Home' Nova National : November 2010 Contents Forging intimate relationships can be
a challenge. Many of us struggle to
put ourselves out there in the first
place, let alone find a meaningful
bond with someone. It's difficult to step
into the world and connect with another
person; it's hard to reach out and make
yourself vulnerable. We sit back hoping the
universe will provide, but when nothing
changes, we think we're just unlucky or
meant to go it alone.
Avoiding intimacy can be the easy way
out. We tell ourselves we're too busy or
we need to be strong and independent
because it's hard to take a chance on
Only the Lonely
James May shares a journey that speaks to us all, the search for love.
someone. Everyone's been burnt before.
The question is whether you shut down or
open your heart even more.
While I enjoy my independence,
sharing time with someone appeals to me
as well, especially when I see others reaping
the rewards of partnership. Living with
a chronic illness has complicated things.
Being diagnosed HIV positive shut me
down completely for a long time. My self
esteem took a battering, particularly with
regards to sexuality. It felt impossible to go
out there and find intimacy with the added
burden of the virus. The fear of rejection
was overwhelming. For the first few years, I
28 © NOVA NOVEMBER 2010
could barely say the words without sobbing
uncontrollably. The reactions I got were far
from encouraging, so I crawled into a shell.
I had found intimacy pretty tough
going even before HIV. I spent most of my
youth shut down with drugs and alcohol
and found it very difficult to connect with
anyone, let alone dive into a relationship.
I rarely sought out companions and
certainly never made the effort to follow
anything up. I was too afraid of rejection,
being hurt or abandoned. I was cynical
about relationships and thought they were
all based on co-dependence or physical
gratification. The notion of healthy sex and
intimacy was completely foreign to me.
If I did attract a partner it was always
someone highly dysfunctional who only
served to destabilise me further and
reinforce my tainted view of human
relations. I had no idea that my beliefs were
creating my reality back then. I expected
abuse and that's what I got. I expected
things to go wrong and they did. Most of
the time I thought I deserved it; there was
something wrong with me that couldn't be
Drugs and alcohol were always a
part of these encounters. I wasn't able
to communicate, let alone be intimate
with anyone. I was too afraid of what they
thought of my looks, my lack of confidence,
what I did for a living. I was too afraid to be
myself. So I kept it short and sweet. As soon
as things got too close for comfort, I was
out of there. I wasn't interested in anyone
nurturing or kind. I didn't trust them and I'd
sabotage their efforts. I was drawn to those
who were emotionally distant, unable to
commit. I acted as though I valued my own
space too much to consider a relationship,
yet I was incapable, afraid.
I didn't have a healthy attitude towards
sex either. It felt awkward unless I was
intoxicated. I was self conscious about my
body and my performance. The whole
thing made me cringe. I only saw the
physical dimensions and never understood
it was something that could bring you
closer to someone, something that could
nourish and heal you. Sexual encounters
left me feeling empty, as though something
was lost that couldn't be replaced.
The diagnosis made it harder to
overcome this. The guilt and shame around
sex was hugely magnified, probably the
cruellest aspect of living with the virus. For
a long time, HIV was all I thought about; it
consumed my identity. I could no longer
use drugs and alcohol because I had to
care for my immune system. So I tried to
face the world clean and sober, but it was
hard to break out of my shell -- the fear and
anxiety were paralysing.
I wasn't prepared for the stigma
associated with the virus. I heard people
say we were "dangerous", "irresponsible",
"we deserved it". Comments like these
reinforced the sense that I wasn't worthy
of sex or intimacy. I felt contaminated,
unlovable. The fear of infecting anyone
outweighed the desire to get close.
I lived for several years with no intimacy
at all, too afraid of the consequences.
Once in a while I'd break out and find
comfort in the arms of a stranger, only to
run a mile before they asked too many
questions. I stopped thinking about sex and
relationships. I stopped flirting, I looked
away if anyone caught my eye. I was still in
my twenties, but my body felt so foreign to
me.Sometimes I went for a massage to
remember what it was like to be touched,
but most of the time I just learned to live
without it. I shut down that part of myself
and pretended that I didn't need it, or I
threw myself into spiritual practice to "rise
continued page 39
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