05/30/14

Life Is But A Dream – 05/30/14

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What does “life is but a dream” mean?

Sometimes when something unbelievable happens, it’s so outrageous (usually in a good way) that it seems like you’re in a dream.

Life is what you make of it. So if you dare to dream, envision what you want it to be – it becomes your reality. It goes right along with the saying “You can be anything you want to be…”

In dreams anything is possible, impossible becomes possible. In life there are limitations with unseen forces that work along with our motives to confuse us more on the path to fulfillment. Life is but a dream – nothing is so easy as to dream it and make it happen right that moment without obstacles standing in way.

 

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05/26/14

Life And Love After The Love Of Your Life Dies

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“I had real love in my life once with Doug and I would desperately like to have it again. I know this is a big trap…sex and intimacy are not one and the same thing. But I always wind up acting like they are the same. I always have it in my head that maybe my next sexual encounter will bring me love. It’s maddening.”

 

My friend Kevin is 39. He is living with HIV. He tested positive twelve years ago. Luckily he continues to be asymptomatic.

Kevin is a music teacher and member of a jazz quartet. He is currently single and shares his house with two roommates. His lover, Doug, died five years ago just one month shy of their tenth anniversary together.

comfortKevin is trim and buffed. He works out at a local gym four days a week. He is boyishly handsome with tousled red hair. He rides a motorcycle and is a wicked pool player.

Kevin says; “Even though I’ve had many friends die of AIDS, I still have plenty of my own death stuff to deal with.” He reports that he has recently engaged in some questionable sexual practices. “That’s a sure sign that I’m shoving a lot of this under the carpet. And I know this kind of thing could be, well, a fatal mistake!”

Kevin was born and raised a devout Roman Catholic. His Boston Irish Catholic family had high hopes that one day he would become a priest. “I know I disappointed them and I don’t think they ever really got over it. Ya see, when I came out in college I left the church at the same time. It was a preemptive strike, if you want to know the truth. I wasn’t about to wait around for them to throw me out just because I was gay.” His inability to find a suitable spiritual home makes him sad. “Sometimes I feel lost and rudderless. I know God loves me, but the sweet and easy connection I once had with God as a younger man eludes me now.”

My friend Kevin and I meet for lunch about once a month. We talk about life and death and what makes us tick. At a recent lunch we started to talk about life and love after the love of our life dies.

Kevin tells me; “My sexuality has always been a driving force in my life, but sometimes I simply feel driven. A manic pursuit of pleasure is no pleasure, if you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean. That’s how so many of us pursue our pleasure. It’s exhausting, huh?”Gay Intimacyt

“Yep, sure is! Do you think it’s just a gay thing? I don’t want to suggest that I’m a sex addict or anything, but I sometimes feel out of balance. I know a lot of this has to do with my relentless pursuit of love. I had real love in my life once with Doug and I would desperately like to have it again. I know this is a big trap…sex and intimacy are not one and the same thing. But I always wind up acting like they are the same. I always have it in my head that maybe my next sexual encounter will bring me love. It’s maddening.”

I smiled knowingly and said; “I wish I had a nickel for every time I head a similar lament. We gay men, in the age of HIV/AIDS, have a unique set of sexual issues that need to be understood and addressed. Besides the obvious safer sex concerns, there are all the issues that arise with the death of a partner. Unresolved grief can and does cause sexual dysfunction. When a relationship ends with the death of a partner, the surviving partner has an array of new concerns. How and when does he begin to date again? If he is sexual with someone new, does this violate the memory of his deceased partner?

I frequently hear the same complaint. ‘I’m so lonely, but my grief is getting in the way of my having any kind of sexual feelings.’ As a therapist I try to help the surviving partner face these concerns as soon as possible. I often find myself saying; ‘Listen, I’m sure your lover wouldn’t want you to stop living. Choose life! It will be the best testament you could offer your deceased lover.’

It’s been my experience that if these concerns go unresolved for too long, the likelihood that they will develop into a full-blown dysfunction increases exponentially.”

I sense that I’ve hit a nerve in Kevin, but I push on.

hard to forget“Kevin, you said you’re looking for a partner, but that you are only meeting men who are interested in sex. Searching for a life partner isn’t easy even under the best of circumstances. Looking for someone new after the death of a partner is even more difficult. There is always the tendency to compare the new love interest to the one who’s died, and that can be disastrous.

On top of that, where does one go to meet a potential partner? One thing’s for sure, it’s not likely that you’ll find this person in a sex club or in a bar. I suggest that you look in a less seductive environment like a café or at the gym. An HIV support group might also be a good place to look. Or perhaps you could try a common interest club, like the ones they have for line dancing or playing bridge.”

Kevin thought for a moment and responded. “I’ve considered all those things and have tried them all too. But then I begin to think; what happens if I meet someone who is HIV negative? I don’t want to get attached to guy who might reject me just because of my HIV status. That’s why it’s less of a gamble if I keep the connection more casual. So you see, I’m in a double bind. I want the intimacy that comes from a long-term relationship, but I’m afraid of the rejection. Or, what if I infected him? That would be the worst. And, even though I’m doing okay now on the medications I’m taking, but what if I get sick later? I don’t want to put anyone through what I went through with Doug.”

“If ya focus on the fact that you could be rejected for your HIV status, or infect a partner, or get sick and die yourself you simply won’t be able to live each day to the fullest. And all the love you have to give will die on the vine, so to speak. Fear is ruling your life; it’s not pleasure, and it’s certainly not love.

So many of my friends with HIV consider themselves damaged goods. That’s no way to approach the rest of one’s life. I understand the stigma, but HIV is simply a chronic illness like any other. And nowadays it’s manageable and there’s very little to interrupt one’s quality of life.

So Kevin, do you honestly intend to live without the intimacy you need and desire and sabotage the very thing that will enrich your life, just because you’re afraid? Gosh, I hope not.”

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05/21/14

Hump Day Humor – 05/21/14

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Humor takes the sting away; it humanizes us; it helps us keep our perspective. Humor enriches us; it educates us; it brings us joy. Humor doesn’t dissolve the pain or make our life any less poignant, but it does help make things more bearable. That’s my philosophy, and I’m happy to share it with you on a weekly basis. I hope that if you enjoy what you see, you will take the opportunity to share it with others.

self-inflicted

sleep forever

smoking

Snowglobe man

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05/15/14

Cemetery Art – 05/15/14

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The task of interpreting the symbols on a headstone or memorial is a daunting one. Although most of the symbols that you will see DO have a textbook meaning, it is quite possible that the headstone or memorial you are looking at was put there simply because someone liked the look of it. Therefore, it will have no meaning beyond the taste of the deceased or those left behind to morn. The point is that many people choose a memorial motif not for its textbook meaning, but simply because they like the ornamentation or design, because it feels “right” or appropriate.

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05/12/14

Lonesome And Alone, A Matter of Life and Death

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With all the lonely people in the world it’s a crime to be lonely alone. Remember, intimacy is not a gender issue; it’s a human issue.

 

My client, Janice, is 62 years old. She has late onset diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. She is a neatly dressed, silver haired woman with gnarled hands and feet. The thick lenses of her glasses sit heavily on her pleasant, open face. She is of medium build, and walks with the aid of a cane. She has the shy, nervous demeanor of a young girl, often absent-mindedly fidgeting with the buttons on her favorite mauve sweater. She is a Red Cross volunteer and a recent widow. She was raised a Methodist in Alton, Illinois, a small town just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, but she currently has no religious affiliation. “I miss not having a church to attend. At least the social part of it.”

arthritis_handsHer husband Albert died in the hospital of congestive heart failure 18 months ago. Albert’s sudden death dramatically changed her life. She was forced to give up the comfortable home they shared for nearly 30 years and now lives alone in a modest apartment in a subsidized senior housing complex.

She says she is often alone and lost in her profound grief. “Our marriage was a traditional one, the kind that was popular fifty years ago. Albert was solely responsible for the family finances. He shared little of the intricacies of these things with me. I’m afraid that he kept me completely in the dark about all of it.” Albert withheld their troubled financial situation from her in order to shield her from the unpleasantness. He died without a will or an estate plan, leaving Janice completely lost and befuddled.

Albert died in intensive care and Janice was unable to be with him when he died. She has a great deal of guilt about this. She claims that her biggest fear is “dying alone in some awful hospital, hooked up to a bunch of beeping machines.” However, she’s just as anxious about becoming dependent on strangers. “You see, I’m losing my eyesight to the diabetes.”

I ask her, “Why do you suppose it’s so difficult for you to ask for help?”Assisted-Living

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m just afraid to ask for what I need. When Albert was alive we used to look after one another. Of course, I don’t want to be a bother either. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but there have been times that I have gone to bed hungry because I couldn’t open a can of soup; my arthritis being so bad. But would I call a neighbor and ask for help? No! Well, there’s no fool like an old fool. That’s for sure. I don’t want this to continue. Oh, how I wish I had family to count on.”

I ask Janice about her relationship with her husband, Albert.

“I’ve been with only one man my entire life, my husband Albert. Our sex life was very conventional. And if the truth be known, there wasn’t even much of that. I always wondered if I disappointed him. I guess now I’ll never know. You’ll have to excuse me, but this makes me very uncomfortable. I guess I’m just old fashioned. I was brought up believing that ladies don’t talk about such things in polite company.”

silence“Ya know, Janice, there are a lot of us who make the distinction between sex and intimacy. Perhaps, you don’t miss the sex, but I’m guessing you miss the intimacy. Am I correct?”

“To tell the truth, I don’t miss it at all. The sex, I mean. But, yes, I do miss the companionship. I’m so very lonely now. I mean, you get pretty attached to a person after thirty-nine years together. What I wouldn’t do for just one more hug from my dear Albert. It’s the predicament of so many women that I know. The senior center is filled with widows who are starving for affection. It’s so unfair.”

“Yes, it’s criminal; all these lonely people being lonely alone. It’s my experience that many seniors and elders don’t know how to form intimate relationships after the death of their spouse. They are often self-conscious about their needs and desires, like sex, dating, or even forming a close relationship with someone else. Rather than put themselves out there to find fulfillment, they, like you Janice, follow the path of least resistance. Their intimacy needs shrivel and die long before they do because they lack an outlet for their affections. Sad to say, this can leave them cranky and curmudgeonly. It’s such a waste, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I certainly think I have a tendency to be like that myself. Yet I have this overpowering fear of dying alone. And I don’t mean alone as in solitary. I would feel just as alone if the only people attending me as I die were people I didn’t know. So it’s not about care, really, it’s about being loved. Is that so much to ask? Maybe I should just stop now.”our-world-is-hungry-for-love

“We can talk a break, if you’d like, but I think we’re really on to something here, don’t you agree?”

“I’ve never had much of an interest in sex and I don’t see that changing at this late stage in the game, but I do continue to be interested in friendship. Since the death of my husband I’ve been very much alone. I so miss the companionship we used to share. Do you think it’s too late for a person like me to find that kind of thing again?”

“Of course it’s not too late, Jan.” May I ask you if you are taking hormone replacement therapy? I’m assuming that you are post-menopausal. Am I correct?”

“I went through menopause years ago, but I’ve never taken hormone replacements. Why do you ask?”

“Many women find that their libido, their interest in sex, disappears after menopause. It’s simply a chemical thing that happens as one ages. Many post-menopausal women don’t know about this option and so they go through some of the best years of their life without knowing the joys of sexual intimacy unfettered by concerns of becoming pregnant. I used to be a strong advocate of natural hormone replacement for all post-menopausal women. However, nowadays I encourage women to engage their doctors in a frank conversation about the pros and cons of this therapy. There is a known connection between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and breast cancer. Breast cancer survivors who took HRT to relieve menopausal symptoms had more than three times as many breast cancer recurrences as survivors who did not take HRT.”

“I had no idea. But what if I’m not interested in sex, should I bother my doctor about this?”

alone_and_lonely“Like I said, there’s sex and then there’s sensuality and/or intimacy. Maybe you have no interest in the one, but it sounds like you still want the other. You might find that HRT could help you overcome some of the barriers that appear to be in place preventing you from forming new and life-affirming relationships. Besides, the benefit of discussing this issue with your physician is two-fold. First, you’ll get information you need to make an educated decision about the therapy itself. And second, you will have established a working relationship with your OB/GYN on the topic of your intimate life.”

“I see. You make a good point, Richard. Thank you.”

“Ya know, Jan, there are plenty of options open to you if it’s simply companionship you seek. You’re living in a senior complex, right? Have you met your neighbors? Why not strike up a conversation? Join in the planned activities. What are your interests? How about taking a class? What about the Red Cross; are you still volunteering? I’ll bet you have loads of leisure time. It is often said that an acquaintance is a friend just waiting to be discovered. And if that’s true, then a friend could become a companion, and a companion could even become a lover or partner. But like everything else that’s worthwhile in life, it will take some time and energy on your part.”

“I always have the best of intentions, Richard. I leave our sessions full of hope and plans for getting out of this rut I am in. But, by the time I get home, all the wind goes out of my sails. I feel like such a failure.”

“No need to be self-defeating. You have the will to make the changes you want; now all we have to do is develop a strategy for accomplishing your goals. You mentioned something very touching earlier. You spoke with such eloquence about the plight of all the lonely senior women you know. Have you considered having another woman as a companion? Like I said, with all the lonely people in the world it’s a crime to be lonely alone. Remember, intimacy is not a gender issue; it’s a human issue.

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