Auld Lang Syne

Out with some old, in with some new

by John Francis Leonard

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It’s that time of the year again, and I’ve been doing some thinking. In the past, I haven’t given much credence to New Year’s resolutions. It always seemed to me that resolutions were something one could make throughout the year. Every morning that we’re lucky enough to wake up is an opportunity to start fresh, to try something different, to get it right. This year, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about changes I need to make, things I need to set the reset button on. Since many of them have to do with my general health and well being, being HIV-positive comes fully into play. So, in the spirit of the New Year, I need to make some resolutions and what better time to kick them off officially.

I’ve always been mostly lucky with my health; I’m like that proverbial horse. But the fact is that I just turned forty-nine and I’m aging. Since I’m positive, that means I’m aging at a faster rate than the average person, at least physically. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time trying to achieve physical perfection. It wasn’t driven by a desire to be healthy so much as vanity. In gay male culture, especially in the large urban areas where I once resided, it’s often that way. I’m glad that I’ve relaxed that standard in some ways, but in these past few years that has simply become an excuse for an unhealthy lifestyle. Never mind being a “bear” comfortable with a more husky physique, I’m simply too heavy and completely out of shape. My early morning runs had been replaced by early morning writing sessions—good news for my career, but bad news for my health. I’m feeling my age and it’s rough. When you’re positive, being in shape physically is all the more important. I’ll never have a thirty-two inch waist again and the fact is, I don’t need to.

The good news is that in the shopping center right next to my home, they’ve opened a brand new gym and come five in the morning, you’ll find me on the elliptical working up a good sweat. Once I drop a few extra pounds, I’ll start lifting some weights again. Nothing drastic, just some slow and steady changes. The thing is that when I work out regularly, I eat better as well. I’m eating more fruit and vegetables and cutting down on carbs and meat. No more dinners of crackers with cheese and pepperoni—well, maybe on cheat day.

Another obstacle to my good health is smoking. I’ve cut way down since my column on this last year, way down. But way down isn’t enough. No more “I’ll just buy one pack a week.” No more borrowing them (I hate the expression “bumming a cigarette”). Just one cigarette is too many. If I kicked a pack-a-day habit in my self-indulgent twenties, I can quit now. It shouldn’t be that hard. My smoking is done furtively, I’m ashamed to be doing it—ashamed to be seen doing it and, since I refuse to do it in my apartment, it’s a public act. I covered the horrible statistics about smoking when you’re positive in that column last year, so, suffice it to say, I have no business smoking. All the chances of serious health problems from smoking are multiplied for the person who’s positive. But again, it can’t simply be vanity that drives me to in this change—the focus must be my health.

In regards to my personal relationships, I’ve had some breakthroughs. I’ve talked about this before—too many of my columns have been about my search for love. It was more desperation than anything and regardless of what you say or do, your intentions always come to bear on any interaction with others. If the next date I have with an available man is, in my mind, going to lead to some flower-strewn walk down the aisle, my intentions will be read loud and clear and scare the hardiest of souls away. Or, worse yet, lead me into the clutches of an unhealthy, codependent relationship. And I’ve had enough of those for a lifetime. So, I’ll go on dating and enjoying the company of some great guys—and if that leads to something permanent, great. But I’m not going to lose any more sleep over it. In the meantime, I’ll concentrate on my friendships. I recently had a falling out with a friend I’ve had since high school and the thought of losing them was devastating. I can always be a better friend.

It’s an ambitious as well as incomplete list, but these things have been on my mind for some time. I’ve been making small changes for months, especially as far as my attitude, intentions, and most importantly, my expectations. Perfection is impossible, but leading a happier and healthier life as an HIV-positive man shouldn’t be. I think the best I can do is to take it day by day, and most importantly, forgive myself when I come up short. I’ll take the best of my life as it once was and get rid of what’s not healthy. In mind, body, and spirit, I’ll see this new year in with a new attitude and a fresh outlook. I’ll keep in mind that the most important and life-changing goals begin with the smallest of steps. We’re living in some scary times, it’s been a rough year for all of us as LGBT persons, as poz individuals, for people of color, for religious minorities, for women, for those seeking a new life in our country. Isn’t the best life for any of us one that is lived well and fully?


John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.