stage 2 sobriety

Redemption

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it is only a diagnosis- it’s not the whole movie

as the 33rd anniversary of my diagnosis and the reality of world aids day move into view, i was invited to attend the national hiv conference in dc this december by a caregiver/colleague. i am humbled by the trajectory and velocity of my personal journey with a diagnosis. i often share with people i encounter who are experiencing the effects of a medical diagnosis , because in the beginning i thoroughly believed it was the end, and as i draw nearer to an end, it continues to feel like the beginning.

in october 1985, during an aerobics class in chicago, i became dizzy and faint, nearly falling over. i decided i needed to go to the doctor and went to dr. bernie blau, a well know gay doctor in the men’s community. he took blood and asked a lot of questions without writing down the actual answers, but only making red check marks in a column  below my name. he indicated he was not writing down any possible evidence that could lead to a negative consequence due to the political nature of healthcare for gay men at that time. quarantine was still an urban myth with a lot of mileage.

it turned out that i tested positive for hiv that month. it heralded the striking of a gong which echoed through my head and my life for the next 12 years at least. my life began to fall apart.

it seems so cliche to say “i never expected to live this long”, but that is really an under statement of the actual truth. i am sure i sped up a self-destructive path that had begun in the early 70’s. the volume grew louder and the pathway became more erratic.

here is a repost of a memory of my 1st geographic which took me to southern california in 86. the tale gets more sordid as most dependency stories do, but it also pencils in some of the darkness that was renting most of the space in my head. recovery has brought miracles into my life, mostly by erasing those pencil marks that trauma and diagnosis brought to me. 14 years of recovery and 15 years of consistent medication have backlit the story and changed it completely.

“move this” 2010.

It was unbearable. He had lost himself so often that  last year in chicago that he felt spun.  Disconnected, suicidal, and wretched were the accessories he pinned over his heart. There had so many lost hours, so many broken promises, to himself and his friends. And his table was set with so much sadness that empty would have seemed a banquet in comparison.

He was packing up a U-Haul full of his belongings in the middle of the night. He was at his wits end and felt like he was running out of options. He had been slipping further and further beyond the lines he swore he would never cross. He had been running in quicksand for a couple of years that seemed like lifetimes.

The death of a mentor and friend, the loss of innocence, the confrontation with morbidity and with his own moral frailty pummeled him with the power of a tsunami and what remained as the tide receded was stuffed into that 12 foot moving van headed for the West Coast. Even though he didn’t know what lie ahead, it had to be better than the hell-hole he had fallen into. He had been having an ongoing midnight ménage-a-trois with cocaine and vodka so often that it had become almost impossible to tell the three of them apart.

There had been so many nightmares that swam past him during that storm in his life. Ghouls and goblins and shadows and monsters were all very integral pieces to this shattered puzzle he had become.  He was headed west with no plan other than get the hell away. He had remembered a conversation with his friend Freddie about the onslaught of the virus. As their friends and neighbors slipped into oblivion around them, Freddie had said that the only people he knew that were surviving were the ones that left the city.  Freddie’s words might have germinated this escape plan that was hatching.

However it came to be, here he was, standing in the driveway, piling the last of his belongings into the truck when his landlord slipped up behind him and asked if he was going somewhere. When the driver and his bestie rented the place, they had planned on living in that spectacular wicker park brownstone for as long as they could. It had never occurred to them, or their landlords, that one of these young men would fade so early and the other would be so tragically torn between following his friend and changing the odds.  He certainly hadn’t wanted to talk with the landlord, but here he was, with terror in his eyes, relaying his plans and assuring that the new tenant would make things good. And the new tenant did.

Our hero remembered standing in almost the spot a year prior when he and his friend were moving into this gem of a place. Paul had been feeling oogie and looked beat.   At one point he sat on the rear gate of that U-Haul and tried to catch his breath. He actually never did catch it that day. He went into the hospital and didn’t leave for 34 days. That was how. PCP, thrush, AIDS, Kaposi’s, and candida all became members of their family.  Unspoken terror and uncertainty unpacked their suitcases and took up residence, too.

Once Paul died, he unraveled fairly quickly. He struggled with having dreams when his friend could not. He felt survivor guilt even though he hadn’t a clue as to its meaning. Sometimes the only option is to run. It may not make any sense. It may not even work out, but it is the only breaker in the box that hasn’t been pulled. The power is out and something drastic is required.  The only glimmer of hope for his scratched up viewfinder was this U-Haul and the change it was meant to create.

The Mists of Avalon

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I have been waiting for this day for a long, long time — this day right here when we’re in the White House with this amazing cast.  We host a lot of special events here.  We do a lot of really cool things.  But this for me personally is the coolest.  We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.  And when I say long time, I do mean long time — (laughter) — seven years — seven years — back when the President and I first got to the White House.

And here’s what we thought we wanted to do — we wanted to change things up here in the White House a little bit.  We wanted to open the doors really wide to a bunch of different folks who usually don’t get access to this place.

We also wanted to highlight all different kinds of American art — on all the art forms:  Paintings, music, culture — especially art forms that had never been seen in these walls.  So what did we start with?  We started with spoken word, because no one had ever held a poetry slam in the White House, that’s for sure.  (Laughter.)  So we scoured the country looking for the hottest spoken-word talent out there, and we found this young guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda from New York City.  (Applause.)  And a lot of folks were raving about this guy.  I mean, Barack and I — okay, all right, cool, cool.  We can do this, we can do this.  (Laughter.)

So Lin will remember, right before the event, we do a photoline with all the artists in the Blue Room.  So Lin walks up, and Barack and I go, oh, it’s great to meet you, and what are you going to do tonight?  And he’s like, I’m going to do a piece about Alexander Hamilton.

Now, Barack and I, we’re open-minded.  (Laughter.)  We consider ourselves creative people.  But we both kind of looked at each other like, oh, okay, this should be interesting.  (Laughter.)  And then Lin-Manuel got onstage in the East Room, where we’ll be later on today, and he got onstage in between the big portraits of George and Martha Washington, and he proceeded to perform the song “Alexander Hamilton,” which, as you all know, is the opening number of this amazing musical.

And of course, we were blown away.  We were sitting there — there are probably shots of us sitting there with our mouths open going, “Who is this dude?  What is he up to?”  (Laughter.)  And back then, he told us that he was going to do an entire musical about Alexander Hamilton.  And we knew that this had the potential of being really, really good based on his performance, but what we didn’t know — could never have imagined that it would be a work of genius — true genius.

I saw the off-Broadway version of Hamilton, got to meet the whole cast then.  Was I excited enough?  (Laughter.)  Was I excited enough to see you all?  And it was simply, as I tell everybody, the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life.  And I became a fan, a devotee.  The cast, man, made up of such diverse, talented — oh, gosh — people that I’d ever seen.

The show is creative.  It is hilarious.  It is memorable.  And I loved it so much that I saw it again when you guys went to Broadway.  I don’t think I came backstage, I snuck out.  (Laughter.)  And then I made my husband and my children go see it — you guys got to see them.  And of course, my children, because I loved it so much, they were like, “It couldn’t be that good.”  (Laughter.)  You know how you all are with — if your mom likes it, it can’t be cool.  I raved about it so much, so they went in very skeptical.  But they came out true believers, like everyone does when they see the show.

As we all know, Hamilton has become not just a Broadway hit, but a global sensation.  Shows are sold out until January, February, or whatever.  It is the hardest ticket to get on the planet.  It brought the house down at the Grammys, we all saw that.  That was really cool.  And it’s one of the best-selling cast albums in half a century, is what my notes are telling me here.  (Laughter.)

And that is not surprising, because Hamilton is an amazing story that is beautifully told.  Through Hamilton, Lin-Manuel reveals all the drama and the glory, the heartbreak that run through our nation’s history.  And he shows us that the icons in our history books were real people with real brilliance, but also with real flaws.

So really, Hamilton teaches us history the way it really should be taught.  I mean, to my mind, this is what school should be.  (Laughter.)  We’d have a lot of great historians if we could only figure out how to do this more — for more subjects.  I remember I was telling Lin-Manuel that he’s got to do this for, like, the Middle East, and all the other issues.  You’ve got to talk about slavery.  You’ve got to cover it all.  (Laughter.)  … Michelle Obama

Recovery Songs

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In Early Recovery, I came across music and lyrics that helped carry me through some of the rough times. Kirsten Virgard’s version of “A Boat on the Sea” from the film “Grace of my Heart” was one of those. Even now as I listen I am reminded of the temporary aspect of life and finding peace with letting go.
There’s a lamp that won’t light
In my poetry room
And children out playing
And a big full moon
My man’s barricaded there in his womb
He’ll be coming out soon
I remember when I met him
He blew in like the wind
No one was more beautiful
Or dangerous than him
He blew through my soul
Like a tangerine wind
He’ll be coming out soon
 
I never knew I
Was built so strong
My heart
My heart is a boat on the sea
I never thought I
Was built for hurricanes
My heart
My heart is a boat on the sea
 
Luxury looms on a fog bound day
I’m not alone now and I’m not afraid
I’m clean and I’m free. It’s all stripped away
My debts are paid
I wonder if he ever looks down on the sea
And thinks about the time
He spent with me
I know everything’s exactly how it has to be
All’s right with this world
 
I never knew I
Was built so strong
My heart
My heart is a boat on the sea
I never thought I
Was built for hurricanes
My heart
My heart is a boat on the sea
 
In the cold and the dark
You’re the grace of my heart
In the cold and the dark
You’re the grace of my heart
In the cold and the dark
You’re the grace of my heart

the spaces inbetween

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resentments

“Older Chests”

Older chests reveal themselves
Like a crack in a wall
Starting small, and grow in time
And we always seem to need the help
Of someone else
To mend that shelf
Too many books
Read me your favourite linePapa went to other lands
And he found someone who understands
The ticking, and the western man’s need to cry
He came back the other day, you know
Some things in life may change
And some things
They stay the same

Like time, there’s always time
On my mind
So pass me by, I’ll be fine
Just give me time

Older gents sit on the fence
With their cap in hand
Looking grand
They watch their city change
Children scream, or so it seems,
Louder than before
Out of doors, and into stores with bigger names
Mama tried to wash their faces
But these kids they lost their graces
And daddy lost at the races too many times

She broke down the other day, yeah you know
Some things in life may change
But some things they stay the same

Like time, there’s always time
On my mind
So pass me by, I’ll be fine
Just give me time
Time, there’s always time
On my mind
Pass me by, I’ll be fine
Just give me time

I began my 60th year in august and am nearing the beginning of my 61st. There is no guidebook or pathway to follow and believe me,  I honestly never imagined that my journey would last this long. It would be a relief if there were an actual reason for my work in this life, but it is more apparent that my work is simply my work.

Relationships have been a source of strength and of struggle for me. I grew up in an environment that was tumultuous, fiery, and skittish. Marriages followed by divorces were in the background of my youth and I learned later that disharmony feels like love to me. I also learned that trying to learn about love while love feels like that is too frightening for me to pursue.

I’ve certainly been loved. Loved by more than is fair I believe. I have loved too, although I became quite gun-shy after my 1st live-in relationship of 2 years in 1978. My self-control, my fear, and my rage flowed like flood water submerging all my safe harbor. Since that time, I have kept a lock system controlling my heart ( The distinguishing feature of a lock is a fixed chamber in which the water level can be varied; whereas in a caisson lock, a boat lift, or on a canal inclined plane, it is the chamber itself (usually then called a caisson) that rises and falls).

I have remained mostly safe from further heartache matching the level I felt finding my partner having sex in a car in front of our apartment. I have not yet met the level of rage that I felt when I felt the imprint of my childhood framing my own adult life. This was an early lesson in letting go for me. I decided very young to forego the baring of my soul in that way again.

I find myself in a very strange position. I have moved to a new city and spend many quiet nights. I am working for myself and have extra hours on my own. I am liking myself more and liking many others less.

I now know I dashed and sprinted through life sure that it would burn out quickly. Then I found myself here and understood I miscalculated.  I’m here, I’m working on things I found I feel called to do. And I see more clearly that the notes on the musical staff don’t make music on their own. The spaces in between are vital and give the melody and the mood its meaning and impact.

 

Nature’s Way

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trans flagIt was out of the blue that an old friend called me to attend a talk by Janet Mock at Mile High Church in Lakewood the other night. I had little awareness or expectation of her or her celebrity which is often a good approach to an event. I was not familiar with Janet or her advocacy, but I became an instant fan. She spoke of growing up in the “middle way” of gender identification and how she was able at an early age to find the courage to claim for herself how she would identify.

janet mock

image- janet mock

It highlighted to me how often our expectations of each to accommodate our own uneasiness with the unknown of other’s self-discovery. We want to pigeon-hole so we don’t have too much room for questions. Maybe having questions leaves too much room for mistakes on our part. Janet actually spoke at length and eloquently about making room that provides safety for those among us (most of us really) as we find our identities.

I remember running as fast as I could from the madness that was my home. My mom was busy trying to secure her own stability and was struggling with that. I hated seeing her pain and felt responsible for it. I couldn’t bear that responsibility. I had already learned that running was a way to escape and be safe and I used that experience.

I was 16 and landed in Chicago. It was rough seas but I got seas legs quickly. I depended on the kindness of a drag queen named Danee who took me in and helped me turn 17 without losing too much of my innocence. I saw the “gay scene” of 1970’s Chicago from the show queen and street hustler perspective. Those were about the only doors that were open to a runaway teen during those days.

I have written about this before, but the evening with Janet Mock took me back to 70’s Chicago. Glitter Rock, Retro Art Deco, high-waist double-pleated baggies with 2 skinny disco belts, Man’s Country, Sally Rand, Wanda Lust, Felicia’s Baton Lounge, Chili Pepper, Jodi Lee, Carol’s Speakeasy. these were the chapters of my late teens.

And the chapters were rife with people living somewhere in the middle of gender identification. Black, white, Hispanic, male , female; many colors and flavors. It made sense that the rainbow flag became a representative symbol.

But what I did learn was respect. For my money, the wilder looking folks with the gender bending features were much kinder to a waif like me. The calmer more respectable business folks in our circles were the ones more likely to try to take advantage of me. And l became respectful of differences and grateful for authentic kindness. I survived those early years living on my own only through the kindness of strangers. I had no idea I would need the skills they taught me later on in my journey.

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image credits- http://www.brumm.com

“Nature’s Way”

Is nature’s way of telling you somethings wrong
It’s nature’s way of telling you in a song
It’s nature’s way of receiving you
It’s nature’s way of retrieving you
It’s nature’s way of telling you somethings wrong
It’s nature’s way of telling you on the breeze
It’s nature’s way of telling you – dying trees
It’s nature’s way of telling you to slow down
It’s nature’s way of telling you – look around
It’s nature’s way of finding you
It’s nature’s way of reminding you
It’s nature’s way of telling you somethings wrong

Anthem

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I’m ready for a sing-along.. How about you???

“This Is Me”
I’m not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one will love you as you are

But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades
And reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that’s what we’ve become

Won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

…This is me

And I know that I deserve your love
There’s nothing I’m not worthy of
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
This is brave, this is bruised
This is who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come (look out ’cause here I come)
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum (marching on, marching, marching on)
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

I’m gonna send a flood
Gonna drown them out
(…this is me)

 

Another gem from the film “The Greatest Showman”