Having tested positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in 1986, and being diagnosed with AIDS since 1991, much of my life is devoted to the study of HIV, healing methods and service to others. All of my life, in fact, revolves around HIV -- friends, support groups, activities, daily routines, and even my income. If my research, study, and service has urgency as if my life depends upon it, it is because it does.
Recently, I had the results of a viral load test that showed absolutely no HIV activity. It appears that my immune system is gradually rebuilding itself, and if this trend continues, it is theoretically possible to totally eradicate HIV from my system. The good news came with mixed feelings. Since I've dealt with this virus for so long as a central part of my life, my joy was juxtaposed with sadness for recently lost friends, a lover, unresolved anger and frustration at the institutions that contributed to their demise.
Although it is too early to tell the course of events, just the thought of becoming HIV-negative causes a rift in the stream of my ego's world. The very same day the viral load test results came in, I had the rare opportunity to watch TV and, as a strange coincidence, came upon a "Star Trek Voyager" episode that spoke to me in a very special way.
The gist of this episode was that the DNA and consciousness of two main characters were combined into one being while in molecular transport back to the ship. This new person struggled to integrate both persons into a unified consciousness and set of experiences. While the crew refused to accept the loss of their previous comrades and worked diligently to recover them, the new being demonstrated that he was the best of both, and searched for a place on the ship. When a method of separating the combined DNA became possible, everyone was happy, except the new being who did not want to die. The captain was forced to make a very difficult decision: to authorize the procedure and return the merged being to their individual states.
While this episode is exceedingly implausible, nonetheless, it is laden with metaphorical implications. It was especially pertinent since I was faced with extracting pieces of DNA from my own system that have forever changed my life. My decision is not so dramatic as the TV episode and the course is obvious. Unlike the TV show, however, even if I am able to extract this new DNA from my system, returning to my previous character is not an option.
Having witnessed and experienced the miracles and horrific tragedies that surround HIV/AIDS, delved into transpersonal issues, and confronted what is real and what is not, I am no longer the person that was once HIV-negative, nor do I want to be. The world I left before becoming disabled no longer exists, and my last security blanket -- the illusion of permanent self -- has been ripped out from under my feet.
I'm not sure how much of an issue this will be for others. I would like to think that for most HIV-positive individuals, such results will be met with simple, joyful gratitude and they will be on their merry way. For this author, however, vigilance is needed to keep an insidious ego from sabotaging the healing process to protect its own survival. HIV has been a master teacher, and now it will be necessary to grieve the loss. I pray that I do not forget the lessons I learned.
Rev. Alexander R. Garbera was ordained as an Interfaith minister from Manhattan's New Seminary after discovering his HIV-positive status. He is president and founder of the Guardian Health Association, a Connecticut-based group of long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS.
Editor's Note: There is no evidence that sero-converting from positive to negative is possible.
Back to the November 1996 issue of Body Positive magazine.