Survive to Thrive (#42)

Posted September 8, 2014 by

Grief can have a quality of profound healing, because we are forced to a depth of feelings that is usually below the threshold of awareness.
Stephen Levine,Taken from the Colour of Light.

In March 2013, I attended a Survive to Thrive workshop. I want to share my thoughts and experiences with you. Survive to Thrive was formed and led by AIDS Bereavement and Resiliency Program of Ontario (ABRPO). The purpose was to help long term survivors, ASO staff, HIV positive individuals by giving us tools to deal effectively with multiple losses in our lives and our community. It has also grown to include the loss of self.

The ABRPO developed a project initiative in 2009, to work with 13 pilot site ASOs in Ontario to develop new processes and resources, called Turning to One Another (TTOA). Recently, ACCKWA (AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and area) has developed a TTOA group. It is a community based group that consists of A.S.O. staff and HIV positive clients. The focus is to recognize and bring forth skills, knowledge, expertise and experiences of people living with HIV/AIDS, whether is be as a board member, advocate, facilitator, public speaker, blogger, or committee member. This is a great concept thanks to Lynn our PHA Capacity Development Coordinator. It gives us as PHA'S the opportunity to excel, give back and to be involved in our community at a much higher level than in the past.

This year’s Survive to Thrive was taken on by/hosted, by this just said group. Having been before, I was well aware of the work we, as a group and individually were about to embark upon. I personally had reservations about attending. I believe that my sub-conscience mind knew there were issues and emotions percolating below the surface that I was not ready to have reveal themselves, especially in front of my peers. I would have let them simmer and fester until it would surface as depression, anxiety or withdrawal. So with gentle nudging I was persuaded to go.

On the very first day we were divided into two groups. In my group we were asked the question, “What are you able to let go of/ Or what am I saying good bye to?” For me three issues were vying for my attention: not having grieved the loss of my mother, having missed the opportunity to have children and grandchildren, and the loss of my identity (HIV was who I became). Every time someone shared, it triggered more emotions for me, my head was spinning. I had a headache, my chest was tight. Other issues wanted to be addressed. I needed a break.

Back in the large group we did an exercise where a canvass banner was placed on the floor. It outlined the journey of grief, with dips and valleys with the labels numbness, shock, depression ,denial, fear, despair, acceptance and coping . We were asked to stand at the spot where we saw our self that day. I saw that I had progressed a long way over the years to some sort of acceptance on some levels but I have tendencies to slide back at times. Grief, I feel, is like trying to walk up a slight incline of sand in your bare feet slipping back and feeling that you’re not making any head way.

Returning to our little group we are now asked to make a collage; “I am saying hello to the new me as …” This was very hard for me to do. After many attempts my collage ended up being a clothesline with the pins holding the things I would like the new me to do. I need to speak up, be open to love, embrace the nurturing part of me, play, share the responsibilities of helping my parent, let go and let god, nurturing the kid in me! The pictures included flowers growing, hearts, a woman with a microphone, kids having fun and mother cat with her kitten.

Again emotions are rearing their ugly heads I am overcome. Envy of those who have in their life what I want, sadness for those things that may not be obtainable for me and anger these things that are poking me couldn't stay buried.

For the final wrap up we return to the main group where we were to share and explain our collages. As I sat watching others share their work I was becoming more and more agitated. Anger that my hopes and dreams of a future with childrenandgrand'swas dim. Although everyone there was supportive and welcoming, I was fighting my own demons.

I could not sit and endure anymore feelings. I fought back the tears so long that my head ached. So I quietly left the room to shed those pent up tears and get a breath of air. Somewhere in my life I got the idea that crying was a sign of weakness. Maybe it was when I heard adults say, "Stop crying or I will give you something to really cry about!" Today I know better but I still hate for others to see me shed my tears.

Gazing out the window I was looking down a snow covered hill that stopped short at a roadway and beyond that there were some out buildings perhaps belonging to the conference centre. When out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of red. That cardinal that had been hanging around for the past two days, was silently perched on a nearby tree branch taking in the weather that alternated between sunshine and snow. Thinking about how overwhelmed I was feeling all I wanted was to go home and hibernate!

Seems to me with grief and depression, if we talk about one we put a dent in the other; enabling us to understand the link between the two. Being a long termsurvivorof HIV/AIDS I have had my share of losses. In one of my earlierblogs, I talked about how I was trying to avoid grief like the plague. Doesn't do any good. It will eventually catch up with you at the least expected moments. For me, one moment I thought I was fine until a song or phrase or the way Jake (my husband’s brother) would light up a smoke would have me reeling back in time when my late husband was a robust man full of love and support, with a smile that never failed to reach my heart. My grief may not seem differen tfrom others, but this is my journey, that only I can take. Kicking and screaming if need be. No one wants to endure those dark days of loss. Perhaps if we can unlock the vault where pain is kept and acknowledge our sorrow ....even through our tears we may find closure.

Others there had their own issues I'm sure and might have been percolating themselves. There was much more to this workshop that I haven't covered. I can only tell you my experience. This blog arose out of the need to look at my journey. Those thoughts and emotions that were shifting and bidding for my attention have now beenidentified. They’re still there, but after sharing with a fellow peer and Beth (my sister) I have clarification of my underlying issues. Now I can deal with them one at a time, one day at a time, hopefully not giving them room to fester. By dealing with these issues I will be able to open my heart to love and acceptance and become a whole person again. CM