Open Wide the Windows, Open Wide the Doors.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.–Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

cabin-in-the-woods

My Dream Guest House. 

Last night it poured. Rain punched a hole through the sky and came in a torrent, upsetting the fat mother spider on my porch, interrupting her dinner of a stink bug I had caught and placed in her web earlier that day. The plants outside became floral fois gras, swollen through the roots by the early fall monsoon, and I worried for them, wondering if I should move them inside–they’d had enough water for two weeks! Surely this will kill the poor things! And then I thought, “Ah, fuck it. Let it pour, come what will come.”

barn-spider

I opened the door to the porch, and was greeted by a thunder clap. I watched mama giant spider ride her web through the storm, bending, moving, dancing between drops, in accord with nature. She accepted what was and went with it, on some level of consciousness. I allowed the two slugs to crawl inside on my carpet and gently wrapped them in a paper towel and pitched them over the rail. I let the moth that floated in like a wayward drunk stay inside so he could dry off on my table lamp. I stuck my feet outside and let the rain wash them, in a sacred ceremony for a weary traveler seeking respite on his journey. I let it all pass through…it’s only rain, bugs, and slugs after all.

One of the gifts of my current unemployment has been discernment–a strengthening in my ability to choose the things I want to attach to, wrestle with, stroke, pet, soothe, worry over, and ponder. I have time. Lots of it. This is both a blessing and a curse.

I am an Olympic Gold Medalist in the Obsession and Worry biathlon. I’ve been training since I was a child, spending hours in my mental gym not only lifting the heavy weights, but walking around still carrying them with me. I got strong in my ability to hang on to weight I should never have picked up to begin with…50 lbs. of depression in one hand, 50 lbs. of anxiety in the other.

My current remedy in the midst of the change I’m navigating–job loss, uncertainty, a sweeping lack of kindness and compassion from a couple of previous co-workers, thinly veiled accusations that I shall never full know, understand, or be allowed to address or defend myself against, and a deep abiding sense of loss and sadness that my tenure could be swept out the door so very quickly, so very unceremoniously–my remedy is to simply not carry it. Set it down. Become softer, not harder. Surrender. Every day, every hour, every minute. What I resist, persists. What I cling to may just suck me dry like a leech. What has happened is beyond my control, therefore, why attempt to control it? Not my circus, not my monkeys.

And so it rains. Rain passes through, soaks in, washes away, and nourishes. It provides growth, transformation, and sometimes has the fierce power to wipe the slate clean. And though a clean slate can be a terrifying thing to view, it reminds me that nothing is permanent.

Nothing. Is. Permanent.

If I allow it in, whatever it is, it will eventually pass through–as long as I open a window or a door so it can move on. Either just a crack, or by flinging wide the drapes and throwing back the hinges…if I allow space for things to move, they don’t get stuck or fester quite so easily, for quite so long.

So my lesson, friends, is this with everything in my life: Allow my career, my job, my social standing, my economic worth, my health, my lover, my friends, my enemies, my ecstasy, my passion, my fears, my anger, my past, present, and future disappointments, guilt, shame, joy, education, wonder…all of it…space to move through, and move on, change, grow, and transform. There is great power in this, and there is great risk in this practice.

For the greatest secret of all is in the knowledge that nothing is permanent, it only comes to visit. I own nothing, I welcome everything. At most, I rent this physical space on Earth, this body, this ever shifting impermanence. The only thing that is permanent is Spirit, which is also an ever changing, evolving, revolving tumble of God-ness beyond my understanding. It is sacred. It is a mystery.

What I am inviting all of you to do, myself included, is to understand that while the concept of “Let it go” and “just move on” may be harsh, difficult to accept and even more difficult to practice, the idea of “leave your windows cracked, your door ajar, and your heart unlocked for every guest–front door to back door–so nothing gets trapped, and everything moves through” is a gentler way of traveling a bit lighter through all of it.

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Namaste.

 

Hello. It’s me.

I have a dear friend, my first partner…the first man I was ever blessed to be in love with, and the first man I ever hurt to his core. We have, together, over the years been able to salvage from the wreckage and repair our relationship to where now it is strong, and solid, and with mutual respect and admiration. We have healed.

He is in need of great healing now, and is surrounded by an outpouring of love from family and friends as he battles a very aggressive, ugly, and scary brain cancer called glioblastoma.

quotes-hope-dawn-anne-lamott-480x480In my journey of shaking hands with my shadow self, and becoming acquainted with my faults, my sadness, my self-loathing, my smallness, and then forgiving and healing that shadow self to become a man of integrity and compassion, I’ve committed to the Buddhist practice called “tonglen”.

Tonglen, as defined by Pema Chodron is “…a method for connecting with suffering-our own and that which is all around us, everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming our fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our hearts. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be. We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person whom we know to be hurting and wish to help. For instance, if we know of a child who is being hurt, we breathe in with the wish to take away all of that child’s pain and fear. Then, as we breathe out, we send happiness, joy, or whatever would relieve the child. This is the core of the practice: breathing in others’ pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open-breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever we feel would bring them relief and happiness.”

I wrote to my friend yesterday. I’ve committed to sending him an email everyday as he recovers. He lives in France, and my Seester and I will visit him when the time is right to do so. This is what I sent him, and I’m sharing it here as part of tonglen, with the hope that this practice may benefit others who are going through pain and suffering, too. *Which means all of us.

Dear David,

Hello. It’s me. I’ve been thinking about change, healing, transformation and other stuff, and I want to share something that I’ve learned.
It’s important to just show up. When I meditate, I don’t prepare myself ahead of time. I don’t have the zazen cushion, the bell, the altar. I don’t have my lotus position perfected and my hand mudras facing exactly 45 degrees toward Summer and Winter…in fact, most of the time when I meditate, I’m a hot mess…or I’m in a state of “Meh”…which means, “Okay, I’d reeeeeely rather not be doing this right now, and it’s DEFINITELY going to suck, and “motivation and mindfulness”–well, you can both kiss my ass because I have one cheek for each of you,” and I do it anyway.
It sucks at first, and yet, I still do it. I show up.
The best counseling sessions I’ve had with my clients are when I have no script to follow, no clear cut action plan, and certainly no net.
The best times I have with friends are when our regularly scheduled plans get derailed.
The times that are the most ugly and frightening for me are also the times when I learn the most, and have the best chance for survival…and for growth.
But it requires that I show up, face it, and say, “Okay, so now what?”
Pema Chodron is a Buddhist nun I follow, and read/listen to fairly often. She talks about this idea of “Positive Groundlessness“. It’s that moment when you’re kicked out of orbit, or the rug is pulled from underneath you and you land on your bony tuchus. Positive groundlessness is what happens in the moments that follow. It goes like this: You have an awareness that you are in uncharted waters…that this moment is foreign…that this is dark and scary and there are wolves…and rather than the fight/flee/freeze option we usually choose, i.e. doing what we always do in situations like this to avoid pain and feel good again, we show up fully instead. We turn and face it. We look in the mirror.
In doing so, we are invited to become curious about this fear, the sadness, the unknown, the bad news, the diagnosis, the pain, etc. In doing so, we breathe. We show up and see that there are other things happening around us that are magnificent, beautiful, and in motion. And perhaps in doing so, we provide ourselves a fresh alternative, or a soft place to land, and we choose to respond differently in the face of pain, fear, and suffering than we have done in the past.
I never shared this with you, but it’s an example of the Positive Groundlessness I’m talking about. On 9/11/2001, when I was alone and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, covered in ashes from the towers after seeing them fall with so many thousands of others, I felt something hit my pant leg. It was a pink post-it note…one of those “While You Were Out” notes with the space for a message and a phone number. It was blank. I knew it must have come from one of the fallen towers, blown across the river from lower Manhattan and come to rest, like some sort of butterfly on my pant leg.
I keep it in my Box of Special Things, along with all your letters and poems. That piece of pink paper is my reminder of Positive Groundlessness. The phrase “While You Were Out” has a different meaning. It reminds me to stay present…not to check out…not to go AWOL…not to flee…but instead to simply show up, fully, even if I’m a hot mess, and receive the moment. I encourage you to do the same, no matter what.
With so much love,
Kevin
Kevin Redwoods

You’ve Changed. Again.

This July 4th weekend, I was both t-boned and rear-ended by, well, me. In a valiant struggle to transform from who I was/am into who I am becoming/will be, the Universe tends to notice this and becomes a kind of life coach who is into water-boarding and electroshock as a training method. It’s like He/She wants to see just how serious I am about shedding those unwanted pounds and firming up my core.

Kind of like the fucked up love child of Jillian Michaels and Samuel L. Jackson. Not a pretty baby.

I’ll go into depth about what happened this weekend, and what lead up to the ten car pile-up on my personal, spiritual interstate in subsequent blogs, I promise. (Pinky swear). Right now, it’s still too close to write about with clarity, and without bursting into gut-wrenching sobs punctuated by moments of “they’re coming to take me away, ha-ha, ho-ho, he-he” laughter.

For now, let’s play in a safe sandbox that we’re pretty sure hasn’t been peed in, shall we?

iyanla vanzant quoteIn recent talks with friends, change has been a theme. When I spoke with “My Two Todds”–yes, I have TWO, and you don’t–Todd H. mentioned how we often project onto other people what we ought to see in ourselves, or what we don’t want to admit about who we are, in an effort to safely look at our shit with some distance. The problem with this is that we’re flinging our ancient poo onto someone else and blaming them for being covered with it. Because we detest and judge in others what we don’t want to accept about ourselves, we turn away from the mirror the other person is holding up to us, and we miss an opportunity to transform. Instead of turning toward the mirror, our knee-jerk reaction is one of (for example) “This guy has shared with me that he has cheated and been unfaithful in the past. I cannot trust him because I am not around him 24/7 to see what he’s doing when I’m not around. I’ve been cheated on before, and I’ve learned not to trust anyone. Therefore, I shall not trust him, even though he has told me he has a desire to be faithful to me, and is willing to show by his actions–not just his words–that he is a man of integrity. Trust is too big a risk for me to take because it requires transformation and letting go of a limiting belief.”

Instead, we could look at ourselves. “I know that trusting other people is hard. I was taught that others cannot be trusted, will disappoint me and lie to me. I have no control over the actions of others. I can, however, learn how to trust myself, and have personal integrity. I can be open to meeting others who are on the same path, and give a guy a chance when he tells me he’s made mistakes in the past, and has learned from those, and is willing to continue the work of trusting himself, just as I am doing. It’s a risk, but it helps me to grow and transform, and may help this wonderful, new guy to grow and transform as well.”

In other words–every relationship we enter based on mistrust will end in more mistrust. The Universe will continue to give us what we want, and affirm what we believe, until we interrupt the pattern and choose a fresh alternative. It’s having the awareness of, “Oh wow. I have trust issues because I don’t trust myself, not because I don’t trust anyone else. I’ve been taught not to trust others, and learned as a child that I cannot be trusted, and that’s a limiting belief. The person I need to learn to trust–in fact, the only person whose trust I can foster, is me.”

I view change and transformation like a hipster dad with a flat for the first time on the side of the highway with two screaming kids in the backseat. The journey has been interrupted and the kids are hungry and cranky and Dad is still a good thirty miles from home. Dad hasn’t got AAA, Dad’s run out of Goldfish and water for the kids, and Dad’s never changed a tire before. He saw his Dad do it once, but he never really paid attention because he was hungry and cranky and five years old at the time. What should hipster Dad do? No snacks, no roadside assistance, and no instructions on how to change the tire…and too scared and proud to pick up the cell phone and call his Dad to ask for help because looking like a suck-ass father who’s doing it wrong is getting in the way of risking failure and doing it at all. Meanwhile the kids are screaming louder, it’s rush hour, it’s getting dark…

You have a cell phone. You have a Dad who’s done it before. You have a spare tire and a tire iron. Suck it up, buttercup. Make the call.

My second friend Todd sees change as nonlinear. Todd K. says the Taoist perspective on transformation is more about orbits, seasons, and slight shifts in our orbits while we continue to circle around the Sun. Sometimes a life event–addiction, terminal illness, loss of any sort, trauma–smacks us like a meteor and sails us out of our comfy orbit, knocking us sideways into a new one. *Those are best avoided when possible. It’s not doctor recommended to hit rock bottom AND THEN begin transformation, although, that’s what some of us…like myself…do.

IMG_3171Or another portion of us stay stuck in the same boring, limiting, painful orbit going around the Sun our whole lives, bemoaning the fact that nothing changes, same shit different year, wouldn’t it be great to change my job, go back to school, make more money, leave my deadbeat boyfriend, quit smoking, lose 30 pounds…and do jack shit about it other than seek distractions in a series of shiny objects and halfhearted attempts at commitment.

To shift our orbit slightly means that while we are cycling through seasons, we begin to expand or contract our orbit just a couple of degrees per month, per year…and make our way into a new orbit in a mindful, and certainly less shocking way. Let me end this post about how change and transformation work with a bullet point summary for those of you who are more linear, and less orbital. To conclude (clearing throat, grabbing the pointer):

  • Change is the only constant. This is not meant by the Universe to be ironic. And yet, isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? Black fly in your Chardonnay? Anyone? Bueller…Bueller?
  • The Human is the only species on the planet who rails against change, avoids it, fears it and also reeeeeeelly wants it at the same time, then tries to deflect it or flee from it, denies it, causes wars to bring it on or end it, and suffers as a result of having difficulty  in general…with change. Go ahead, try to refute that.
  • Failure to accept change always leads to suffering. Always.
  • Change is different from transformation, insofar as how we define each. To change something may be temporary, like our hair color, our underwear, or our boyfriend. To transform involves alchemy–once something is transformed, there’s no going back to what once was.
  • Once you accept change as a Universal constant, and also accept the alchemy of transformation, with this awakening, a host of other possibilities and moments of “oh shit!” are delivered to you on a semi-regular basis. This often sucks, and is occasionally fabulous.
  • The moments of “oh shit” and hosts of other possibilities were always there, but you weren’t tuned into them because you were sleepwalking through life and checking Facebook instead of being fully present in the moment.
  • Now that you’re awake, you’re more aware. It’s like tuning in to the constancy of the waves hitting the beach instead of thinking of them as background noise.
  • Sometimes, it takes a profound event–a tragedy, an illness, a death, a loss, or something perceived as truly awful (i.e. suffering is most often brought about by not accepting change and not paying attention)–to cause us to wake up, tune in to the present moment, and accept what we cannot change, gain courage to change the things we can, and cultivate the wisdom to know the difference.
  • That being said, it’s ALWAYS better to recognize you’re sitting in poo and have been sleepwalking through life wearing a dirty diaper BEFORE the shit you’ve been sitting in magically escapes your diaper and hits the fan. *Avoiding rock bottom is preferred.
  • Lastly, change doesn’t care how you feel about it, is neither good nor bad, and is not subject to the ego. Change just is.

I’ve heard it said we truly let go of something when we no longer think about it. Perhaps that’s related to the whole “forgive and forget” idea and the huge expanse between those two words.

Accepting change and fostering transformation come at the cost of letting go of things that no longer serve us in favor of new things that serve us better, and that means letting go, receiving, forgiving, and unlearning some pesky, bad behaviors.

If we accept that change is the only constant, would it not be better to accept each relationship with our bodies, our health, and with those we love as an opportunity to also evolve, cultivate, and transform on a daily basis? It seems selfish and narcissistic to want to keep our bodies and our lovers in stasis, just as we were when we were young and healthy, just as our lover was when we first loved them.

The phrase is “This too shall pass” not “This too shall stay.”

When we begin to accept change, each day brings with it a sense of curiosity. Each day becomes an opportunity to check in with our bodies, with our lover and our friends and family, and see how the terrain has changed for them in a twenty-four hour period. Acceptance of change means acceptance of what is, and a commitment to pay attention to changes as they come. It means our relationship with ourselves, with our partner, our friends, and with everyone crossing our path is in motion, intentional, fully present, and never taken for granted.

The Black Dog

039I can tell when he’s about to visit. I get away from daily meditating, writing, and working out with a sense of discipline. I always seem to falter and recede into a sadder, darker, and cynical place.

What’s different this time is that I’m not staying in this place–the bottom of the well–for as long before recognition alerts me where I am, and I begin to gather up my things, wipe off the dirt and the shit, and slowly climb out.

Have you ever met someone who was truly happy? Not “Seems Pretty Happy Most of the Time”, but someone who, in spite of Life taking a well-leveled punch at them from time to time, they remain firmly committed to happiness as their set-point? I suppose I have. I have evidence these people exist. I have evidence that it’s possible to be one of those people. What I’m learning to ask in honesty is not so much “Can I become someone who is genuinely happy and content?” but, “Do I really want to?”

When I’m honest with myself, sometimes I actually like being sad, down, and with moments of lean, hardened, cynical negativity.  I think it fuels me, even though it’s heavy, slow to burn off, and smells rotten, like sulfur. These moments balance me. They are reminders of who I was a lot of the time before I became awake and aware, and reminders of who I do not want to be again. They stop me, and warn me that I need to check myself before I wreck myself. Eventually, I become so disgusted by my inertia that I start writing, meditating, and working out again because I’ve become thoroughly disgusted with myself.

I think it’s time I come out of this final closet. The Depression Closet…or, as I mentioned, more like a deep well with a cushion and a fire pit at its bottom. Oh–and a rope ladder, somewhere. I always remember where I stashed the ladder…eventually. My depression has been my shameful secret lover since I was a teenager. It’s lead me to make some choices that have had some fucked up consequences, and it has helped me produce some of my finest writing, creativity, and original thoughts. Depression has made me a kinder person, a more discerning person, and I can speak its complex language with others and their dialects, though their experiences with it are as vastly different as snowflakes.

My depression is a Black Dog, old, with a gray muzzle, red-rimmed eyes, and wet fur. He shows up at my doorstep a couple of times a year, comes inside, and lies down at my feet–or on them. He follows me everywhere. Though he is usually quiet, he demands food and water. His food is my motivation, my creativity, and my giving a fuck, and if he’s really hungry, his favorite meal is my self-worth. He takes my tears for water, so I cannot cry, cannot have that sweet, wet release that helps me let go and let God. He parches me and keeps me from it. He is my familiar, my loyal companion, and he has never let me down.

Black-lab-292-MBryant

In the past, when I would feel him approaching (I always know he’s on his way days before his arrival) I would bar the door and windows, ignore his presence, do anything possible–alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, sex, food, porn, television, cigarettes, and more sex–to defend against him. It always made it worse. He wasn’t quiet during those days. He would snarl and bark, hurling himself at the door, knocking it in with a huff and a puff, climb on top of my chest, and pin me to the bed with all of his weight until I acknowledged him. Then he would bite my heart and feed on me with a vengeance.

The Black Dog has helped me learn that my enemy is my greatest teacher; that not accepting “what is” only leads to greater, and sometimes chronic, suffering. The Black Dog has taught me that my fear of him makes him stronger, wild and vicious, and my curiosity to know him better makes him tamer.

Perhaps the Black Dog was sent to help me, not hurt me. Perhaps he shows me how I might bring this openness and this perspective to another person who is fighting a losing battle with their own form of depression. I stopped resisting mine. I opened my door. “Oh. You again,” I said, and with a sigh, “Come on in.” Only this time I added, “You can stay. Just not as long, okay? I’ve got some shit to do.” He grumbled a little but he acquiesced. I think the Black Dog respects me now, and I’ve learned to respect him, too.

The Rest Is Still Unwritten.

I hold these truths:

Life’s not about a single moment of great triumph, of trophies and gold stars. Life is not about getting a degree, getting a job, squirreling away money, working for the weekend, detesting Monday morning, and doing what you have to do to get by until the long, uphill march to old age ends in eventual health decline and ultimately, death. It’s often seen that way in our culture, and we’ve been domesticated by our elders to swallow these myths and toe the line, and never step out of it.12717745_10154053839190992_6203477420564207594_n

I disagree. I believe life is an accumulation of moments, of small things that make a difference. My job is to show up, fully. Life is about the trials and errors and the triumphs and joys that get me there – the blood, sweat, and tears – the small, inconsequential things I do every day. It all matters, and it’s all important.

Life’s not just about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, either. It is about a full commitment to experience all of it, while being wide awake. It’s about going through the motions like a somnambulist (look it up) until something happens that shakes me awake, and when that moment happens, and it’s happened more than once, realizing I’m divergent, and that the status quo no longer applies.

It’s about the failures that lead to an “aha” moment, and the acceptance that it’s okay to mess up. The epiphany when I realize there’s nothing wrong with me and there never was.mary oliver precious life

It all matters in the end – every step–no matter how small, every regret, every decision, and every affliction. Even falling flat on my face is movement in a forward direction. These seemingly useless happenings add up to something. The power of uncertainty, and the gift of hindsight. The minimum wage job I had in high school. The evenings I spent socializing with coworkers I never see anymore. The trophy I won, or the accolades I received become no more and no less important than the time I came in second, or failed to finish at all. The guy I thought was “the one” who isn’t there anymore. The hours I’ve spent writing thoughts on a personal blog, wondering if anyone reads. The addiction I battle, the disease I wrestle and bargain with. Contemplation about elaborate future plans that never coalesce. All those lonely nights spent reading novels, news columns, comic strips and fashion magazines and questioning my principles on life, sex, religion and whether or not I am good enough. All of this has strengthened me. All of this has led me to every success I’ve ever had. All of this has created who I am today.

They are chapters in a well-worn, beautifully bound book. They are stories. At any time, I can choose a new adventure, go a new direction, and transform into a new character who tells a new story. This is the power of showing up, being fully present, and accepting all of it as neither good, nor bad, but what is.

You can write your own story. All you have to do is recognize it and accept it…and show up ready to do the work.

“Staring at the blank page before you, open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you cannot find
Reaching for somewhere in the distance, so close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions

Feel the rain on your skin! No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in. No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips

Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten”–Unwritten, Natasha Beddingfield

 

 

There’s Something You Should Know.

Kevin mugshotBefore you have sex, let the person you want to have sex with know you’re HIV positive.

Use a condom when you have sex.

Don’t share needles if you shoot up. Always use a clean needle, regardless of your HIV status, or clean your needle before you share it with someone else.

Should be pretty easy, right? Wrong. It’s still difficult. In fact, for some people, it’s kind of like coming out of the closet every time you want to have sex, and it often ruins the moment, to say the least.

At least, that’s what some of my HIV positive friends and clients have shared with me. And yet, it’s the law.

I thought I’d share my strategy, and why it has worked for me as not only a way to do the right thing and share my status, but also as a means of reducing stigma and empowering me as a person living with HIV.

The-Art-of-Self-Disclosure-Summary

First, know yourself. Not easy. But, what I’m proposing is to gauge your comfort level of sharing your status in the first place. Trust your gut. Assuming you haven’t yet had sex yet–Have you been having a conversation with this person for awhile? Has the flow of chat been easy?  Have you been able to ask him or her a few other questions, maybe share some other intimate details of your life? If the answer is “yes”, then you may have more surety that when you share your status, it will be well received…maybe.

Here’s how I feel, and I stand by this. If I’ve invested fully in another person, have had a few conversations with the hot guy I’m interested in knocking boots with, and if he’s shared some personal stuff with me about his life–in other words, we’ve both been vulnerable to a degree–then my ability to share my HIV status becomes a bit easier. It’s less of a bomb drop, and more of a gentle offering.

“Hey, so since we’re sharing some personal stuff here, I figure we might both be interested in each other. I don’t want to make an assumption that we’re going to end up with clothes on the floor of my bedroom, and be en flagrante delectus, but just in case, I’d like you to know–need you to know–that I’m living with the HIV virus. I’m also undetectable and healthy, and 100% compliant with my meds, which means the chances of passing my virus to you through unprotected sex are less than 3%.”

That’s more or less my spiel. If it sounds both compassionate and confident, it is.

Because I started first by being compassionate and confident to myself about being HIV positive. I thought how I’d want to hear the information from someone else–and I thought I’d like to hear it in a way that made me think, “wow, this guy’s got his shit sorted out”.

To quote my favorite band, Duran Duran, “I’ve got my own way”…and it works for me.

So here’s a little approach for how to get comfortable with disclosure in your own way. First, ask yourself three questions: 1. Do I need to disclose? 2. Do I need to disclose right now? 3. If I answer yes to the first two questions, how can I disclose in a way that feels like I’m honoring myself and being impeccable with my word to the other person?

Our biggest fear is rejection, followed by the fear that person to whom we’ve disclosed will go spilling our business to the neighborhood, to Facebook, whatever. That’s a concern, sure. Here’s how I got around that, and I invite you to see the logic in this: I don’t take it personally. If someone rejects me after I tell them I’m positive, then it’s not that there’s something wrong with me, or that I’m not good enough for them.

Through deep self acceptance and a journey toward wholeness I have come to believe that there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m living with a virus, and I have it under control. I’ve got this locked down, and there’s no shade on me. So, I say to the person who rejects me, “I appreciate your honesty. If you want some education, I am happy to provide it for you, so you might understand just how “not risky” it is to date an HIV positive person. If not, hey–no harm no foul, because I actually wouldn’t feel comfortable having sex, or dating, someone who wasn’t comfortable with ALL of me.”

As for someone running off and telling everyone else about my business, I had to realize that ultimately, I have no control over that. Instead, I have my impeccability and integrity in tact, where they have lost both.

My status is mine to disclose, and it neither defines nor limits me.

Thoughts on AIDSWatch 2016

AIDSWatch AIDS UnitedHeld yearly in Washington, DC, AIDSWatch is a caucus of citizens living with or affected by HIV, assembled to discuss with elected officials the issues impacting those with HIV/AIDS. With over 300 represented from 36 states, North Carolina had the third largest delegation in the country, with 23 members.

The conference is a melting pot of diversity—so many races and ethnicities, that were I to attempt to list them all, I would leave several out—men, women, and transgendered men, transgendered women, gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian; mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, veterans, immigrants, disabled, clergy, sex workers, CEOs, the list goes on.

Without the lanyards around our necks advertising our names with the “AIDSWatch” logo, or the signage visible near the conference rooms at the hotel where the yearly event is held, passersby would have no idea what we share in common.. Without those three letters, “HIV”, it’s not obvious.

But when I looked around the room, I saw the faces of HIV/AIDS today. It’s all of us here, and it could be any of us. HIV/AIDS doesn’t discriminate. People do.

AIDSWatch Kevin

Hearing the stories of those affected by HIV at the plenary session in Washington, D.C.

This nasty virus binds us in solidarity for those experiencing stigma, barriers accessing affordable and consistent treatment, and those without basic needs like food and housing, made more urgent by HIV’s presence. We speak to our Senators and Representatives on behalf of those who cannot, sharing triumphs and struggles, praise for their past support, and concerns for the future.

Most of all, we bring our collected stories to lawmakers.

Stories make HIV visible, saying, “See us. Hear us. We have HIV and we are living, not dying. We are growing older and aging. We are told to expect long, healthy lives, and we believe it. But this isn’t over. We need help to thrive in the face of stigma, discrimination, and barriers to healthcare, housing, and HIV Prevention for those most at risk.”

Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) is a federal program providing stable, affordable housing for people with HIV/AIDS. HOPWA gives stability to those in unstable, homeless situations living with the virus. Unfortunately, the HOPWA funding formula is still based on an antiquated model that includes national census data combining all people—both living and deceased—identified as having AIDS in a state. Updating HOPWA to include only those who are alive, not dead, would greatly increase the amount of funding available. North Carolina stands to gain a significant amount of money if this passes the House and Senate. Currently, the HOPWA waiting list is miles long, and HOPWA modernization would significantly reduce that waiting list.

One of Senator Thom Tillis’ staff asked me to explain how stable housing relates to stopping the spread of HIV. “Will you connect the dots for me?” he asked.

“My training is in Counseling Psychology,” I explained. “Are you familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?”

“Yes, I am,” He said. He was clearly paying attention, helping me feel less nervous as I sat in a blue leather chair in the ornate conference room of Senator Tillis’ office on Capitol Hill, flanked by my NC AIDSWatch brothers and sisters.

“Okay,” I replied. “Before a person can begin to deal with HIV, they must have some basic human needs met—food, clothing, and shelter. Of those three, food and clothing are fairly easy to come by. We don’t have naked homeless people wandering the streets of our state, and in most cases, a homeless person can find somewhere to get a meal. But stable housing is another matter entirely. Housing someone with HIV provides safety and security. Within those walls, they can store their HIV meds safely, rest and heal. Their medicine can be mailed, they have a place where they can be picked up and taken to their appointments, and they may more easily receive Ryan White Funding, AIDS Drug Assistance Program Funding, and access other programs like Medicaid. Through stable housing, the odds are greater of staying medically compliant, not missing doses, suppressing HIV to an undetectable level, living a longer, healthier life, and lowering risk of infecting others. That’s how modernizing the HOPWA Formulary will help stop the spread of HIV.”

I assumed that the Senator’s staffer would smile and nod, take a photo, pretending to listen, but not really “hear us”. I misjudged. I’m not sure what will happen with HOPWA. But all of us from NC who participated in AIDSWatch felt we had been heard. We shared stories, were fully present, and spoke with strength and dignity on behalf of those in our state living with HIV.

“AIDSWatch” reminds our lawmakers that we are paying attention to the choices they make. We are diverse, we are strong, and we have a voice in the fight to end HIV, and we will be watching what our elected leaders do next.