Eline van de Kam
When I was 23, I went to the Philippines with my partner as a volunteer for a development project. Back then the ‘new and dangerous virus’ was just known. We would work for the United Nations and they wanted to test us for HIV before we entered the Philippines. We were shocked to found out that my boyfriend tested positive. We had already packed our bags, it was one week before our marriage, and suddenly we were told that he had a deadly decease. I tested negative, but intuitively I knew I was infected as well. This feeling turned out to be true.
‘They thought we only had one year to live’. After the test results the specialist in Maastricht asked us if we wanted to see the department we would be staying at. Awkward enough we didn’t end up depressed, even though I did start drinking a lot. Since college drinking was a means to reduce stress, so I reached for the bottle.
Awkward enough we didn’t end up depressed
Still the time spend there was nice. When I look back at the pictures I see a happy teacher surrounded by smiling children. It was my first time staying abroad for a long period. It was new and one big adventure.
My husband and I had each other, also when it came to dealing with our disease. We weren’t so much occupied with dying as we were with being focused on strange blots on our skin and swollen glands.
After the Philippines we worked in Africa for a while. Sometimes we joked about getting our pilot’s certificate and then dramatically crash together like Denys Finch Hatton in the movie Out of Africa. We received our medication via the Dutch Consulate. Back then the medication meant a lot of pills which needed to be saved in a cool area. We would walk around with cool boxes, quite a hassle.
We didn’t speak about anything and just went on.. Another party, climbing the Kilimanjaro for the third time, sailing in Zanzibar. We were always looking for that next new kick. I was living at a faster pace because I knew I wouldn’t have long to live. When we got back to the Netherlands we thought we would die soon. But we didn’t die.
‘I needed openness’
After a few years my husband and I divorced. I ended up in a burnout and all the identity layers I created through the time, like the happy party animal, collapsed. That was the time I told everyone about my HIV. I needed the openness. Unfortunately one secret remained: my alcohol addiction.
A new marriage followed filled with alcohol, living to the max and travelling the world. Drinking had a social factor, but I also drank when I hit rock bottom and didn’t see the end of the tunnel anymore.
I decided to go to a rehab center. When I sobered up I realized that all the materialistic happiness and the excitement I was looking for didn’t give me anything. I left my comfortable marriage and moved on with nothing.
I could get an apartment in the Amsterdam Jordan district. In that same week Johan Noorloos De Nieuwe Yogaschool started and opened their doors right around the corner. I went in and signed up. I took classes every day. First I started with karma yoga (to work without self interest and without material rewards) and later I went to work for the school.
On the yoga mat I’ve learned to accept the things that suffocate me instead of pushing them away or run away from them. If you fight heavy feelings they only get heavier. To realize that a feeling as such will pass again made it much lighter. You don’t need to react to every feeling nor to every thought that comes up.
I realize I am fine, right here in the Jordan District, in my house on my yoga mat. Even though my left knee hurts and sometimes the thought creeps up that I am too old to become a yoga teacher.
On facebook adds pass of wonderful retreats on Bali and other exotic places, but I don’t need to be everywhere anymore. To be able to experience this peace is the greatest gift yoga gave me. Everything in life is temporary, happiness, pain, discomfort and enjoyment. To me this is a beautiful given fact. If I did something that wasn’t such a good idea, it knew it would pass. I didn’t need to drink it away. Now I go for a walk or meditate and everything becomes peaceful.
Everything in life is temporary, happiness, pain, discomfort and enjoyment
HIV came into my life, I have to deal with it and I also have to move on. The same with my alcohol addiction. Everyone has similar issues in their lives, issues which bring resistance. These issues do not define you as a person. So it’s no use to keep labeling yourself as such.
‘For some people their body becomes their enemy when they are diagnosed with a disease such as HIV’. To accept the disease is so important. Yoga can help you. Everything will eventually stop in our bodies, for everybody. Your skin will start to wrinkle and organs will function less. We get ill and we will die.
The process will be slightly faster for someone with HIV, but in the end we are all here temporarily in this body. Don’t just see the failing aspects of your body. Your skin might be wrinkly, but your hands and arms are still functioning perfectly. You can hold a cup and take a sip of your coffee. That is such a miracle on its own. I am so grateful for my body, that it has been carrying me all this time after all the abuse it went through because of me.
Just recently I turned 50 and I celebrated 25 years of being HIV positive. I especially feel much gratefulness for still being here. Twenty-five years ago my doctor said I only had one more year to live. And I believed him.
When I hear of people being diagnosed with hardly any live expectation it saddens me so. That doctor pretends he is God. He has no right! Even if someone has terminal cancer you simply can’t know when exactly it’s over.
It’s a waste to be spending your time in battle
As a Buddhist I believe in reincarnation. There will be a moment when you will have to say goodbye to your body. It’s a waste to be spending your time in battle. The battle against HIV, Aids, cancer or whatever. Embrace what you have.
Yes, I’m an alcoholic. I can live with that as long as I don’t drink. And yes, I am HIV positive. I can live with that as well. I just need to take my pills, live healthy and love my body. Eventually I will die like every other person. I am at peace.
IAMLOVE by Eline van de Kam
Text: Charlot Spoorenberg
Translations: Chantal van ’t Hoff
Photography: Hester Baks
Join IAMLOVE at www.facebook.com/iamlove.nl