Life can seem like an endless barrage of accolades and reprimands, and we hardly notice how each one propels us from one moment to the next. While the thrill of achievement is fleeting at best, the fallout from a mistake seems like an endless free fall.
When it comes to HIV, those who live with the virus often feel as if it’s the ultimate mark against them, forever diminishing future deeds and successes. But this feeling — whether it stems from HIV or any other regrets — is a result of self-induced shame and guilt.
To be frank, it is complete and total bullshit.
Think about it. A life without mistakes or missteps is not a life at all, or at least not one that sounds very exciting. A life worth mentioning is filled with excitement and regret, love and heartbreak, adventures and mistakes — and yes, the risk of catching an STI.
Sure, it’s a good idea to avoid what will obviously harm you (sexually or otherwise). But personal growth comes from the aftermath of doing things we regret. Unfortunately, the social stigma and blinding fear associated with HIV often hinders people from seeing that truth.
Many poz people choose to live in the shadow of their former selves and begin to accept they will never have that life back. Meanwhile, the pieces are sitting in front of them waiting to be put together again — into a new, improved, restored, renovated, and upgraded self.
Living with HIV can be like learning to hold your breath under water. Your lungs feel as if they’re going to explode, and you want to escape to anywhere but here. But soon, the suffering and desperation subside and you find peace under the surface while you continue to explore depths you once thought were impossible to reach.
I’ve met too many people that remained frozen in the moment they first heard their doctor say, “HIV-positive.” Years later, they have yet to peek from behind tightly clasped hands, wet from tears, and find the light once more. This self-imposed imprisonment is the tragedy of HIV, and it’s an affront to the people who fought so hard to live, yet lost the battle.
It’s time to embrace the beauty of mistakes by forgiving yourself right now. Don’t waste another minute punishing yourself for something that cannot be undone. Instead, find the lesson in it — however difficult or hopeless you think the situation may be — then tuck it in your pocket and get on with your life.
Learning how to forgive yourself, for an HIV diagnosis (or anything else), is the easiest way to be freed from the opinions and judgments of others. It is a way to open up and allow the things you want back into your life by releasing control of the things you don’t. Never give up your claim to happiness. Fight for it.
Breathe. Dive deep. And explore the beauty of the underwater world.
TYLER CURRY is the author of A Peacock Among Pigeons, editor at large at Plus magazine, and a contributing editor at The Advocate. He currently lives in Austin with his fiancé and two dogs.