.
I say, again, not today.
My monster doesn't want to come out to play.
I've decided that my own dragons I will slay.
It's time that bitch is locked away!
I'm so damn tired of being just another cliché.
Gone astray, locked into the bullshit narrative society taught me was my role to display.
The cost for me well it's too damn high to pay.
I'm changing, I'm growing, and that takes time they teach you to claim.
The whole while you have implanted their lies into your brain.
That hurting someone well that's just the human condition.
Don't you worry, I'll hurry and write you another bullshit societal fueled rendition.
The narrative where we are blind instead of kind.
Never using our own mind.
It's the same glory if we never take our own inventory.
Never raising even the slightest of quarry.
The same damn sad story that has led to the retelling of history.
The one that makes it easy to pretend there is no guilt within.
Better luck next time, just keep swimming like Dori.
Above all else, rinse, repeat and never, ever admit you are the one who should be sorry!
Powerful testimony. The journey to find ourselves is rarely linear and rarely easy. Thank you for your advocacy, for sharing, and for being a light!