The Personal Side of AIDS. 10/5/12

A remarkable guest post from Christopher Sale, a Catholic religious brother from California, diagnosed with AIDS four years ago.

Positive Lite

Editor's note: It’s odd that has never really featured a religious perspective of living with HIV in our pages before. But Brother Christopher Sale (below, right) happened to write to us and we were immediately interested in the prospect of him sharing his rather unusual story.

Christopher told me this about himself. “In 2008 I nearly died from AIDS and drug use. By the grace of God I'm still here. I'm now a Catholic religious brother. I'm the first openly gay man with AIDS to ever start a religious order in the history of the church. My journey with AIDS and being a Catholic brother has really changed my life. My first blog was Gutter to Grace. You can read it here. I'm 61. Went to Catholic schools. Taught 8th grade religion until I was bullied out by the students for being gay. I came out when I was 20 and went into a 25 year relationship. And as you can see I'm a totally changed person. I'm the founder of the Brother of Padre Pio and I'm trying to start the Padre Pio Help Center for those dealing with HIV and AIDS. I'm also involved with the homeless and poor. The church made my calling very difficult because of being my gay and having AIDS. But I broke down every barricade they put up.”

The following article by Christopher first appeared in The South Pasadena Patch

Throughout my many months of blogging, I have not talked about the personal side of having AIDS. AIDS is my never ending battle of survival.

I am an extremely private person but I feel called to tell you about my 4 year journey of living with AIDS. The highs and the lows.

Three weeks before April 29, 2008 I was told that I was HIV-positive. Needless to say, the initial shock was overwhelming. I remember being in a state of confusion.

My first reaction was to deny the seriousness of my diagnosis. "OK," I said to myself. "Many gay men have HIV. In fact many of the men I know have been HIV-positive for years and seem to be doing just fine."

Two days later, I was sent to a clinic for a blood test. I didn't want to go for that second test. I talked myself out of the importance of the test. My roommate could see that my nerves were on edge and convinced me that I needed to go through with the blood test. He kept his promise and went with me.

I'll never forget that day.

I sat in a waiting room where HIV and AIDS pamphlets were on every table. Red ribbons adorned the walls. Reality was setting in. Other men in the waiting room were there for the same reason. I played mind games with myself trying to determine which was the sickest patient.

Trying to visualize my future brought tears in my eyes. I threatened to leave. My roommate consoled me. I took the test and was told to come back on April 29.

The blood test would reveal my T-cell count and would determine my condition. This caused me more anxiety. I was very ignorant about HIV and AIDS. It had been my understanding that HIV and AIDS are one and the same. I lacked education about it.

On April 29, 2008 I went back to get my results. The nurse's compassionate demeanor told me that my condition was serious. She told me my T-cells were 140 and asked me if I knew what that meant. As I told her. "No." She said, "It means you have full-blown AIDS."

The shock protected me from a full break down. She comforted me and told me of the options available with different medications. She said, "AIDS is no longer a death sentence." "No," I thought. "But it sure helps to numb reality."

She told me that my addiction to drugs was going to cut my life short. I had to stop using. How would I battle AIDS and drug use? Then she told me that I was anemic. My world was collapsing.

Depression took over. I got in bed and didn't say another word for days. I felt everything was useless, and I didn't care about anything.

Out of that silence came the realization that using drugs was the least of my worries. I used drugs to escape my reality. Flashbacks flooded my mind of men who died horrific deaths from AIDS. Not wanting to die a horrible death, I tried to overdose on drugs.

Another patient at the clinic asked what my T-cells count was. When I told him, his response was, "Oh you're terminal." Another uninformed person sentencing me to death. I later realized that we are all sentenced to death when we are born.

Those remarks only added to my depression, shame and self-loathing. I had done this to myself. My days were numbered, but they were numbered from birth. I indulged my morbidity and shopped for funeral arrangements, looked into getting a will, being buried or cremated, inquired to the suffering that I would experience and wondered how many exact days that I had left.

I wondered who would ever want to love me, hug me, touch me or cherish me again? Would I tell people upfront that I had AIDS or would I wait? Would this news be received as the plaque?

My roommate encouraged me to fight but despite his support, I felt utterly alone. The days of my life were numbered. I counted each day as precious and then these remaining days of my life were replaced with a deep vacant, emptiness of dying alone.

The mirror showed me that I was slowly wasting away. I became afraid to look at myself. A once well-built, healthy man allowed himself to self-destruct. I never dreamed that I would find myself with AIDS.

After a fall, I ended up at the local emergency room with a torn ligament and cuts on my face. I told the nurse I had AIDS and asked her to clean up the blood and put a bandage on me. She refused and handed me the bandage to put on myself. Not one person in the emergency would touch me.

I was at rock bottom. I went to bed and stayed there for a few months.

The day I got out of bed, I lethargically looked out my front window and became aware that life was passing me by. It was a vibrantly beautiful day, and everything seemed colorful and alive—people out walking their dogs, birds chirped in rhythm and the sun danced on the leaves of trees.

I realized that life wasn't quitting on me, I was quitting on life. A thought flowed through my head, "Time to man up and fight for my life."

I was determined to fight, new found energy pulsed through me, and I got in my car and headed for the nearest Catholic church. I began praying at the Church three times a day.

I had days where I felt that God did not give a damn, and I was wasting my time. I begged Our Lady of Guadalupe to intercede. I felt like a child running to his mother for consolation. I asked Her to help me, and I made a promise to Our Lady that I would devote the rest of my life as a religious brother.

Within three months, my T-cells went from 140 to 160. Not a big deal to some, but it was to me. I threw all the drugs away that I was taking to deaden the emotional pain and never had a craving for them again. This was nothing short of a miracle. I knew that no one could predict my death sentence and that my fate was in the hands of God.

My health returned to 95%. The past 4 years I have battled pneumonia and several stomach infections. I fear being in crowds, make sure I eat in clean restaurants and also maintain a clean living environment. Oftentimes, I feel as though I live in a bubble.

I have been miraculously blessed. I know with God in my life that I will be just fine. At 61, I don't foresee a cure in my lifetime. My stay of execution is at the hands of God. For the second time, God has called me to the religious life. My sexuality caused be to deny that first call but I answered His second call. Though I am battling AIDS, my life is entwined with the crucifix, and this is my cross.

Many people say I should be out living it up. They don't understand that I am living it up with God. God is my ultimate party. And everyday he grants me a new gift. The gift of life.

Br. Christopher Sale B.P.P.

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