By Greg Suffanti
QFWF, September 17, 2018
Life wasn’t punishing me, I was punishing myself
I wasn’t actually planning on taking a vacation, especially from my writing. Since my stroke almost 5 years ago it has been a long struggle to find self-worth in the absence of paid employment.
In addition to writing for this site, I do volunteer work for a Buddhist organization. Writing for the Wijsheidsweb has been an unexpected source of both great pleasure and great personal meaning. I’ve been given the opportunity to write about things that interest me, and writing more personal pieces, such as my ongoing book about moving to Holland with HIV/AIDS, has literally freed me from the shackles of secrecy and shame and allowed me to fulfill a 20 year dream.
These last months of writing have been transformative, and I feared most that somehow my inspiration would dry up, that I would run out of steam.
Then in late August, that’s exactly what happened. I felt empty inside, and suddenly, my mind seemed to be saying, “sorry, it’s not going to happen, this writing thing.” There were other things on my mind as well.
I met a man in July of this year. I’ve lived in Amsterdam more than 18 years, and I’ve met and dated on and off; more off than on, since I moved here. Truly more off than on. If you average it out, it works out to about one short (2 months) relationship every four years. Not very encouraging to say the least. I think I knew from the beginning that they were all doomed, but sheer loneliness won out; until the truth eventually did. It’s been very easy to hide behind the shame of my HIV, my middle age, a burnout and a fundamental belief that I’m one of those people who was meant to be single.
I don’t have a dating app, and sitting in a bar and drinking is about the last thing I want to be doing. So, I’ve not exactly been looking either. Sure, I dreamed of meeting “that special someone”, and deep in my heart I used to ache when the weekends came around and it seemed that everyone around me was off doing fun, romantic things, except of course me.
I proclaimed to all that I was happy and free, but deep in my heart there was a longing to meet someone to share my life with. It became easier and less painful to accept my single status after my stroke. I had bigger problems than occasionally feeling lonely. Then, a funny thing happened: I became happy for the first time in my life.
Life wasn’t punishing me, I was punishing myself. I was denigrating myself at every turn, and always judging myself as inadequate, and on the personal front, as hopeless and undesirable.
I sought the help of a therapist after my stroke, and one day he said to me after about 6 months of my complaining,
“Greg, stop focusing on all the things you can’t do, and start focusing on the things you can.”
The problem wasn’t that I’d had a stroke, the problem was my relationship with myself. Therefore, my problem was an opportunity for growth, and not really a problem at all. It was a gift! I got the message. Happiness was my choice. I made the choice and grew to be happy for the first time in my life: without a partner and on welfare. I learned to become a trusted friend to myself, and not the source of my misery. Happiness was to be found on the inside, not the outside. Finally, I discovered the truth of this wisdom that had eluded me for so long.
I felt something inside I’d not felt in more than 30 years
July of 2018 was a hot month for the Netherlands. My normally cool ground floor apartment began to resemble an oven as the month went on, and at one point late in the month I asked my friend Hans if he wanted to go out one evening for a beer. He immediately said, ”yes”, and before I knew it I was sitting outside on a terrace in Amsterdam, talking to a man named Robin.
We were sitting next to each other and I started asking him about his t-shirt with rainbow lettering spelling out “HIV Positive”. He explained that he was in town for the International AIDS Expo at the Rai in Amsterdam. He was Dutch, from Zevenbergen and lived in Den Haag. He’d been HIV positive since 2005. Music to my ears. I only now remember those few details and how beautiful I found his smile.
Within minutes I felt something inside I’d not felt in more than 30 years; a mixture of joy and comfort and excitement and desire that still spontaneously occupies my heart and mind. It is scary to feel vulnerable and like a child again. My whole world feels turned upside down now that my heart longs to be with my new friend, and my mind wants to dwell in the fantasies of my heart. I had forgotten what it feels like to fall in love. I still need a bit of time with that development in my life. Hopefully lots of time.
It turned out that my mind was tired after all those months of writing from the heart. Writing for the Wijsheidsweb (WW) has been a cathartic and healing experience for me.
My heart has needed this rest I’ve now taken, in order to catch up to myself, and to reflect on these last 8 months of personal revelations and personal changes as a result of writing for the WW.
My “vacation” has been catching up on sleep, and missing Robin, who I’ll see again in a few days’ time. It hasn’t felt like a vacation at all, as I’ve tried to sort out this busy year. I’m still amazed that I’ve met someone I want to get to know better, and I feel every bit the vulnerable teenager that somehow he won’t like me as much as I like him.
I wanted to make a problem of this as well until I decided it was one thing to feel like a teenager and quite another to act like one.
No, I didn’t go anywhere this summer for vacation, and mostly I just felt tired and hung around the house alone. Now that my “vacation” is over, I can say, “I just needed to stop to recognize that everything is fine. More than fine, actually.”
When is a vacation a vacation? In my opinion, it’s when you “come back” feeling better than when you started. It’s not about doing something “fun”. Sometimes, life really does feel like a gift.
I just needed a vacation to see my gifts, that’s all!