When I first started to reveal more of myself here--my feelings, insecurities, struggles--I faced a couple of sources of anxiety. The surface one, which I mentioned at the time, had to do with my role as a therapist in a large urban area, worrying about what it would mean to my clients if they read my personal reflections. That anxiety was offset by reminding myself of my primary purpose here--not as a therapist, not as an expert, not as a consultant. Instead, my purpose was to share my inmost struggles as a fellow human being affected by HIV. My role changed from one of clinical distance to one of warm familiarity.
This was the easier anxiety to admit because I could hide under the pretense that it was only related to how disclosure compromised my professional self. The deeper anxiety--and the one I wasn't aware of at the time--was the fear of being known. By this, I mean the fear of sharing myself with countless others. My fear that others would see how I struggle. My fear of being exposed as someone who did not have all the answers. My fear of being vulnerable. The dilemma of revealing myself had more to do with the challenges of being honest, first with myself and then with others, than it did with my professional obligations or clinical training.
Over the years I have been vulnerable with many people, including my friends, boyfriends, therapist, and others in recovery. And the truth is that it does get easier each time. However, even with these experiences it's easy to forget the relief and healing that come with the truth. Why is it easy to forget this? The cumulative effect of many years of shame paralyzed me and distorted my perception of others, focusing my attention more on moments in which I was rejected than when I was accepted. It appeared under these circumstances that rejection was more likely. I believe that it became safer (and ultimately easier) to inhabit the shadows of isolation than the sunlight of human company. It became safer and easier to be the one who had the answers for others rather than the one who didn't for himself.
Regardless of the reasons for how this happened, there was one primary way out: courage, which, as others have said, is doing the right thing in the presence of fear. Part of this has involved simply noticing that voices of acceptance exist, for how can one experience acceptance if it feels impossible? Then I pay more attention to these voices than those of rejection. And then after realizing that acceptance is possible, I take what feels like a huge risk and admit my vulnerability to being human, to hurting, to appearing childish, petty, needy. It involves admitting that I don't have the answers but am willing to inhabit the questions.
This process is a series of miracles--for us all. Perhaps the first is that voices of acceptance exist at all. Perhaps another is that we're capable of hearing them. Perhaps another is that we can step out of the shadows of shame and isolation. And most definitely another is that we see we are not alone, that we are humans among humans, and we smile.
In the course of writing these articles I've lightened up because in writing my truth to myself and sharing it with others I can no longer pretend it's not there. I can be myself.