The journey of my life was dramatically altered when I was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1988. There was so much that we did not know about HIV then. What we knew for sure was that people were dying in grotesque fashion, at an alarming and epidemic rate. It was not abnormal to expect that my fate would be the same -- that it would not take long for me to suffer and die. I was so afraid that my life was ending that it caused me a great deal of stress. As it turns out, stress is a killer too, and it works well with HIV to accomplish the goal of sickness and death. I could not turn back time and keep from contracting HIV, but managing my own stress was and is something I can control.
As a recovering addict, I had known the desperation of life that made me want to die. When I got to that point repeatedly because of my drinking and drugging, and I could not find a way to stop on my own, I reached out to God in complete despair and total surrender. Two days later, January 29, 1985, my recovery journey began. I was guided to 12-step programs that taught me who I was and how to live with others and myself.
As it turns out, I was able to overcome the pain and despair of my actions. The same desperation that felt like it would kill me motivated me to change. So, when three years later I was diagnosed with HIV, I was very afraid and desperate for a future. The blessing for me was that I had experience with overcoming despair. I had a process and program for life. Being diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis C was another opportunity to overcome the odds against a long and healthy life. It had worked miraculously once. I was willing to try it again.
Thankfully, through God's grace and mercy, I am here to celebrate another World AIDS Day. I give honor to the spirits of those who have left this life because of HIV, and I pray for peace for their families. I stand here because of their efforts and sacrifice. I share my story whenever and wherever possible as a "hope shot" for those living with HIV and their families.
More people are being diagnosed with HIV everyday. The retrovirus continues to proliferate in spite of all human efforts thus far. Because of improved treatments and years of experience, a program and process are in place that make living a relatively normal life more possible. There are still much despair and desperation experienced by the newly diagnosed. For better or worse though, many will have to find a different motivation for change.
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Because I was desperate -- and there were no medications when I was diagnosed and years later -- I had to "change the things that I could." Although I was able to quit smoking cigarettes and eating meat, the most important behavior I could affect to enhance my wellness was minimizing my stress. Living a 12-step program helped me to develop serenity as a direct result of an improved spiritual connection. Improving my self-awareness, clearing away the wreckage of my past, and beginning to practice meditation have been very helpful to my continued wellness. Although life events will affect us all, we have the ability to create an energy around us that rejects drama. I have found that to be a formula for living a more stress-free life.
Studies now show the benefits of meditation, yoga, swimming, and other forms of stress reduction. My desperation for an abundant life motivated me to participate in my own survival. If we do not participate in our own survival, we are most certainly complicit in our own demise. I have seen stress and fear cause grave issues for many of my peers and me.
My message to you, this and every World AIDS Day, is please do your best to learn from our experiences so you are not doomed to repeat them. If you have contracted HIV, change the things that you can to create as much of a stress free life as you can. I pray that you may be as blessed as so many of us have been, and you live a healthy and happy life. Experience is something you will have to get on your own, but wisdom you can gain from learning from our experience.
Reggie Smith is the founder of Rise4War: Inspiring Wellness, Awareness and Recovery_, a multimedia health and wellness magazine. Like Rise4War's Facebook page to stay connected to their work and to hear more from Reggie._
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