True Living: Saying Goodbye to Denial

I was once asked a simple question by a therapist: How do you handle disappointment? I took pause with the topic, tripping on my ego. My assumptions being, I was always as cool as they come.

“I’m great with disappointment!” Even I wasn’t buying it.

I was delivered a knowing smile; the type of look that says so much by saying nothing. You wanna try that again, sister? 

“Well, I mean…I kinda just suck it up.” I qualified.

Shit. Do I? 

“How so?” She volleyed back.

Here we go.

I hate it when therapists guide us to the well, only to make us carry the bucket (we pay them for it, but still).

The remainder of our session was spent exploring my personal inventory of how I deal with things that suck. I don’t remember much of my drive home that evening. I was in some sort of enlightenment-trance, marinating in the realization that I was a bona-fide card-carrying member of the denial posse.

When it comes to life’s land mines and pit falls, we have limited options to choose from in terms of handling them: deal, or deny.

If we choose to face our disappointments (ranging from minor inconveniences to major life traumas), the work is excruciating; only the strong survive. But survive, we do. There’s a reason clichés ring true – and “that which does not kill you, makes you stronger” is no exception. It’s just getting there that’s the hard part.

Denial, on the other hand, can be easy – except it’s not. We may think we’ve out-smarted life by sweeping issues under the rug, but the universe has other plans. The problem with ignoring anything difficult in life is two-fold; our issues don’t magically evaporate and what’s worse, they metastasize, bleeding into all areas of our life.

So how do we deal over deny, when faced with insurmountable events? For starters, it helps to get real. Be honest with yourself (if no one else), in truly recognizing what you’re dealing with. If in a toxic relationship, start looking at your life through a lens that’s not so blurry with illusions that things are different. The longer you deny the realities that you are selling yourself short, the harder it will be to leave.

For some of us, this is easier said than done. When its is all we know, leveling in to discomfort is the norm. But there’s a reason why something doesn’t feel right. Which is a sure-fire sign of denial. We ignore our instincts and mask our turmoil in creative ways. But no amount of booze, sex, money, food or drugs will help – trust me, I’ve tried.

I was sharing with a friend recently of a past break-up after years of toxic push and pull (my co-dependent to his narcissist). I shared how in the beginning after he left, I struggled with the detox of drama. My phone was quiet, my house was still and the self-doubting, fear-based negative dialogue in my head was dissipating. It was eerie and unfamiliar.

After a few weeks I came to learn that what I was experiencing for the first time in – maybe ever – was peace. I learned the absence of drama isn’t filled with more noise, it’s surrounded with a blissful energy that comes when you realize you are worth more.

No matter what our story, change is scary. How we navigate life is up to us and surprisingly, we have more power than we think. Whether moving to a new town, switching careers, finding the courage to speak up for ourselves – or leave a poisonous relationship – the choice is always ours. And the faster we deal, rather than deny – the less time it will take to get to our next chapter.

Christine Macdonald

Pain as Purpose? Get outta here.

Watching my mother’s green Vega fade from our driveway every morning while I pretended to be on the bus to school was part of my senior year routine. Truancy wasn’t on my radar so much as the fantasy of escape. Also, I convinced myself that continuous squatting in the bushes outside our back patio was burning my legs into better shape. I was a Charlie’s Angel-in-training, only with braces and a science experiment of a face.

As the summer of 1985 shook sand from her towel, any residuals of resilience I clung to began to curdle. I retired my Trapper Keeper as a force field from verbal daggers and decided on mastering the art of skipping school – an unoriginal, although genius move I made my own, after catching a repeat ABC After School Special. It was simple, really. Staying home kept me hidden from the person I was in public: the Elephant Man, Crater Face, Freddy Kruger.

Closing the front door behind me to an empty house every day filled my heart with joy – and my liver with Chablis. Isolating while high on cheap wine wasn’t nearly as sad to me then as it feels to write this now. Though alone, I was able to win my hide-and-seek with loneliness, having my favorite singers (Robert Smith of The Cure and Morrissey of The Smiths) on a repeat loop of melancholy tunes from the Mother Country. With each lift and drop of the record needle, my soul was personally serenaded, lacing her fingers with the knowledge that I wasn’t crazy. I mean – with that kind of set up, how could I have possibly been depressed? Except, I was. And I had no idea.

As I write my story within the safety of time, I am worlds away from that high school girl who barricaded herself in her bedroom, getting drunk and escaping with music. But no matter how much time passes the fact remains: no matter how much distance we are from our pain, it never fully goes away. But here’s the thing. This is totally OK.

There is so much beauty in realizing our hearts have endured. Not only are we stronger for surviving, we can use our suffering as fuel for our future. All we need to do is remember how far we’ve come.

Christine Macdonald

Last song: true story from my stripper days (and a poem that was born)

It was roughly two o’clock in the morning and I was high on cocaine. I had just arrived home after working a double shift at the club. After twelve hours in my six-inch stilettos, I was a zombie on stage as the last song played. My feet throbbing and longing for a hot bath, I was in a trance with each flash of the stage lights. All I could think about was the cab ride home, a hot bath and my bed.

The cab arrived shortly after I shelled out my tips to the crew (bartenders, servers, door guy, bouncers) and I was on my way home.

Before long I was in a tub of steaming water and bubbles; I couldn’t help but shrug at the irony that was my life. Just a handful of years earlier I used to sit too close to the television watching my favorite dance program, Solid Gold, dreaming of strutting my stuff as one of their performers.

After drying off and tucking myself in to bed, the cocaine had run its course and my high was leveling. I grabbed a pen and notepad from my nightstand and began to write.

Last Song 

The music engulfs her
Her eyes begin to close
The beat goes boom bada boom
No one really knows

As she stands there, beside herself
Inside that fishbowl of smoke
She is just a ballerina
Trying not to choke

Her eyes gaze into the crowd
Beyond the blinking lights
Her body goes through the motions
It’s just another night

She’s just a ballerina
Tip-toeing through the show
An angel with a broken wing
Trying to make it through the snow

She dreams of the quiet ride home
The moment she slips into bed
Visions of Sugar Plum fairies
Still very much alive in her head

She’s just a ballerina
Trying to survive
With a blanket of hunger surrounding her
It’s a wonder she’s still alive

~ ~ ~

In reading this poem after so many years I still connect to the young woman who wrote it. I understand feeling amused by the irony that after dreaming of becoming a professional dancer on television shows like Solid Gold, I wound up working as a stripper.

I wasn’t so much sad as I was numb. There was a void in place of where my passion wanted to be, and I felt stuck. I was living in emotional cinder blocks, my choices being the cement.

I had yet to learn so many things about myself. If I could speak to my younger self, the gal who wrote this poem – I would tell her that changing the course of our life starts with deciding we are worth it.

And we are.

 

Christine Macdonald