Reclaiming My Life, Beyond HIV -- and Finding the MAGIC!

Sherri Beachfront Lewis
Sherri Beachfront Lewis

It's been a long time since I've blogged for my inner DIVA on behalf of HIV. I took a much-needed break from almost all things HIV for more than a year, with a few rare exceptions. In doing this I freed myself up, relieved my own stigma from living a life that was focused primarily on HIV.

This came to light after a speaking engagement when someone came up to me and with grace and admiration for my sharing my story said, "It's so great that you don't allow HIV to dominate your life."

"What!" I thought to myself loudly. But it has dominated my life. Every decision, every musical gig, everything I write about, every personal relationship or lack thereof, is more than affected by the openness with which I live with HIV. What if I listened to my therapist when she said to me: "You can just be Sherri, you know. You're not HIV. Why not let someone get to know YOU?"

So I did. It was good.

Finding a balance, I stepped away and in doing so I began to feel better. Less burdened with my story. Living more in the present. Not wearing my HIV as if it was the banner over my head. I was free. Free to love, fall in love and be the attraction I was before HIV. After all, I am not HIV. I am Sherri.

I needed to reclaim myself. Be connected to my joy through someone I shared art, music, the passion of it all with. Life! When I did I was happier. I relieved myself of survivor guilt. I know there are many other people today living with HIV who are speaking up and are out there doing what I became fatigued doing, and which was no longer serving my primary purpose: to be happy, healthy, hopeful, living with HIV. And isn't that the message? Isn't that the hope? That life goes on and your dreams can be reborn?

I recently paid a visit to my mom and stepdad in Florida and found myself needing to step up and help. They had grown old. My stepdad is now back up North with his family, and my mom chose to stay in her warm, sunny home. I was called to duty once again. Outside of getting help with my mom from a home health aide for seven and a half hours every day, I care for her pretty much constantly; my life, as lived on my own terms, has once again been taken hostage.

Me and my mom, Cookie.
Me and my mom, Cookie.

Don't get me wrong. I know how precious my time with my mom is, especially now; but it's a challenge for anyone who's ever taken on the role of caring for an aging parent. I felt displaced from my own home in California, my friends and my purpose, which was now to be of loving service to my mother.

It has been four months. I felt removed from life, except the small world that encompasses my mother -- with the exception of my regular yoga practice, and some socializing afterward. I was practicing acceptance and faith, once again, that I was on a higher path; a plan I could not see, that was bigger than me, was unfolding.

About a month ago, out of the blue (it always seems to happen this way), I got a call from a friend in California who said she had recommended me to a friend of hers, a journalist, who was doing a project that I might be interested in.

"I think you're perfect for it, Sherri!" she said. "Would it be OK for him to contact you?"

"Of course," I said, not sure what it was all about yet.

Billy Cassara, a journalist with an extensive professional background, contacted me about doing an interview for his first project for the Retro Report. His project? To look at how journalists covered HIV/AIDS over these 30-plus years, and its effect. His goal? To keep HIV/AIDS in the public discussion. Interviews would be of two positive people who lived with HIV through that history, real voices to experience the walk down Memory Lane -- one voice being mine; the other, Magic Johnson's.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, about Magic's and my experience at the World AIDS Museum in Florida!

A veteran performer and noted speaker, Sherri Beachfront Lewis was diagnosed HIV positive in 1987; she was one of the first women to be diagnosed with HIV in the U.S. and still be alive and well. In the past 20-plus years, Sherri has worked with and coordinated numerous HIV/AIDS research, advocacy and media efforts.

Read Sherri's blog, HIV DIVA.