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I Yam What I Yam!

By Rev. Andrena Ingram

January 22, 2012

Hi Everybody! I am excited to become one of "thebody.com" bloggers on this site. I come here often and have been checking out a lot of your blogs, and you folks are pretty amazing!

Popeye

Popeye

I have been around the "proverbial block of cyber-land" for many years now. I remember when "Prodigy" was the one of the first online services; the other was CompuServe. I have belonged to many online groups AND a majority of online personals sites, and one of the first things they always ask is for you to provide a short intro about who you are. It has always been a headache.

I am not one of those who is easily definable. I am a complex creature ... and to tell the truth, I don't understand who I am most of the time. I am 56 years old and still finding out more and more about myself. This is not to say that I am "confused", but rather, I am always evolving. Not who I used to be, but made up nevertheless of all the complex parts of my life and living more abundantly and positively as each day goes by.

What am I? Who Am I? "Sometimes I have felt like "some kinda barnacle on the dinghy of life".

But, I come from "strong stock". Have lived through sexual abuse by my dad, have lived through the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement -- always bused outside of my own community, to be integrated into sometimes not too friendly school environments. I have lived through being an observer of domestic violence in my own home to becoming a recipient of said violence in my first marriage. Lived through seven years of active duty in the U.S. Army, first as an Administrative Specialist and ending as a Drill Instructor. I lived through my years of active duty in a drunken stupor. Made it out of the Army by the skin of my teeth with an Honorable Discharge. I have always lived through my experiences as being relatively "functional" on the outside. I have lived through snorting heroin, cocaine and living life inside the bottles of Wild Irish Rose, Mad Dog 20/20 and Colt 45. I have lived through a few years of smoking crack and living in abandoned buildings. I guess you can fairly surmise that smoking crack and living in abandoned buildings does not qualify as "relatively functional", even though there is a certain "functionality" to being able to live through that.

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Somewhere, in between the crack-pipe, the three-day missions and living in abandoned buildings, I caught a case of "The Virus", although I would not be diagnosed until many, many years later. I am today 23 years clean from drugs and alcohol ... it has been that long (if not longer) that I have been living with HIV.

Twenty-three years ago, I came off the streets into Phoenix House for 18-month residential treatment, to get clean, to deal with the ugliness that had become my life, and to begin finding out who I am. I lived through that too. Thanks be to God! Phoenix House saved my life, and I met my second husband there. We were both clean five years and married less than a year, before he was diagnosed with HIV (diagnosed in March 1993 and died in September 1993). During his passing, it was recommended that I get tested. My CD4 result came back as 350, and life for me "went viral".

Did I say, I come from "strong stock"? How else can you explain the trajectory my life has taken since then?

What am I? (wondering about me'self -- "to be or not to be" -- Who's askin'?!)

I am a mother of three (all fine). I am a widow. I am in recovery 23 years and living with the virus for just as long. I am a survivor of sexual and domestic violence. I am an Aquarian by nature (love to laugh and love all humanity). I am an activist against HIV stigma, by putting a face to the disease. I am a LOYAL friend -- loyal to a fault and get hurt in the process most of the time. I am an extrovert, but do need time away to recharge my own batteries.

I am a child of God, and for the past five years, am the pastor of a congregation on Germantown Avenue, in Philadelphia. It has been a long journey, a very public journey ... especially when it comes to my HIV status. No secrets ... I live my life as a religious leader LIVING unashamedly with the HIV virus. Took me a minute to realize that God loved me, even in my darkest hours, even when I had the pipe in my mouth and sucking the last corner out of the bottle. Took me a minute to understand that I have been primed and pumped for the life I have now -- to be a vessel for others who have no hope, to pour myself out as Christ poured himself out for me.

So, the above is who I am -- give or take a few character flaws I haven't mentioned.

What will my blog center around? Of course my passion is combating stigma and shame and guilt. Other than that, I guess it will just depend upon how I am feeling at any given time.

I'm looking forward to widening my circles of support, but mostly I am looking forward to sharing my life with someone who may need an experienced ear and an open heart. With all that I have been, and all that I am, I am not fake. I speak my mind. I don't pretend to be "holier than thou". With me, what you see is what you get. Heck, I may even let fly a few cuss words every now and then! (careful, there, don't ruffle me feathers!)

Hope I introduced myself properly! As a child, I used to love the cartoon "Popeye" ... and really loved the movie Popeye, with Robin Williams, and his song kinda sums up the question "Who Am I"? or "What am I"?

And I gots a lot of muskle and I only gots one eye
And I never hurts nobodys and I’ll never tell a lie.
Tops to me bottoms, from me bottoms to me top.
And that's the way it is ’till the day that I drop.
What am I? I yam what I yam!!!

"And I yam what I yam what I yam and I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam 'cause I yam what I yam!"

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