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By River Huston

March 20, 2013

In January of 2013 I went to India. I never had a desire to go to India. I was asked and I went. The primary reason was to talk to health professionals about addiction and explain the concept that addiction and alcoholism are a disease not just weakness, lack of will power or bad character.

This was the how the majority of people see addiction and not just in India. I visited six cities and spoke to numerous groups and individuals. The whole time I was there I kept thinking something magical was going to happen. The first magical thing was I could not breathe.

New Delhi was so polluted you could see the air and it stung your throat and eyes. From there my health failed miserably. I was so ill I often thought I should book the first flight I could get and go home but I stayed waiting for some kind of miracle that did not have to do with pashmina shawls and trinkets everyone thought I should buy.

I did notice when I ventured forth with some of my colleagues I made them uncomfortable because I spoke to the myriad of people who stared at and followed us. I was curious. I knew they wanted to get money from me in mini-schemes that would improve their quality of life but I was hoping to get beyond that and maybe have a conversation. As my friends marched forward, eyes on the prize (some market or store), I would loiter and try to find out about the people accosting me.

I found it easier to go out alone. I was never afraid. Maybe I should be but I never felt danger. What I did feel was sad. The last two years or so I had been living by a script of my creation; sometimes it was a drama, other times a financial thriller and recently a sad love story.

The night before I was to leave for the month my soon to be ex-husband called to tell me he had fallen in love and needed a divorce, stat, so he could get remarried. We had been separated for two years so this was not a surprise. Knowing I never wanted to be with him again helped but there was still grief in those words. It was not about him or us, it was about what I told myself in my head: I failed. I failed in marriage; I failed in finances; I was middle aged and had nothing to show for it. I don't know what love is and I am selfish, self-centered and narcissistic. I was alone, unattractive and life was empty and meaningless. I didn't even realize how powerful and persistent these thoughts had become till I was on a 14-hour flight to Delhi.

For three weeks I went to Delhi, Chennai, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Bangalore and Mumbai. I spoke at colleges, press conferences and in the slums. I was with sixty other women doing the same thing and the impact was very powerful. I felt great about the work but I was physically and emotionally weaker by the day.

On my last night in India I was alone. I had stayed an extra day to speak to a group about living with HIV but it was cancelled. I ended up going out with a man born in a slum in Bombay who had helped with some of the scheduling for the speaking events, and the miracle happened.

By then I was very sick (later I found out it was walking pneumonia) so we took it easy and went to eat at a wonderful restaurant. It was great and we quickly got beyond small talk and he asked me if I wanted to do some forgiveness exercises that his Master taught him. I was thinking, "Wow, what an original pickup line!" But it was amazing. We stayed up all night, went deep into our hearts, and through meditation and visualization got to the root of my shame and sadness and identified this negative script I had written and come to believe.

After letting loose a bucket of tears, he held me in his arms for hours; it was like getting every missing hug I lost out on in my life. We spent 36 hours together in intense intimacy that had nothing to do with sex. Finally it was time for my evening flight home. We went to the airport and said our goodbyes.

On the 16-hour flight home I felt lighter, hopeful and had a new tape playing in my head. "I am amazing, wonderful and life is good." When I got home I was incredibly sick and could barely breathe. I went to the hospital, they did x-rays and gave me antibiotics. I took to my bed for two weeks unable to move. During that time I went in and out of fugue-like events with fever and fatigue.

One day I got a call from a man who wanted to buy my truck. I had been trying to sell if for months but had not put much effort except a for sale sign and it was sitting in front of a warehouse that did not get much traffic. I was too sick to deal with it but he was adamant he had cash in his pocket so I told him if he came and got me he could check it out. He did, we got to talking, and after the longest test drive in history he bought it. But the real payoff was our conversation.

He turned out to be my age and as he spoke it was listening to myself and how I had been feeling for the last two years. He was divorced, had a business but the economy tanked it, he came down to the islands to retire but realized he still had to work. He felt he was just going through the motions. He was not suicidal but totally ready if God called him on home.

It was like a kick in the butt. I had been practicing my new script but the old words still surfaced now and again. His frank confession drowned them forever. I do not want to just go through the motions. I have survived so much and the last two years have been rough, but I can now accept it was a transition period. I didn't lose anything; I just moved on.

The next day I crawled out of bed to give a eulogy for one of my sponsees from a twelve-step program who had committed suicide before I left. It was like the final door for me. Moving on to a higher plane. I called some people who had wanted to work with me to start a non-profit that would allow me to speak at places that had no money. She also was willing to search for personal art grants so I can continue to paint. I was still physically a little weak but emotionally I felt like a different person.

In all things difficult, as in all things wonderful, they pass. I went to see an acupuncturist yesterday and she did an amazing two-hour treatment. When I get treatments like this I pray and meditate. I went into my meditative state and felt filled with such love and hope. I felt the love and encouragement of all that have passed before me. I felt the gratitude for having survived not just pneumonia but HIV for 28 years (I have known for 22 but my last exposure was 28 years ago). That I live somewhere where I can readily get treatment (it takes effort but it is available), that I survived my own negative thinking and depression over the last few years. That I finally feel free, hopeful and in the knowledge that there are no wrong decisions, that I am not alone and I am loved completely and unconditionally and it is up to me to recognize it.

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