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The Dark Versus the Light

The Dark Versus the Light


Last month I wrote about a close friend who recently discovered that he was HIV-positive. His reaction was one of numbness and shock. When I discovered my own status, I too was numb, but unsure how shocked I was. Instead I was armed with a disturbing awareness of my own self-destructive behavior and its consequences. I was aware of this not in an 'I deserve this' sort of way but rather in an 'It's not a surprise' kind of way. High-risk sex and drug use seldom lead to favorable outcomes. As I wrote in an earlier column, when I seroconverted I was extremely sick--a forced detox, I called it. Confronted with a serious illness (I was hospitalized for five days) and nowhere to hide, I was forced to look at my situation with a somewhat sober state of mind. When some friends have commented on how well I dealt with the news, I knew better. Had I discovered I was positive during a routine clinic visit, the outcome would have been less smooth. I have a capacity for darkness, as any of us does. I am not confused about this. I believe darkness would have enveloped me, and I would have continued to act out, numbing the pain of my new diagnosis with familiar anesthesia, for I was in the grip of something far bigger than I. And certainly darker. Darkness. I have been thinking a lot about darkness and its role in my life. While I certainly have it, I do not always like to admit that I do. In fact, I like to escape it. Unfortunately, escapism is merely another name for avoidance, which for me means that rather than side-stepping darkness, I risk being devoured by it--just like my friend is being devoured by his own darkness as I write this article. Last month I spoke of his struggle to avoid substances in light of his HIV diagnosis. Then, he was winning; now, in this moment, he is not. I cannot tell you how sad I am that he is in such a self-destructive and dark place. However, I know from my experience that I am not immune to his malady, and in fact, I completely understand it. Nevertheless, the sadness remains. But is my sadness just for him? Is it also for myself, reflecting on times past when I abused my body and spirit? Is it for others out there who are doing the same? Is it for those with HIV who are having an enormously difficult time coming to terms with their diagnosis? Those wrestling with addiction? Probably for all these reasons--and then some. It's simply sad. There is perhaps no reason to overthink it. It is simply sad. It is also a reminder, a very vivid reminder, that while I am not making decisions out of darkness these days, I can certainly can choose to do so. The same darkness I had before still resides in me. The difference is that today I choose to share with others what I am feeling, as dark as it might be. The alternative is to hope it isn't there and to isolate from others, pretending things are OK when they're really not. In such a case, the darkness, which lurks in the corners of my mind, waits for an opportunity to spring into action. Squelching the darkness simply amplifies it. The good news is that while I have some darkness, I have even more light. So does my friend. And while right now it's dark, it won't always be. Fransen is a licensed clinical social worker who is in private practice in Chicago. E-mail him at

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