Sometimes it takes going home again to realize a part of you never really left.
As a child of addiction and a recovering party-girl myself, I have a mean case of arrested emotional development. This is an abnormal state in which mental development has stopped prematurely – at the age when a person uses drugs and those mind-altering chemicals take over the brain. I don’t use the term lightly (side note: Arrested Development is one of my favorite television shows), but more as a barometer for my maturity. A reminder to be gentle on my heart when life throws lessons my way. We are all still learning – still growing. Some of us just take a little longer to get there.
I started taking drugs in high school.
After years of intense therapy and introspection, I now know that my self-medicating choices were a direct result of having been raped by a schoolmate and being bullied for a skin disease on my face – both when I was just thirteen.
What began as a teenage party with beer and pot quickly morphed into full blown addiction of cocaine and any other street anesthesia I could find.
I blew out my 19th birthday candles working at The Lollipop Lounge; a local topless bar where I waited tables and shook my ass in a neon string bikini. On stage, I was flawless. I perfected my shield of over-sprayed hair and sparkling eye shadow, never fully exposing the skin on my face, which was heavily covered in scars. On stage is where I found my beauty for the first time. And a one-way ticket far away from Freddy Kruger – which was my high school moniker.
Turning 21 was a right of passage in the topless bar scene and I wasted no time graduating from go-go dancer to feature act. By week’s end, I was dropping trou up the street at Femme Nu, a fully nude joint – reserved for the big time centerfolds and adult models known around the world.
By my late twenties I was so burned out I decided to make a drastic change. Part of me always knew I’d leave home but unlike most people my age, I wasn’t leaving for higher education or a promising career, I simply wanted escape.
The last two years in my home town were surreal. I knew I wanted to move away, which meant I needed more cash. So, like any desperate twenty-something who could, given the chance to save money, I moved back in with my parents. I still worked the pole on the weekends, but as prep for the “real world”, I got a job waiting tables during the week at California Pizza Kitchen (“CPK”).
Carrying those food trays and taking orders every day, I started to think about what having a normal life away from stripping would be like. It scared the shit out of me. Who was I, if not the party girl? How would I feel beautiful if not on stage? I wanted no part of the life I knew before stripping, so what was my life to become if not being called Freddy Kruger in high school, or The Stripper in my 20’s? Working at the restaurant helped me realize those were not my only options.
Life doesn’t have to be zero to a hundred.
For the first time in my life I was making friends away from the club. The people I grew to love as my restaurant family welcomed me in to their lives with no judgment or agenda. They simply loved me for who I was. The work wasn’t always easy (every person should wait tables at one time in their life) but the rewards were richer than I ever expected.
At CPK I spoke of stripping, and at the club, invited the other girls to parties. Blending my two worlds made the idea of leaving one behind seem easier. When it came time to walk away from the nightlife, it was.
It’s been nearly fifteen years since I left my home town of Waikiki and I’ve often thought about my friends from the restaurant. I wondered if they ever knew how much they helped change my life.
I have recently re-connected with a few (thanks Facebook!). I found this photo on one of their pages and instantly started to cry. It was like seeing a part of myself for the first time – nothing to cloud my memory.
Those crazy restaurant kids were my life raft in a stormy sea of my own uncertainty and fear – and I’m eternally grateful for knowing them, loving them and the reminder that true Ohana (family) transcends space and time.