I was asked by PositiveSingles.com to write about finding love. How do we find love? This is one of the most difficult questions in the world for many to answer. Some have it easy while others may resort to extreme measures such as giving their heart to someone unworthy; settling for whoever comes along first. Or attaching yourself to someone so incompatible just to say you’re in a relationship. Okay I’m going to add another layer of difficult. How do you find love when you’re HIV positive? How do you make that effort to say, despite what I have inside of me, I’m going to find someone? This question is an important one as love is a universal feeling we all want to experience. Finding someone to love is a task that seems insurmountable in any circumstance. Adding the context of a disease that people have stigmatized and view one as being less valued makes one question why bother?
I speak from experience as I’ve lived with HIV for the past 28 years. When first told of my status there was two things that I immediately thought of. The first was, when I am going to die. The second was, no one is going to love me. At the time how people viewed HIV was entirely different from today. HIV was such an unknown entity in 1986, the year I learned about my status. At that time there was a huge public fear that resulted in ostracizing people from their homes and communities. My fear was wondering if my HIV status was making me next on the list of a witch-hunt. I decided at that moment that I didn’t want to be hurt and rejected and the best way to avoid hurt was to not let anyone in. My best option was to build a wall around my heart. A wall so strong it protected people discovering my HIV status and also had the ability to keep anyone from getting close.
As the years past I was finding out hiding behind this wall wasn’t so fun after all. Yeah no one could do any harm but at the same time I was lonely and miserable. Without realizing it, depression had made its way through the cracks and kept me company. Was I ever going to find love?
Luckily times have changed and many who are HIV negative now have no problem loving someone with HIV based on their education of the disease. I’m a personal witness to this as I’m now in a relationship with a person who is HIV negative and love me unconditionally. I would have never been able to meet this person if my walls had remained up. By removing I from a place that I thought would keep me safe, I found love. Placing a wall up is easy, tearing it down can be hard but to find love one must learn, brick by brick, how to step into the faith that someone is out there waiting for you.
1) Do it for you. The first thing one has to do is give the permission to love yourself. If you’re moving from a place of isolation, don’t do it for anyone else but you and your happiness. You will never be happy if all your actions are simply meant for someone else. Know that you’re worthy and embrace that feeling. Like the commercial states, ‘Love the skin you’re in.’ it’s so hard for someone to love you when you don’t give yourself the same love-so start with you first.
2) Stop seeing yourself as a negative. When we look in the mirror we’re always looking for what’s wrong; what’s out of place. It may be a hair in the wrong place or a check to see if we look fatter or thinner. No matter what we’re looking for the bad. As a task start to look in the mirror and find all the great things about you. It doesn’t have to be physical attributes but also characteristics of your character that people can’t see. Discover affirming words about yourself that redefine who you are. Embrace those words and the image looking back. So no matter what happens to you during you know how wonderful you are. What are your words of affirmation?
3) Accept you have HIV. I know this may not make sense but sometimes we’re in so much denial that we don’t accept our status. I used to stick my head in the sand and act like it didn’t exist. It was my own showing of shame. By coming to terms with your HIV you can start to move forward and make the positive changes that remove you from the darkness of denial and place you into the light of truth. It’s hard to start any relationship when we can’t be honest with ourselves. Shame is such a strong device which can hold the strongest person back. For whatever reason you are HIV positive but you’re still a good person. Don’t be ashamed of your situation but know that; now that you know you can live the best healthy and happy life possible. This is not minimizing the impact of having HIV but to create a greater awareness that our identity is not a three letter acronym.
4) Don’t let past rejections make you one who rejects– When we have someone walk away from us for whatever reason our natural response is to close ourselves off. We develop a mantra that states, “Never again”. When you do this you let the other person win as they go off and find happiness and you’re left alone with bitterness. I personally have been through so much rejection that it took me a long time to realize it was never about me but spoke more to the other person. Flip the script and realize if someone doesn’t want you for you, they probably are intimidated by your strength. If anyone rejects you, they’re just making room for someone who loves you to fill. This isn’t a mind game but something you have to believe. Everyone we meet is not necessarily meant to be in our life. But there is that one waiting. You’ll never find that out if you now become the one who rejects. Always strive to be the one who loves.
5) You’re ready! On sites such as PositiveSingle.com and other dating sites you will find so many who are looking for the same unconditional. Declare that you’re ready. You’re ready to tear down your walls and find the relationship you’re meant to have. Finding love won’t happen overnight, neither the process of tearing down walls. But the reward is so great when you finally say to yourself, I’m ready.
As I enter my 15th year with my current soul mate I’m so glad I didn’t deny myself the ability to love. It took a deep understanding of my life with HIV but in general it took me not hiding behind walls that blocked me from having the full life I desired.