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The Making of You!

By Rae Lewis-Thornton

June 5, 2012

This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.

Sophie and Mommie in the ocean.

Sophie and Mommie in the ocean.

I consider myself a cook! Yep! And anyone who has ever tasted any of my delights thinks so too. I had a friend once who told me that he would pay me to teach his wife how to make my macaroni and cheese. For Real, and my BFF Luke tries his best to whip up my creation with the same exact ingredients, but each dish does its own thing no matter how hard you try. Even for me, with my mac and cheese it varies. There are some constant ingredients like macaroni, milk, eggs, butter, but what type of cheeses and any other ingredients like sour cream, whipping cream etc. depends on the life of my budget and or what I have in the refrigerator.

There is no exact science to cooking no matter how hard you try and I believe that making a wonderful dish is no different than the making of us. For Real ... Yes, there are some ingredients that are a must for that dish to be named that particular dish. A cake for example, requires flour, baking powder, baking soda, eggs, butter, milk no matter how you make it. But the flavor and how much of these ingredients varies from cake to cake; and no matter how much you beat the sugar and butter, the cake can still fall in the oven because of an accidental slam of the oven door.

Just like with us, our making requires a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman, but in the end, we are shaped by our environment. Where we were born, what conditions we were born under, how we were raised, all of this goes into the making of you.

I say in my latest book, that I'm a stray dog with a bow on her head. No matter how much the bow may cost, or the designer of the bow, it can never change the fact that I'm a stray dog. In my mother's womb, I was sucking on an umbilical cord laced with heroin. People say to me, don't say that about yourself, but it's the truth. That fact can never be changed no matter what I do in my life to make my world pretty and acceptable to others. I'm a freaking stray dog.

Now, don't be confused, there is nothing wrong with being a stray dog. In fact, a stray dog will make it a lot further in life than a pampered pooch like my Sophie and that's a fact. You turn us both loose in this mean ass world and see who survives the longest.

So I wonder what makes people so uncomfortable with who you are? And why are we so determined to get everybody and even ourselves to be something that we are not? Why aren't we comfortable in our own skin? And why can't who you are be enough for people to embrace you? And why do we try so hard to please others rather then pleasing ourselves. Are we more in love with others loving and liking us, more than with liking and loving ourselves?

Sporting my island tan.

Sporting my island tan.

I used to try to make others like me, For Real. For Real ... Ok, so I don't wear blue jeans, well maybe once a year and my ex-husband use to say to me, "You so bourgeois. You think you are better than everybody else." Boy was he all wrong. It's just that I'm more comfortable in slacks than I am in jeans. But to shut him the fuck up, I went out and bought some jeans and wore them during our marriage and you best believe when I packed his shit, I put the jeans in the bag with his clothes.

I did the same thing to win my mother's approval. I worked my ass off in those early years as a political organizer so Mama would be proud, but in the end, I learned that there was nothing I could do to win her approval. She was made from the cloth that she was made from and not one of my accomplishments would change how she viewed life and how the same lenses from which she viewed life is the same from which she viewed me. Can't fault them for who they are, even if who they are does not add value to your life. But what you can do is create boundaries that have the best outcome for you, in spite of them. They used to tell us in Al-Anon, just because the addict is clean, doesn't change who they are. Addict behavior transcends the use of drugs and that's a fact. Yet we try to shape our lives for others, rather than shape our lives to be the best you.

So at 50, I'm just being me. I'm learning to love and value me; the woman who has been shaped by years of abuse, self-abuse and years of perseverance in the face of adversity. I'm not bound by what you think I should be, nor of what you think of me. If you can't see the goodness in me for who I am, then you have on blinders. You have the problem, not me and I have enough shit to deal with than to take on your shit too.

Now that is easier said than done and it takes practice. People will try to steal your joy. Like a member of Delta Sigma Theta posted a comment yesterday on my You Tube Day 23 video, that I was a "spoiled, self-important, pseudo-celebrity who is not use to being treated like a regular person." She went on to say that I don't deserve any, "special treatment" of other "dues paying hard working, pledging member gets." I had to take a deep breath and think with a clear head. You have to know that you know, that you know, who you are, or people will get you caught up in their bullshit and life is too precious to be stuck in someone else's shit. For Real ... For Real ... After a few moment's I shrugged it off. How right and how wrong she was at the same time.

Essence Magazine cover

You see, If I wasn't a "pseudo-celebrity," if I didn't have an Emmy award or had never been featured on Oprah or Nightline or had been on the cover of a magazine or as hard working in my life as a pledged, due-paying member, then I would have never been asked to be a honorary member, that's a fact. And yes I'm spoiled, gotta come clean on that one. And yes, I think I'm important and I hope that she thinks she's important too. But none of those things have anything to do with the fact that I was disrespected in a phone conversation. I certainly hope every dues-paying, pledged, hard-working member of any sorority thinks that they should be treated with respect and if not, stop that shit in its tracks.

I once told Mama, that I had been fighting with her my entire life and that I didn't intend to fight any longer. AIDS was the hardest fight of my life and I didn't have the energy for both. She had two choices, stay in my life peacefully or get the hell out and then I hung up the telephone. I had that come to Jesus meeting about my mother and I had decided, that I was more important to me than suffering through her abuse. As a child I had no choice, but as an adult, I could decide if people could abuse me or not. I just had to decide which I liked the most, her in my life and liking me with abuse, or her out of my life, with no abuse. I chose an abuse-free world.


It's interesting that the sum-total of who I am was shaped by who I am. It took a long time to learn to love me for me. Like the Dove commercial says, I've learned to love skin that I'm in. Now this does not mean there isn't room for self-improvement, to be the best you for you. I mean, I try to make my pound cake better each time I bake it. But for sure, it's not so someone else will say they love it; it's so I can have the perfect slice of pound cake with the perfect cup of Earl Grey tea. Being better is to make me happy, not others.

Now, don't be confused, selfish I'm not. Sure I will share my pound cake, but if it does not make your pallet sing with joy, then you can leave it on the saucer and keep it moving. But you can't say that I didn't share the best of me with you. It's just, who you are, wouldn't allow you to see my best as your best. There's nothing wrong with that. What's wrong is when you tell me I can't bake because you don't like my recipe. At the end of the day, we have to learn to appreciate each other and ourselves for who we are. We should set the standard for our own life, not someone else. You should never deny the best of you; who you are is shaped by all of you and there's is nothing wrong with your journey. You should own it with pride. With Pride There Will Be Joy!

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See Also
10 Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being
Depression and HIV
Feeling Good Again: Mental Healthcare Works!
More Personal Viewpoints on Coping With HIV


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Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.

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