Sometimes we all need a reminder.
“Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.”
“When you judge another, you do not define them. You define yourself.”
From our childhood playgrounds to parent-teacher conferences as adults, we’ve all been there. We learn of an opinion or judgment about us that is not only unkind, it’s just plain wrong.
As kids, discovering that negative falsehoods are being said about us can be utterly devastating. None of us want to be the outcast. All we want is to be invited to the party; to feel like we belong. Luckily, we grow into our own skin and learn who we are. Our longing [to fit in] is less about personal validation and more of a barometer for attracting like-minded people.
Being a former cocaine-snorting-nude-dancer-party-girl, I’ve been labeled Hooker, Junkie, Ho, Slut – the list is typical. Even before my nine-year career on the pole, I was on the hurtful end of verbal daggers. The skin disease on my face inspired the high school nick-name Freddy Kruger. By the time I was in my 20’s, I learned to roll with the naysayer vibe (no matter how annoying).
So what about now? How do we, as adults handle it when dark clouds of negative people overshadow our light? I’ve recently come face-to-face with this question thanks to a grown woman using valuable cell phone minutes to slander my name.
The immediate questions are obvious: Who’s hearing this bullshit? and Do they believe any of it?
After percolating the situation and realizing the why of it all, I released my questions into the universe. The 20-something in me had a little talk with the middle-aged broad tapping away on these keys today – and we both agreed upon a course of action. I’m going to do absolutely nothing.
When it comes to negative (not to mention false) gossip about us, we need to remember: the people who know us won’t believe it, and the people who believe it don’t know us. Either way, it’s out of our control. Besides, everybody has a right to their opinion. The question we need to ask is – do we allow others’ opinions or judgments about us to influence how we feel about ourselves? We already know the answer.
Life is fleeting. It’s a beautiful struggle. There are enough land minds to survive without anyone’s assistance. Don’t make space for unnecessary bullshit. If you need a mantra to remember that, feel free to use mine: *What other people think of me is none of my business. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
*Quotes written by Wayne Dyer
When raised with cracked foundations of chaos, it’s easy for us to understand how as adults we feed off drama. Up is down and right is left. We know better, but it doesn’t stop us from running with the proverbial scissors that cut up personal happiness and responsibility, leaving a trail of regret.
For so many of us, chaos is fuel. It’s our oxygen when the poor choices we make ignite anxiety within the walls of fear. We cannot breathe until the risk of losing our breath is born from our own doing. Anything else is boring.
Although each slice is hidden deep inside our psyche, emotional cutting – hurting ourselves to feel – is just as damaging as the physical act itself.*
“Self-harm is a way of expressing and dealing with deep distress and emotional pain. As counterintuitive as it may sound to those on the outside, hurting yourself makes you feel better – Cutting and Self-Harm (www.helpguide.org)
Life is not a straight line for any of us. For adult children of dysfunction, it’s a barbed wire maze of self-sabotage that draws blood with every turn. And the puncture wounds make us feel alive.
It’s hard to understand unless you’re in it. Even more difficult to rationalize when we’re the ones orchestrating our own pain. It’s cool when our loved ones support us, but we know they don’t really get why we continue to be the architect of our own demise. Neither do we.
So how do we turn off the auto-pilot road to self-destruction? For starters, it’s a good idea to get real. I’m not talking about saying the words people want to hear. This is about digging deep. Shred the years of layered bullshit you’ve been telling yourself and speak from deep inside your truth. It’s not fun; it can actually be scary. But everything boils down to the ugly truth: we cannot make it through the painful maze without actually going through it. Feel the pain. Weep. Wail. Then scream into the air (or a pillow, so your neighbors don’t call the cops). Just get it the fuck out.
Since I can remember I’ve been living some version of the truth, which is a colorful way of saying lie. What began as floating in a sea of self-medication [insert your vice here], quickly morphed into believing the bullshit I was telling myself.
I can handle it.
They are the ones with the problem.
I know what I’m doing.
I don’t need anyone.
I’m not lonely.
Living a lie is exhausting. Yet so many of us do it because we’re afraid of facing the shit that caused us to take comfort in our bullshit in the first place.
One of my best friends jokes about how we’re so much alike – and should be wrapped in caution tape. And I’m not kidding when I say ‘I’m such a work in progress I should wear orange cones for earrings‘. Humor is nothing if not effective when it comes to getting real.
But get real, we must. Whether it’s telling a friend, teacher, boss, relative or therapist – we need to share our truth.
The healing begins when we stop pretending.
The first person you need to share your dark truth with is the most important person in your world – you. You’re no good to anyone if you’re no good to yourself. It’s time to stop buying your lies, and start getting real. We are worth it. If you don’t believe this, it’s because believing we have no value is the biggest lie of all. Take back your truth. It all starts with the decision to try.
*I am not an expert in mental health. This blog is a platform to express my own opinions and beliefs based on personal experience. If you or anyone you know is suffering, please reach out to a professional and seek help. You are worth it – even if you don’t feel it right now.
“Everybody has scars. It’s just that most people wear them on the inside” – M.W. Stromberg
At Fourteen, I didn’t have any big life dreams other than to fit in with the rest of the 80’s misfits in high school. In a sea of Member’s Only jackets, leg warmers, pastel Izod polo shirts and Z Cavaricci jeans, you’d think it would’ve been easy. But hearing my nick-name, Freddy Kruger because of a skin disease on my face, over and over through the halls punctured my sense of self. With every Kruger calling, internal scar tissue seeped through my bones, weaving its way throughout my teenage years, and even in adulthood. As it turns out, my Pee Chee folder force field and Trapper Keeper sun visor I used while walking to class – not helpful.
My only dream at that time was having Brooke Shields, Cosmopolitan Magazine cover, flawless skin. And even though my face wasn’t magically cured, when I walked on the stripping stage for the first time just five years later – it sure as hell felt like it was.
I don’t remember what life was like before having scars on my face. Their presence has been tattooed on my soul, far deeper than what my skin allows. The familiar grimace when greeting my reflection, the slight panic when my eyes lock with a child or walk in a crowded elevator, the slick dinner candle maneuvers; placing them as far from under my chin as possible. It was all autopilot defense in what personal history has taught me. The mirror will always be unfair. Children, in their innocent brutality of truth, will question why something looks different. And shadows, tucked inside my skin, will never, ever be my friend.
It’s hard to believe it all started thirty years ago with a pea-sized bump on my cheek. This wasn’t something I could just pop, either. Much like my love for Chachi Arcola and Shaun Cassidy, this was deep, and it was real. And as if looking like I was shot with a BB gun wasn’t awesome enough, this…thing hurt like mad. It felt like a nasty bruise and every time I smiled or spoke, someone pressed it – hard.
Within days the tiny bump wasn’t so tiny. It filled with blood and was now close to the size of golf ball. It was also no longer alone – almost overnight, it seemed to have multiplied all over my face. I didn’t see any other kids’ faces in school resembling anything close to mine, so I was truly baffled, not to mention irritated. It was putting a major dent in my plan of becoming a Solid Gold dancer after graduation.
Most every teen on the planet (except, maybe Brooke) gets to live through the lovely coming-of-age meat grinder of adolescence by having acne (not to mention braces, body odor, mood swings, menstrual periods, random hard-ons, and sprouting a wild jungle of pubes), but this was something else. It seems I won some kind of puberty jackpot. I learned (during the first of many doctor visits) that my case was an extreme and rare form of acne called Stage IV Acne Vulgaris (also known as Acne Conglobata, a very serious skin disease complete with nodules and blood-filled cysts).
As soon as Doctor Vulgaris broke the news to mom and me, my eyes welled up. And with the voice of a guilty teenager begging for mercy, I sat up on the tissue-paper covered table and vowed on back issues of Hi Life magazines to never eat chocolate, greasy fries, pizza or Chinese food again. But Dr. V just shot me half a smile with I’m sorry dear in his eyes. He explained to us that this horror had nothing to do with diet. This was a blood disease and was hereditary. I was grateful for his honesty, but he could’ve at least broken the news with a Snicker’s bar or deep-fried won tons.
After assessing mom’s flawless skin and raven-haired, hazel-eyed beauty, the level of disdain I already had for my scar-faced father percolated. It’s one thing to fall in love with a Pan Am stewardess, bail on your wife and two babies, move to Canada to avoid paying child support – but to give me THIS – thanks, dad – you’re the best.
“I hate him.” I could barely get the words out between hyperventilating through my tears. I had not seen him in years but envisioned my father at the bottom of the elevator shaft in the hospital. I wanted the cables to snap, causing us to plummet eighteen floors right on his selfish, Vulgaris-riddled face. I knew he didn’t do this to me, but something about knowing my dad’s genes were a variable in the equation of my pain induced a type of heartache that didn’t feel human. “I really, really hate him.”
“I know, honey.” The fluorescent lights above her angelic face reflected against her glasses, but I could still see it in her eyes; I knew all too well, the look of worry when it came to disappointment from him.
It didn’t take long before my face was covered with red and purple cysts that oozed blood with the touch of my finger. And they didn’t just leak where I pressed them. It was a maze of gore, connected deep under my skin; an ant farm of Freddy.
One night propped up on my bathroom counter in boxer shorts and my favorite Blondie t-shirt, I folded my legs and planted myself in front of the mirror, one ass cheek in the sink. I wanted to get a closer look at a particularly massive cyst on my temple next to my left eye. It was so huge and purple, almost black – that a kid in school announced to the class earlier that day that it looked like I got punched in the face (which I didn’t deny, because beaten was better than ugly). I could barely see out of the corner of my eye so I decided to drain it myself.
After lighting a match to the tip of one of mom’s safety pins from her sewing kit (I don’t know why I thought that would make it more sterile), I went to work. I barely pierced my flesh and in a second, I heard a hissing sound, like air being let out of a balloon and the cyst exploded, splattering blood all over the mirror and walls. It looked like a crime scene. But there was still more blood in the wound. I held my breath, not knowing what would come next and pressed the edges around the cyst gently. Then something freaky happened. The skin under my chin tracing my jaw ripped open and before I knew what was happening, I felt blood dripping on my thigh. It was from a cyst I wasn’t even touching. Fascinated and mortified, I couldn’t call out to my mom or even cry. I spent the next twenty minutes using every bathroom tissue in the box wiping up the evidence.
A couple of days later, more cysts. This time, in addition to my face, they showed up on my neck, chest and back. My throat would ooze blood if I stretched my neck to one side. This time the tears managed to come. I was wearing a Halloween costume that was impossible to take off.
Somewhere between the bathroom crime scene and waking up with bloodstained towels covering my pillowcase every morning, I did something religious for the first time in my life, without feeling like I had to.
God, if this is you, if you really do exist, I know it’s not Christmas or Easter or anything, and I’m nowhere near a church, but if you can hear me, if you’re not too busy with that whole Kingdom of Heaven gig, I’m begging you – please, please – don’t wake me up.
No matter where I was – in class, the cafeteria, the gym or walking home, those days were tainted with a chant that still haunts me to this day: “Kruuuuger! Kruuuuger!” Sometimes I still hear it; when I give my fear exclusive sabotaging rights over my willingness to take a risk. It’s the serenade of self-doubt when the beads of sweat from belief and worry exhaust themselves from the tug-of-war within the space of my courage. The bellowing melody of cruelty, which wraps me in pain, suffocating my strength when faced with any challenge in my adult life.
It didn’t take long before cutting class (behind moms back) seemed logical. Why roam the halls dodging bullies when I could hang at home, listen to The Smiths, and get loaded off Chablis and Fresca? Besides, compared to Erica Kane, my life somehow didn’t seem as bad.
The next couple of years were a blur of at-home, alcohol induced pity parties nestled between monthly doctor visits (complete with blood tests, cortisone shots, dry ice sticks, Tetracycline and Accutane doses) and even a couple facial surgeries. Accutane was a new pill on the market, still in the testing phase, but Dr. V suggested I give it a try. The side effects were brutal: the skin on my palms, bottom of feet and lips peeled like rice paper, and my scalp was so dry I could “make it snow” like Ally Sheedy’s character Allison in The Breakfast Club, but I didn’t care. My cysts were nearly gone. The only problem was the crater-like scars left it their wake. Over 80 percent of my face looked like melted wax. No longer bloody, but far from Brooke Shields smooth, my skin took me from Freddy Kruger to Moon Face. And still, another year of high school to go.
Before twenty-first century laser beams and magical serums were invented, 1986 for me was spent mostly recovering from the same surgery – twice. This archaic procedure, called Dermabrasion (not to be confused with the micro-Dermabrasions of today) took me under general anesthetic while the skin on my face was sand-blasted with a wire brush. The idea was to smooth out the deep craters as best it could, but I was warned that the results were going to be less than perfect.
Moon Face – Forever?
On the plus side, I discovered Demerol. It’s one thing to shoot back wine all day when I should’ve been conjugating verbs and mastering algebra, but adding pain killers to the mix was a total game-changer.
Then – senior parties, fake IDs and night clubs. Somewhere between the pills and booze, the 80s glam drug cocaine found its way to my wheelhouse. Self-anesthetizing my pain with chemicals became my safety net from suicidal fantasies, which is how I justified walking the graduating line with a half gram of blow tucked inside the cup of my bra.
If it wasn’t for my beautiful Barbie Doll friend, Angela convincing me to join her in entering a wet-t shirt contest at nineteen, I never would have stepped foot on the stripper stage. My face was still heavily scarred but I could at least leave the house. Besides, my 1987 Chaka Kahn hair served me well, replacing my Trapper Keeper shield. And with the help of some new drag queen friends from the dance clubs, caked-on theater make-up became my friend.
With my cellulite-free, size four body and natural dance moves, I was a hit on stage. Every dollar bill tip in my garter was validation. For the first time in my life, I felt…pretty. I was finally home.
Freddy and Moon were far from dead, but they were definitely muted with my new-found life of velvet ropes and VIP rooms. Two years flew by and with my 21st birthday on the horizon, I had no idea where my rock-star life would take me, but I was more than ready to find out.
From the time we are old enough to know better, we find ways to test the rules. What ebbs, we want to flow. Up? Fuck that, gimmie Down.
As kids, it’s liberating; a way to forge independence and carve our path. We long to navigate beyond right and wrong – we adore hovering in the what ifs and why nots – which is what learning is all about.
As we mature into adulthood, lessons carry more weight. We discover fear from what has burned us – about hope from moments that carry us beyond our wildest dreams – to love on how we are loved.
For those of us who were raised with emotional deficits – the broken – the lost – our concept of right and wrong is skewed. We lie, but more importantly, believe the lies we live, tell others and to ourselves. It’s a defense mechanism. It’s all we know.
One of the best (and most horrifying) ways to learn the hard lessons of life is to test our instinct. Somewhere deep inside our soul, we know. That little voice inside us taps our tortured souls, waving its arms “no….no..this will hurt.” We go in anyway.
The problem with not listening to our instinct is that eventually the veil of denial always lifts. Instead of only feeling betrayed by others, there’s an element of self-destruction. The “what the fuck was I thinking” takes over. At this point, we have a choice. We can beat ourselves up the way we learned to as children, or we can thank the voice. That beautiful hum inside your heart. Don’t allow it to say things like “I told you so.”
YOU CONTROL YOUR VOICE.
In the face of betrayal, smile with gratitude. You’ve learned about loyalty.
With tears of disappointment, wipe them with kindness. You’ve learned about expectations.
We may not have been raised with the love and kindness we deserved – but don’t ever let this stop you from giving it to yourself.
Instinct always knows. Befriend your voice. Forgive it when you fall. Allow it to lift you. You’ll be surprised how high you will fly.