Michael E. Holtby, LCSW, BCD
Denial is Not Just a River in Egypt
Originally published in Colorado AIDS Newsletter, Resolute! , December, 1994
Do not reproduce without permission of the author.
Preface: What follows is not a portrayal of any one couple I am
seeing, but a composite of the dysfunctional aspects of many PWAs I have known.
I am sitting here waiting for my next client to show up. Steve's late and I
suspect not only does he not want to be here, but he's been drinking again. If
he misses his appointment, and if he drinks he doesn't have to think about what
obsesses him in sober, introspective moments: "Which one of us will die first?"
Obviously on a self-destructive course, Steve may be first. I believe this is
his preference, sparing him the grief of being left behind with no one to take
care of him. He would also be spared the inevitable fight over ownership of
their house and other assets with his lover's mother.
But Steve's lover, Bob may actually be first to die because of his own, more
socially acceptable addiction: work. Bob works sixty to eighty hours a week,
despite the fact that he's had one bout of pneumocystis, and can name his
t-cells. I wish they would talk with each other, but I can't get them to come in
together. Bob can never take off from work. When they are home together they
buffer their relationship with friends, although they don't share with their
friends the fact that they've both been diagnosed with AIDS, or in any other way
confide in them. They party, they dish, they one-up each other with escapades in
the five B's (bushes, beaches, bookstores, bars & baths), but they don't
talk about HIV, or feelings. They don't notice they haven't made love with each
other in months, or cuddled in bed and talked an afternoon away.
Bob complains that corporate America is "institutionalized slavery", but
there are protections offered by the American Disabilities Act -- if only his
supervisors know he had AIDS. He could shorten his hours, or better yet -- he
could go on disability and live his life rather than avoid it. Instead he
complains Steve is "lazy" because he stopped working, and plays the martyr,
saying "One of us has to bring home a paycheck!"
Both remained untested until they got an opportunistic infection: denial!
Neither has a well thought out health program: denial!
Both passively rely on their physicians: denial!
Both isolate, and hide their HIV status: denial!
Both still smoke two packs a day: denial!
Both run from their feelings: denial!
Neither has done a will: denial!
Both drink heavily: denial!
Don't let this picture be you! Life is too precious, and too short. Life can
be a banquet, but so many starve. Don't let fears keep you from living. Take the
risk of fully experiencing your feelings, rather than running from them. Share
them with your partner, and family and friends.
Take time for HIV! You'll make up the time in living longer. By this I mean
do your homework: read the national AIDS newsletters, Project Inform materials,
Beta etc. Go to Conferences. Be an activist, a volunteer, a speaker on AIDS
awareness. Get to know others who are positive. Get into a support group. Learn
visualization and meditation. Be consistent with a regular exercise program.
Make it a regular practice. Give your health the priority it requires with a
compromised immune system.
Of the many people I've seen with HIV, over fifty have now died. Over
represented on this list are not the people who dared the luxury of a negative
thought or feeling. They are the denial queens who wouldn't take time for HIV,
or time to really let themselves live: have fun, play, plant flowers, paint,
travel, go to lunch, fall in love, be outrageous, learn to scuba dive. Take
risks! Don't put it off! To do that you have to face your pain, as well as feel
the good stuff. Like Christmas tree lights, if one goes so does the who string.
Avoid your fears, and you avoid life.
As another PWA put it, "Its not how many years you live, its how much life you put into the years you have."
Last messed with November 15, 2001
Copyright(c) 2001 Michael E. Holtby, LCSW. All rights reserved.