I used to be hot: an ex-stripper appreciates her body (then and now).

 

The dressing room walls were vibrating with each thump of the baseline. After a quick garter and lipstick check in the mirror I pulled open the door and headed for the stage. As my eyes adjusted to the smoky darkness, my brain played catch-up to the sudden shift in volume while I sauntered past the customers. The audience would never know I wasn’t down with the DJ’s song choice because like every good sales pro, I worked the problem.

Trotting up the four steps to the stage, I navigated my six-inch stilettos onto the neon flashing Plexiglas. My hips curved around each thumping beat, and my smile served as a beautiful mask of my internal disdain. I was not a fan of 80s rap group 2 Live Crew, but no one would ever know. After the performance I gave, the crowd really did think: me so horny; me love you long time.

Stripping is the ultimate sales job.

“God, you’re such a bitch – you have zero cellulite.” Shayla whined as she spanked my ass at the bar. “Great set, doll.” She sized my body with her Cheshire gaze. “I hate you.” Her smile was wickedly salacious.

“What?” I laughed off Shayla’s digs in-between deep breaths, still recovering from my Oscar winning performance. I played along, pretending to understand. “Oh right, thanks!”

Strippers are sorority sisters without midterms. Instead of libraries and lecture halls, our campuses are cigarette smoke-filled bars with 2 for 1 shot nights, yoked-up bouncers and horny DJs with drug connections. But no matter the layout, we have each other’s backs – and never miss a chance to throw out a good dig in the name of envy. Shayla was in her late twenties and carried faint traces of cellulite around her hips, but to me – she was a Godddess.

Later that night and alone in my apartment, I broke out my mental measuring tape. I inspected each body part standing naked in front of the mirror. It was true. Unlike my face, my 22-year-old body was casualty-free; spared from the damage of the rare blood disease I was born with, leaving my face covered in deep-seeded crater-like acne scars. My stomach was toned and flat, my B cups were perky and my backside was solid and plump. I knew my body was ‘stripper worthy’, so why didn’t I feel beautiful? On the heels of being labeled Freddy Kruger in high school because of my scarred face, being envied was foreign to me. Anyone looking at me through a complimentary lens immediately tossed me in a sea of uncharted territory. I was desperate to catch Shayla’s life raft that night in the club, but there were too many leaks in my self-esteem to believe I could.

When you’re young and peppered with wisdom from anyone older, it serves up nothing but reminders that we still have time. The delicious irony is that nobody in their twenties truly understands the concept of youth being on our side until it’s gone.

It’s been twenty-five years since receiving Shayla’s cellulite-free comment, but far less time since I truly appreciated it. In the blink of an eye, my rock star life style of the rich and famous lost and shameless morphed into middle-aged responsibilities of the tired and gracious. Gone are the days of peeling off my day-glow lingerie for dollar bills and using my body as the ultimate entertainment sales tool. I can barely remember being cellulite-free and my fleshy stomach these days – it’s so lovely, it could give Buddha a run for his Rupee. But I’m happy. I feel beautiful.

The road to self-acceptance for everyone is as unique are their story. Paved with personal landmines and life rafts, it’s a wonder any of us make it through. My body has carried me, as I have her. We’ve made the trek to the other side of Victim; through childhood abuse, young adult disrespect and most recently, the Universe’s health tests. My body and me are still here. Bruised and scarred, tired yet strong. Weathered and full of stories. We are each other’s hero.

 

Christine Macdonald

Like a Stone: A 90s Party Girl’s Thoughts On Chris Cornell

My wheels crawled along the asphalt and I breathed in the afternoon sky. Brushstrokes of cotton candy melting with fireside abstracts served my daily commute home from work well. How could I possibly mind rush hour when my drive literally reminds me to appreciate the view? Time pushed as traffic crept along the California coastline and so did I. My thoughts swirled around nothing and everything as my eyes took deliberate turns between sky and road. The volume on my radio was low enough to faint the car commercials but still present enough to tap my ear when I landed on a tune I liked.

Enter Chris Cornell. And just like that. My sunset had a soundtrack.

As soon as I heard those pipes the fact that I couldn’t peg which song he was singing (a rarity) didn’t matter. His voice is undeniable; uncompromised passion with a bellowing tone that weaved through the speakers straight into your blood. I was only a few seconds in when it hit me – I had no idea what song this was.

As a retired party girl who made her living on the stripper stage in the 90s, I take great pride in being ‘in the know’ with musicians from back in my day. I worked the clubs in Waikiki from Milli Vanilli and Terence Trendy D’arby to Mötley Crüe and Fatboy Slim. Now decades later I can still tell you, with each song I hear – where I was working, what beaded leather or fluorescent lace costume I wore and which drug dealer had the best coke. Knowing his voice but not recognizing which song was more than annoying – it was a treat. I turned up the volume and without warning his lyrics pulled me inside a part of myself I was not expecting to revisit on a random afternoon drive home  from the office.

“And I sat in regret
Of all the things I’ve done
For all that I’ve blessed
And all that I’ve wronged
In dreams until my death
I will wander on”

I could blame the sudden tickle in my nose and watery eyes on PMS or low blood sugar, but the fact is – Chris Cornell was more than his voice – he was a rock and roll poet.

My introduction to Audioslave and their new tune Like a Stone reignited something in me that’s difficult to describe. My pole dancing days far behind me, I wrestled with feelings of anxiety remembering who I was then compared to the woman I’ve become. There I was, driving home from my corporate job in an upper class, conservative town and a song I fell in love with became a magic carpet ride to my past. With each note and lyric, I danced through a wormhole to a time when I was old enough to be on my own and make reckless choices, yet young enough to find my way out.

It seemed Chris Cornell and me both found our way out. He too, was a survivor of the party scene in the 90s. I didn’t follow his personal life, and to be honest wasn’t aware that he was back on the charts fronting his new band at the time, Audioslave. But like a long lost sister who powered through Aquanet hairspray and faded jeans torn at the knee, I was proud we were both doing well in our new lives.

It’s been a few weeks since learning of Cornell’s death. Like millions of us who knew him only through the lens of celebrity, the feelings of loss was (and still is) real. Since I posted my thoughts on this horrifying news on Facebook, my wall has been decorated with stories from fellow stripper sisters about when he serenaded us on stage through the speakers. And as one of my friends shared – he and his band mates cooked for her and her pals at her house – before she even realized they were members of Soundgarden.

Then there is the why. Headlines continued to dominate the internet just hours after the news: Dead at 52. Fifty fucking two. Just four years older than me, I couldn’t help but think the unthinkable. But it was true. Cornell couldn’t find his way out of whatever darkness he was living – and he decided to end his life.

As someone who has struggled with depression for years I can’t say I didn’t get it in some fucked up and completely inappropriate way. I don’t condone what he did. I hate what he did. But I hate the fact that I can relate to it even more.

To describe feelings of wanting to end it all to anyone outside the circle of mentally ill is like having a conversation with your dog. The words are real, and your faces connect but neither of you will ever truly understand what the other is saying. Our loved ones try to understand. They read up on the signs, speak to professionals who describe how depression is a disease that can be treated in ways, but is always white noise in our brains.

So many of us are hurting with the news of Chris Cornell. And there are countless humans away from the spotlight who suffer the same blows. Families buckle under the weight of such news that no doubt, the thought of following suit by taking their own life must enter into the realm of solution. But there is always another way.

If learning this type of news of someone we love (celebrity or otherwise) teaches us anything, it’s that the human heart can endure. All we need to do is hang on to the belief that the darkness won’t always be so. Remedies are all around us. Through the skin in holding your child’s hand, a shared smile with your lover, spontaneous laughter with a friend. All lovely anecdotes for sorrow. But if you’re like millions of us who need a little extra help in the depression section – it helps to play some of your favorite music. Thank you Chris, for giving us so much of yours.

Christine Macdonald

The Sociopath and Me: A Love Story

49737013Because of the overwhelming messages I’ve received from my Narcissist’s Harem post a couple of years ago, I’m continuing my story. I’m lifting the veil of shame from choices I’ve made and want to share the personal lessons I’ve taken with me along this ever-evolving road of self-discovery. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through exposing intimate (often ugly) truths about myself, it’s that I am never – ever alone.  If you’ve been involved with someone crippled by the restraints of mental illness, I’m here to tell you, neither are you.

Before we delve further into my story of The Sociopath and Me, full disclosure time. If you’re new to this blog – I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m crazy. Yes, it’s true. As millions of us do*, I struggle with my own form of mental illness. It’s a lovely brew that simmers on low most of the time on the back burner of my life.

Everyone’s personal story is their own, so I’m not here to dissect the ingredients that create my savory dish (which include Clinical Depression, Histrionic, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). But like every herb and spice the makings of mental illness are as organic as their owner’s story. We are born with certain DNA that serve as welcome mats to things like mental illness, addiction, alcoholism and any other myriad of issues. But the nature vs. nurture argument cannot exist without mentioning the way we were raised as children, and how that plays a major part in the comedy and tragedy that is life.

17444642555_fa91a08408_bOnce delving into mental therapy and doing the dirty work as to why I kept making the same poor choices, the reasons for my diagnosis became clear. Yes, I have a family history of depression, but taking six pills of Molly (MDMA, Ecstasy, “E”, “X”) for five years almost nightly doesn’t come without some pretty major brain damage.

The delicious irony I can only see now – is that in my quest to capture the euphoria that Molly served (truck loads of Dopamine and Serotonin, the ‘feel good’ brain waves), my downward crashes were heavy. I was a 24-year-old stripper with cash and freedom, but suffocating on thoughts of suicide and self-loathing while I lived the rock star life.

“Stripper Cliché, your self-serving over indulgent table of toxic choices is ready!”

It took way too many damaged brain cells to learn that taking a little white pill for Happy always came at the price of The Unfathomable Sad.

In terms of the other ingredients making up my personal diagnosis, I will just say that nurture comes into play. You’ve got your garden variety father abandonment, step-father abuse and overall neglect peppered with a healthy dose of alcoholism from both parents. But I won’t bore you with the details of my Lifetime Movie of the Week. None of us need reminders that we are all products of our childhoods; we realize this with every bad decision and self-sabotaging action.

Although I don’t speak for strippers and drug addicts in general, it’s a safe bet to determine that anyone who like me, lived a decade naked on stage wasn’t there because of an inflated sense of self-worth. More irony here – growing up with a valid fear of abandonment pretty much ensures we’ll abandon our own selves in the process of becoming an adult. When it’s all we know, personal dysfunction is comforting and as screwed up as it sounds, treating ourselves like shit – feels like coming home.

Which brings us to The Sociopath and Me.

When hearing someone described as a sociopath, I used to immediately think, Ted Bundy. In other words, if you were labeled with this mentally ill moniker, you were a straight up serial killer – period. My judgement was so far into the horror of such a twisted mind, that I made the common mistake most of us who’ve been involved with sociopaths do: we dilute reality with fantasies. And hey – they’re not murdering us – so, they aren’t that bad’!

I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m thinking it’s kind of a red flag when “not murdering me” is on the plus side in justifying why you’re dating someone who you know isn’t good for you.

“He’s a total Sociopath.” My friend declared, after hearing yet another story of he and I. For my friend, these tales were a constant loop of dysfunction. It drove her nuts that I was still with this guy. Her conviction was enough for me to Google what exactly she was talking about.

After learning of the characteristics that make up your typical sociopath (not to be confused with psychopath), I was eerily familiar:

  • Lie to get what they want, Lie to see if they can get away with it (for the sake of lying)
  • Incredibly charming
  • Manipulative, Deceptive, Cunning
  • Impulsive
  • Disregard for Rules, Safety of Self or Others (Self Harm)
  • Thrill Seekers (Drugs/Alcohol Abusers)
  • No Personal Responsibility (it’s never their fault, they are always the victim)
  • Craves to Always be the Center of Attention

I should be clear in saying that my calling this person a sociopath is my opinion – and not a professional diagnosis. But after reading up on Psychiatrists’ articles, I gotta say I’m pretty spot on with my feeling. So is my friend. And here I thought my fella was just tinkering on narcissist tendencies.

So what’s the difference between Narcissists and Sociopaths, anyway? Here’s what I found:

THE SIMILARITIES

  • Both are very charming and charismatic.
  • Both tend to be very intuitive and skilled at observing and reading people.
  • Both are egocentric and self-interested. Me, Me, Me and Mine!
  • Both do not take accountability or blame for their actions but will gladly accept the credit for anything positive.
  • Both believe they are never wrong.

THE DIFFERENCES

  • Sociopaths will deliver an insincere but convincing apology if it benefits their agenda, a narcissist will not.
  • Sociopaths will appear more humble and less of a braggart. Narcissists are more oblivious to how they appear to others and will often boast about their achievements.
  • Sociopaths upon meeting you, will try to pick your brain and ask you a lot of questions. Narcissists will focus the conversation on themselves and their interests.
  • Sociopaths are manipulative and calculating and will exploit others to further their agenda. Narcissists exploit others who they feel are hindering their agenda.

All very interesting!

So why on earth would anyone get involved with this type of person? For me, it all boiled down to my lack of self-worth (doesn’t it always?). Also, like with most relationships, the beginning stages are always covered in bliss. The charm, sex, laughter and exploration of being with a new “love” is intoxicating. Add some serious intimacy issues with both people and the ride – no matter how dangerous – is even more of a thrill.

As I’ve written about in “Boredom or Bedlam: Are You An Emotional Cutter?” some people crave and create drama because it makes them feel. In my case, we were both unaware that we were doing this and totally getting off on the rush.

This post isn’t meant to call anyone out, but rather a way to shed light on why any of us would be with someone who is wrong for us. Especially after we know better.

When we don’t truly see our value, we continually give people discounts. We settle for crumbs at the table because we’ve been emotionally starving for love. The problem is the crumbs never fill us and we keep going back to the table for more. It’s not until we leave these toxic tables and choose other, healthier menus altogether that we finally find true love – especially with ourselves.

20141219182851-confidenceSo if you’re like me and you’ve allowed yourself too many crumbs and not enough healthy servings of love – I’m here to tell you, it’s not hopeless. The first step to being free from your self-loathing and shame (for being with yet, another ‘fixer-upper’ partner), is knowing we are worth more and truly getting the fact that – no matter how much we love someone – their issues are always their own – and NOT about us.

Being alone is scary. It can get lonely. It often sucks. But know this: feeling alone when someone is in our life is always, unequivocally worse than actually being alone.

I will always love The Sociopath. My heart is wrapped around him and his issues and I wish him well with his story. But in order to navigate my own in a healthier way, I had to close our chapter. It was easier than I expected because I’m in a different place than I was when we met. He has a lot to do with that.  As crazy as it sounds, I am grateful.

Once we realize the love for ourselves is what guides us to healthy love with others, being alone instead of with the wrong person isn’t at all bad.

* In 2014, there were an estimated 43.6 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with Any Mental Illness (AMI) in the past year. This number represented 18.1% of all U.S. adults. – National Institute of Mental Health. 

Christine Macdonald