Anatomy of an Illness, Part 6
I started psychotherapy again last week. I have been in therapy on and off with five different therapists since 1964. I have also had two psychiatrists who monitor my psych meds for me. Psychotherapy has been a great adjunct to my life. My interior journey has been rich, revealing, joyous, terrifying, self-revelatory, and deeply spiritual. All five therapists have been remarkable with each bringing different gifts. One of the finest was a certified Jungian analyst with whom I did analytical psychotherapy working with dreams, my own mysticism, mythology, early childhood abuse memories, and my spiritual life. We worked through my incest issues, as well as the physical and emotional abuse as a child into adolescence. She is the only female therapist I have had although I do truly believe that Queermen need Queermale therapists. The alternative is a woman therapist who loves Queermen. Catharine, my Jungian therapist, is the only woman with whom I have worked. All my other therapists have been Queermen. I learned a great deal about myself from Catherine. Now I am going back to my last therapist from whom I “graduated” three years ago after seeing him for six years. I saw him for the first time a week before I went into lock-down rehab for thirty days. When I got out, we began our work together. That was nine years ago. I have been clean from all drugs and sexual acting out for those nine years, and I am so grateful for my recovery program and the 12-Steps which have taught me so much about myself, my interior life, my neuroses, my re-living the cycle of abuse over and over again in four long-term relationships all of which were emotionally or sexually abusive. My 12-Step recovery has become my primary spiritual path and for that I am eternally grateful.
There are issues going on around my illness and death now (not just my death, but mostly that of my beloved partner who is six years older than I am,,,,he is 73 and I am 67). I don’t know how I will manage emotionally, spiritually, physically, and also financially without him by my side. This is a big issue and has many tangents. It is clear to me that it is time to be back in therapy. My therapist, Bruce, and I share a very tight bond because we both lived through the holocaust of the AIDS death years in the 1980’s and 1990’s, each having lost hundreds of friends, colleagues, lovers, etc. to the plague. Personally I have lost over 200 men from all those categories.
The loss of my gorgeous Queermale family with whom I spent all my time was the worst loss that I have endured not just during those plague years, but perhaps the worst loss of my entire adult life. We ate together, went to movies together, went to the theater and dance performances together, slept together, and we also made love together. It was a time of death, and the old Gay moral code that one has sex only with one’s lovers and never with one’s friends just didn’t apply anymore. My friends were my lovers. We all loved each other deeply, and we needed to express that love with each other because there was simply no time for that old Gay moral code. We made love, intense love, and yet there was no jealousy of any kind on any of our parts. It was a Queermale utopia. It was a powerful affirmation of life in the midst of impending, torturous death. The love between us was so deep, spiritual, powerful, intense, and also desperate, because of what was in store for all of us. Six of the seven died agonizing deaths. All of us died, some in agony, some peacefully, but all with me by their bedsides. Some of them I held in my arms and kissed them good-bye as they took their last breaths. I did, in fact, die in January, 1996, but it was not my time. It was a mistake on the part of the Death Crone. I flat lined during a ten-day coma, but came back to this Earth to live, because I had powerful transformational work to do in the world. I have completed almost all of it now, one of the pieces of that work being the nine-year writing of my book Thoughts of a Tribal Elder: One Queerman’s Journey from the Ashes Risen which was published two years ago. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Xlibris (the publisher) are carrying the book both in paperback and e-book formats. The sum total of my work has been the most wonderful, productive, and life-filled work that I have ever known. It kept me alive until this day and will hopefully keep me alive for a long time to come.
Because I was so deathly sick for seven years and have still survived after seventeen years with full-blown AIDS, Bruce, my therapist, and I feel a special bond. He was one of the three therapists/two psychiatrists who diagnosed me with PTSD from my experience with death so closely co-mingled with the rest of my life since 1987 when I was facilitating a memorial service every night and a funeral at the graveside nearly every day for twelve years until my own illness set in. Because of my seminary training and having a M.Div. it was my vocation to take on that role of facilitator. Living each day after my diagnosis with a brutal death staring me in the face was enough to trigger my PTSD. Different things can set off a PTSD flashback to those years and to all the years that I spent in an AIDS unit in my local hospital at the time. I wrote in a previous post about my severe PTSD flashback experience when attending a performance of Larry Kraemer’s The Normal Heart. When one of the two main characters in the play gets Kaposi’s Sarcoma and finally succumbs to it, it called up all the years that I fought KS myself—three years of chemotherapy and a great deal of radiation, which nearly killed me twice. The chemo did nothing I don’t think but make me deathly sick. Well, perhaps it kept it from metastasizing into my internal organs for which I am very grateful, but it did go from cutaneous purple lesions to my complete lymphatic system. At the play, I began to tremble and cry, hyperventilating and getting faint. Fortunately, I was with a dear friend who understood what was happening, and he held my hand tightly as I shook uncontrollably and sobbed quietly with all the grief that I still have inside me for all the people in my life who are dead, and for my own life which is so curtailed because of this disease, as well as living in the unknown every day, not knowing when the next infection is going to set in and whether it will involve hospitalization, or whether the next infection will be my last so that I return to the Source, to my God/dess, and hopefully see all those that I loved who died. I would like death to be like the final scene in Long Time Companion, the film from the Death Years, when everyone who dies in the film from within that extraordinary Queermale family and their tangential friends, all of whom were brilliant, talented men comes back to dance on the beach at Fire Island and they are all hugging the living and the others who died and they are all laughing with all the love present on the beach and all the joy at re-uniting with each other. The beach is filled with beautiful men. That’s how I want my death to be.
I am not afraid of death. “Been there, done that”. I did, indeed, die in 1996 but through the grace of God/dess, came back from death to do the work in the world that I had been given to do. I had a powerful experience when I died, an experience I don’t like talking about because it is so personal and was so mystical, and because people have far too much religious/spiritual baggage that they bring to other people’s intimate spiritual stories. I have told a few people and they trivialized it to the point of absurdity, making jokes about it because they were so uncomfortable, I think. I believe that the only way they could deal with the profundity of my experience was to make light of it. And, although I am not afraid of death, I am, however, afraid of the dying process, of the excruciating pain, of the machines and tubes in my body, having a feeding tube through my nose, intubated, hooked up to monitors, etc. I am most afraid of the pain involved. I am not good with pain (except, perhaps, sexually on occasion) and I already have so much pain medication in me, that I am afraid that my body will have built up such a powerful tolerance to all of it, that all there will be is pain, never-ending pain until my actual death. I would like my death to be as peaceful as it was in 1996. What I know is that I am nowhere near death yet. There is more work that I still have to do regarding transformation of self for the transformation of others. There are esoteric things I know that I need to teach others. I don’t know what that will look like, however. Because I am no longer a musician, I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I know that there is core work for me to do, work which humbles me because it is not of my ego, but, rather, of my Higher Power, of God/dess. I am merely the vessel, the conduit, through which the Universal Sprit flows as I bring people together and create community where there was none before. If my ego were attached to the work, it simply could not get done. Such work, if it is to be at all authentic, must come from a deep humility, a place of unabashed no-ego. As soon as I say, “I am doing this”, the work becomes impossible. I must be able to say consciously that I am not doing this, but, rather, that a Higher Power is doing it all. As soon as it becomes about me, all is lost. This was my work as a concert harpsichordist whose career as performer and teacher, as well as recording artist, became my transformational work that touched thousands of lives in deep and profound ways. As I was a vessel for God/dess, I was able to be completely vulnerable, thus allowing those with whom I came in contact to be equally vulnerable without fear of judgment. When I came to that place of no-fear I lost all nervousness and stage fright before a performance, because I was not afraid of judgment. If people wanted to judge me, then that was fine, because my ego was not attached to my playing, judgment didn’t bother me, and because of it, my playing became so much more spiritual and musical, easy and comfortable for both me and the audience..
My life is blessed and rich with the love of so many others, and I am so grateful for all those wonderful men with whom I people my life, mostly men from Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) who are walking a similar path in recovery as mine. They search for that place of no-ego, a place of utter humility in the face of the most incredible thing called by most of them a Higher Power, what I call God/dess or The Universal Spirit. We are all taken care of by that Power. I can trust that Power completely to take care of all my needs, and, should Jerry die before me I am learning to have no fear, because I know deep in my soul that I will be taken care of. I must do the legwork to take care of myself, but my God/dess, my Higher Power, will use that work and take complete care of me. S/he always has since I was born, and I must keep that truth alive, walking in front of me to clear the path for my spiritual growth, whether through grief and pain, or through utter joy and celebration. Sometimes I have grave doubt in the love of that Power for me and the fear sets in, because my faith is shaken. But, after a little while, the doubt leaves and I am back on my path to peace and serenity. Even with all my illness and physical limitations, life is so good that I am astounded by the juxtaposition of ill health and deep spiritual awareness, of blessing and grace. Thanks be.