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Coping Strategies

Coping Strategies


Acceptance is easier said than done. Upon hearing the word, one tends to think it easy -- acceptance, that often-used noun to describe the central task of those of us at the society's fringe -- gay, minority, HIV-positive. Something new-agey, Oprah-like, as though self-care is intuitive or easy, or for that matter familiar. This past month I've discovered the difficulties inherent in acceptance. Presuming that it's easy is fodder for self-blame, interpreting wrongly that something is wrong with me for finding it more difficult than others apparently do. In recovery circles this frequently is described as comparing how one feels to how others look. I certainly fall victim to this as I observe others around me, apparently finding their way more easily and more serenely than I typically feel. This isn't always the case. When surrounded by certain people in my life, the iciness of my boundaries melts somewhat, as I'm able to let others in, recognizing in my best moments that they love and accept me, my quirky and neurotic tendencies comprising my loveability. The paradox is that pretending I'm OK will garner the validation and love I seek. At the same time, such pretending left me with feelings of emptiness as I realized such validation was of another person! Not me. We all have our own issues and ways of coping. For me, it has always been the case that when confronted with painful emotions, my first reaction was to escape. At first through thinking, later through the use of various substances. Either way, feelings were profoundly uncomfortable, primarily because of my family's alcoholism but also because I didn't feel safe to share feelings, as many of them dealt with being gay. Being adolescent is difficult enough with the confusing feelings it entails. Throw being gay into the mix and it's downright baffling and painful. Lately, however, I have noticed more tears. And contrary to times past, I'm allowing myself to experience and learn from them. This is an incredibly confusing and painful process. It's disorienting. The familiar landmarks of my coping mechanisms of escape and intellectualization no longer work! They provided comfort and security for a long time. Wandering in this emotional desert brings with it a sense of being lost, aimless, groundlessness. It's one thing to say, 'accept where you are,' as though it's easy and peaceful. It's anything but, for acceptance means accepting what up to this point has been unacceptable. And while it frees me from the prison of the past, it also frees me from the usual ways I've made sense of myself and the world around me. In other words, it's both relieving and distressing, bringing with it gratitude and grief. No wonder it's confusing! Many find that becoming HIV positive is just like this. In refusing to accept the illness, people experience the comfort of holding onto how they have viewed themselves. All remains right with the world because things are as they've always been. At the same time such lack of acceptance necessarily brings with it growing dissatisfaction with life and one's place in it. Putting up a front and getting validation for what one isn't. It also re-invites the self imposed prison that so many of us have lived in for so long. Acceptance means honoring the difficulties of acceptance itself, providing space and permission for it to be rocky and awkward, space and permission to be human.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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