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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Reward Challenge

This isn't about me. It's about you.

My favorite thing about survivor, besides hunks, is the reward challenge.

Every week the survivors compete for rewards like food and letters from home and blankets. Sometimes the winners are flown to a resort for massages, food, wine and a nice warm bed to sleep in.

A year ago I began a reward challenge that led me through quicksand and required that I swing across vines over crocodile infested waters. I sustained bruises and abrasions, fell down, passed out, sprained my muscles and broke bones.

I was lied to, stabbed in the back, lied to again, mocked, ridiculed and humiliated. He said he'd be back, but he never planned on coming back to me. He was sick, very sick, and never told me. He made promises of a future together and a house together and even children of our own, and all the while he knew he couldn't keep any of those promises. I no longer know what was true and what wasn't.

During the challenge I cried many tears and experienced deep sorrow and depression. Then came medication. Then more tears.

This isn't about me. It's about you. Let it out. Cry and rage and scream.

Friends surrounded me, and yet I've never felt more alone. At times, I just wanted to end it all. I wanted to be voted off this island called Life. But nobody voted me off, so I had to keep competing. I didn't believe there would even be a reward at the end of the challenge. I thought I was fighting for nothing, which really makes it hard to hang onto the vine as the crocodiles snap at you.

In December last year when life felt hopeless, I made a decision to fight, even though I really didn't want to. My friends, too many to list, held my hand and told me not to seek answers in bottles of booze. They encouraged me and stuck by me. But I needed more than encouragement from friends. I had to believe there was a point to it all. I had to believe it for myself. For motivation, I placed a reward at the finish line so it would seem worthwhile to keep running.

The Toddtender, such a great friend, talked to me about playing softball. That has changed my life. I think that is when I started believing I could win the reward challenge. Then I broke my toe (twice) and thought I couldn't play after all. But I healed and made it to the first game. This weekend, after I caught a fly ball, I heard the Toddtender cheering for me, even though my catch caused his team an out. He's told me many times over the past few weeks that he is proud of me. I'm proud too. God, I'm so proud to have him for a friend.

This isn't about me. It's about you. Who is your friend? Lean on him.

I had two car wrecks in the midst of the reward challenge. I could only shake my head and ask, "why me?". Then I got mad. That helped me fight harder. No way was I going to let that throw me back into depression. I'd survived so much by that point, and I'd be damned if a couple setbacks would stop me.

Somehow, I got to the finish line. I won.

This Friday, one year after I began the challenge, I'll get my reward. I'll board a plane for Chicago to watch thousands of gay athletes from over 70 countries compete in their own challenges at Gay Games VII. I'll bring all of you with me. For all the friends who watched me run the race and cheered for me, I'll toast you from my seat in first class (hey, it's a REWARD - of course I'm flying first class).

As I watch the competitors next week, I'll be thinking a lot about what makes us winners. How do we conquer the seemingly impossible challenges in our lives? How can we overcome debt and heartache? How do we win against disease and depression and loss? How can we keep fighting when we aren't given equal rights, and when we're hated?

The point is, we just do it. We keep fighting. We'll sustain wounds and feel like quitting. We'll feel oppressed and discriminated against and left out. Sometimes it will seem like there's no hope. We'll feel like the pain in our hearts will never ever go away.

I do not think it is coincidental that I'm going to Chicago at this particular time. Rick, who is a friend to me and to many of you, is going through his own challenge right now. My hope is that I can offer him some cheer and encouragement. I want him to know he's not swinging on that vine by himself. Lots of us are with him.

This isn't about me. It's about you. You can survive your challenges. You can overcome your debt. You can move on after your lover lies to you and leaves you with empty promises. You can find peace when you lose a loved one. You may be in the middle of a reward challenge right now, but look ahead to the reward. It's there waiting for you.

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