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Dreaming is Free

48037634-cachedThis post title has ADHD written all over it, but stick with me. I’ll keep the loquaciousness to a minimum. If you’re Googling “Loquaciousness” don’t feel bad. I overheard that word at a party and couldn’t wait to use it in a sentence. Then I realized – I was that L Word. And hilarity ensued. You should’ve been there. I killed.

But back to this post.

When the hell did mid September happen? Shit. I have things to do. A book to finish. Power meetings with influential networking hipsters who can change my life by signing on the dotted line after accepting my hilarious pitch of my oh-so-fabulous story.

Dreaming is free, people. Just ask Debbie Harry. Please Google her too, kids. And do yourself a favor – dance naked to Heart of Glass at least once in your life. Alone in your room is fine. But not in front of any mirror. Just dance. And while you’re at it, blast “Dreaming.” Because it really is free.

What made me think of dreaming out loud tonight? I’m glad you asked.

A couple of hours ago I received a text message from an old sister-friend from our home town of O’ahu, Hawaii (let’s call her B). She and I both live in Southern California now, but have not seen one another in nearly 20 years, can you believe? We reconnected through the marvels of modern technology and plan to meet up soon for a long overdue brunch. But back to her text. I was matter of fact-ly very tongue-in-cheeky mentioning to her that I had a book to finish because I’m dreaming big – her reply was priceless and one I just had to share:

“Don’t stop until it’s done! Then dream up another dream – that way you’re always livin’ the dream.”

It’s been a while, but that quote is so her. Beautiful. Positive. Inspiring. The depression, diseased part of my brain thinks she’s a bitch. I happen to adore her. I win.

B has always been this stunningly beautiful light, and her energy is equally pure and real. Whatever she’s on, I want some. I kid. Those drugs days are over, kids. I know she’s high on life and love. B just reminded me I’ve gotta get me some of that – clinical depression be damned.

If only snapping out of a dark space of wanting to evaporate were as easy as reconnecting with a beautiful soul. Sometimes staying in touch with loved ones, even in the thick of isolation reminds us how much beauty there is in this world. The fact is, when wrestling with clinical depression some days that actually does work. Other days, not so much. Sure, there are medications that help kick-start our serotonin and dopamine receptors, but even that sometimes isn’t enough.

Today was hard. I mean really tough. Because of a morning trigger (something superfluous other than that it hit a button I’ve been trying to avoid), I found myself in a downward spiral of despair that only the fantasy of not wanting to live surrounded my psyche for the better part of the day. Was I ever in danger of taking my life? No. But here’s the thing about clinical depression. There’s a huge difference between not wanting to live and actually taking the steps to assure you don’t. One of my favorite authors, Auguesten Burroughs maps it perfectly:

“If you believe suicide will bring you peace, or at the very least just an end to everything you hate – you are displaying self-caring behavior. You are still able to actively seek solutions to your problems. You are willing to go to great lengths to provide what you believe will be soothing to yourself. This strikes me as optimistic.”

I cling to these words. They are my life raft even when I’m the one puncturing the holes and I feel myself sinking. I remember – most of us with depression don’t really want to die. We just don’t want the pain.

Dreaming is free.

 

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Christine Macdonald
Mirror

Face. Value.

OrangeI sat upright on the examining table, the thin paper rustling under the backs of my knees. I tapped my heels against the sides like a restless child waiting for her lollipop. I wondered  – at what age in child development did doctors stop shelling out candy? And how cool would it be now to have a martini bar in the waiting room.

My lungs were full. I pushed every ounce of air out from under my belly, through my chest. The room was suddenly filled with the heavy wind of my breath, penetrating the sterility of the space. The faint ticking of the second-hand on the wall inside its circle of time reminded me how slowly it dripped in these moments (but when I hit snooze – lightening speed).

The scene was all too familiar, but the butterflies still fluttered inside. I knew that soon, I would lay on that same, thin sheet of paper covering the table, my face centered under an over-sized microscope and my eyes closed – protected from a light bulb that will feel unnecessarily too bright and way close too close to the skin on my face. The heat would remind me of the sun. It will carry me outside myself. I will fantasize about lying on an empty beach, back in my home town of Waikiki. Anything but lying under another doctor’s lamp under their over-sized magnifying glass.

I’d rather live in my fantasy far away from white robes and the smell of rubbing alcohol. In my mind, I was a swimsuit model with perfect skin, lounging on a golden stretch of pristine sand glistening under the afternoon glow of make-believe. Shirtless Greek Gods donning cocoa-buttered six-pack abs and solid forearms will deliver a frosty Mai Tai in an unusually skinny but tall Tiki style mug. It will have two narrow straws and one tiny pink umbrella wedged on the edge of the mug next to a slice of fresh pineapple. Palm trees playing hide-and-seek with my perfect, cellulite-free silhouette and the waves kissing the shoreline will provide the perfect ambiance to my afternoon of bliss.

But then – fingers. The touch from a faceless doctor in a white coat, professionally equipped to provide me with promises of. . . better. 

“Right now, your skin is like an orange. We can make it look like an apple”, he promised. I heard the light switch click, felt the heat from the bulb disappear, then opened my eyes.

The doctor gently pushed the glass microscope away from the table as I was already missing my imaginary Mai Tai. He extended his hand to help me sit up as if I were a wounded gazelle shot down with the sharp-shooting penetration of his words. I was, but still.

Your skin is like an orange.

Freddy_KruegerThere was another doctor in the room. When our eyes connected I recognized the head-nod-grin combo of promises and pity. My illusions of bikini model pretty quickly dissolved. Reality. After nine surgeries from sand-blasting in the late 80’s to the more recent cutting and laser burning, I was still Freddy Kruger – the scar-faced monster from the 1984 slasher movie, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy’s face was disfigured and burned; and although his character wasn’t real, I felt a kindred spirit with the man behind the mask. I felt his pain and wondered if Wes Craven, the director behind Freddy’s creation had a history of skin afflictions.

I’ve carried Freddy with me for decades. Back when everybody wanted their MTV and Madonna was Like a Virgin, he’s been with me – the moniker I can’t seem to shake.

Even thirty years later, although I no longer wake up to blood-stained pillows and have to endure weekly cortisone shots on golf-ball-sized cysts on my face, my struggle with Freddy remains.

“Really? As smooth as an apple?” I called out the doc’s sales pitch, already knowing his answer. I learned the hard way that plastic surgeons are really just used car salesmen in white robes and nicer shoes. I was too old and have been through too many surgeries to believe such embellishments.

“Well, as close as we can get” he qualified.  “Nothing is perfect.”

kikifacestiches

He was right. No matter how many doctors I allowed to pierce my invisible facial force field, I would never be completely free of scarring born from the skin disease [Acne Conglobata /Stage IV Acne Vulgaris] I’ve had since I was thirteen.

After discussing my finance options and mentally circling my work calendar with the weeks off I would need to recover, I thanked the doctors for their time, accepted their glossy brochure and slung my purse over my shoulder.

The commute home was a blur. Navigating through tears and self-assurances that there was nothing wrong with me – that I just wanted to look and feel normal, I tried not to compare myself to anyone. I searched for the answer that would never come to the same question I’ve repeated again and again through the years – why me?

I tried to remember I was still beautiful, but the word “still” is the dagger. “Still” is one of those words with hidden agenda; threaded in a compliment with conditions. But it’s a compliment, nonetheless. I’d take a “still” over none at all.

It doesn’t take much to temporarily erase years of working on personal self-improvement and esteem. When I hear of a grown woman calling me Freddy Kruger recently (true story), I allow myself to feel shitty again. Like somehow my worth and beauty are directly proportional to the levity of one cruel person’s descriptor. Even if this cruelty is coming from a person who, no doubt has her own self-esteem issues with her own body image and looks.

Why is it for some of us – hate is so much easier to feel than love? That our inner voices of self-sabotage are so much louder than the kind and compassionate mantras we struggle to believe?

So many of us get tangled in a web of not enough – built from spinning our own yarn of self-loathing. We dream about living a different reality, instead of realizing we can tear down the cracked foundations from our past and create a new normal.  Instead of being held back by our flaws, we can learn to accept them. So. Hard. To. Do. But the good news? It can be done.

We are all unique, beautiful creatures of this world and each of our flaws is what makes us who we are.

Having another surgical procedure on my skin is still a real possibility. But accepting the reality of knowing that nothing is perfect – that my skin will always be scarred – is more important to me now.

It’s ironic that it took someone calling me Freddy Kruger recently to remind me how far I’ve come. That no matter how much I struggle to find my inner-peace with beauty, this person’s ugly heart has been revealed – and her struggles are her own.

One of the hardest things to master is loving ourselves unconditionally, and thanks to people who try and hit us where it hurts, we are reminded that we do.

Perhaps I should send my recent name-caller a thank you basket of fruit. I think apples and oranges would be a nice touch.

Christine Macdonald
WP

Giving yourself permission

I can’t remember his exact words, but my main funny-man Louis CK has this stand-up bit where he talks about aging. With his usual sarcasm, he goes on about how twenty-year-olds think they’re gonna live forever. They revel in the mystical idea of turning thirty.

“What’s it gonna be like when I’m THIRTY!?” (audience laughter fills the room).

I heard this bit in my car the other night (thanks, Louis CK Radio/Pandora) and couldn’t help slip back in time.

The thought of turning thirty was heavy on my mind and actually played a major role in what catapulted my walking away from the stripping life at 28. I talk about my last night in the strip club in Larry Smith’s book, THE MOMENT (Chapter titled Sunset Strip).

CK has it right. There’s a certain fearlessness in our 20s that navigates our choices. Stripper or not, the fuck ups can be epic. I just finished a chapter (trust me, I’m dying to finish my memoir and share it with you) that talks about this very thing. My fingers danced on the keys as my eyes were wide-eyed in amazement that I even survived. So many dangerous – ok, fine – stupid decisions that could have easily landed me in jail or worse, an early grave.

 

* * *

Kiki1988It was 1988 and I just celebrated my 20th birthday. Robert, a one-night-stand-turned live-in lover (ten years my senior) was one of the biggest coke dealers in town. He chose me!

An ex Chippendales dancer from Los Angeles with the face of a young Al Pacino, Robert made me weak in the vagina. It didn’t matter that he was using me for a place to crash, fucked around tirelessly and threw me across the room when I “gave him grief” – with Robert, I thought I hit the jackpot. Cocaine was the glamor drug and between the free supply and mind-blowing orgasms, I didn’t stand a chance.

A 500 square foot walk-up on the edge of Waikiki was my first apartment. All of my neighbors were in their 20s and loved to party as much as Robert and me. I used to joke that our little rock-and-roll apartment complex was like a college dorm, only instead of tearing through the study books, we snorted and drank our way through the days.

I didn’t care if I had to kill a couple of island roaches every now and then and I only had a thin piece of foam covering the concrete floor. At $400.00 a month, it was mine. And after Robert charmed his way in, refusing to leave – it was his now too. We’re living together!

We fucked like animals and fought just as hard. Having the cops show up at 4:00 am was typical. For us, chaos was foreplay. It was awesome in the most traumatic way.

After a couple of years, we fell into a dysfunctional groove. It was everything I thought I wanted, even though somewhere deep inside, the feeling of desperation and self-loathing for allowing myself to be treated like shit was suffocating. But that was normal. Everything was normal. Until the day it wasn’t.

Robert wasn’t just a coke dealer, he was a “mule.” Every few weeks, he flew from Honolulu to Los Angeles, then back home again with huge amounts of blow taped to his body under his clothes.

The day before Thanksgiving after boarding the plane home with four kilos in tow, Robert disappeared. He never landed in Honolulu, and his boss Rick was out for blood. I was the first person he interrogated.

In what could only be described as a scene from Miami Vice, my apartment was torn apart, my phone was bugged, and every step I took outside was followed by Rick’s shadow; he was convinced I was in on the heist. I wasn’t. After three years of abuse, the bullshit lying, cheating and ripping me off, Robert finally did me a solid. Maybe his guilt drove him to keep me out of his master plan. I’ll never know. But I’m grateful that in a very uncharacteristic way, Robert protected me from Rick and his men by keeping me completely in the dark.

KikiRobert

Drug Lords always have men. Rick and his were yoked-up Samoan body-builders who never smiled and wore neon colored Gold’s Gym tank tops and weight lifting belts – even outside the gym.

“I know you know, Christine. Where the fuck is he?” Rick meant business.

“I promise you. I have no idea.” My voice was that of a tough little girl. I suppose in a way, I still was.

“Christine. You’re fucking lying. If you’re lying…” The veins in his forearms stretched with each breath.

“I have no reason to lie to you, Rick. He bailed. I swear, I have no idea where he went. If I had a Bible, I’d lay my hand on it right now. You can keep following me. I have nothing to hide.” My eyes were burning into his with fierce intensity. My hands were steady, as I pretended to hold a Bible. Any terror I should have been feeling eluded me, because for once in my young-adult, drug induced life, I was telling the truth.

I never did hear from Robert – and Rick finally backed off. Rumor has it he was killed in Mexico after Rick tracked his ass down, but who knows. What I do know is that I’m lucky I came out of that world in once piece.

 

* * *

I’ll be turning 46 in a few days.

I’m worlds away from the frightened girl who walked away from the stripping life. Instead of wondering what’s it gonna be like when I’m thirty, I find myself tapping on the window of fifty, sneaking a peek into a world I never knew I’d belong. Part of me still wonders if I do.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in your 20s, 30s or even in the thick of middle age (when the fuck did that happen?), we all have memories of being fearless.

So what happened?

Call it growing older and (hopefully) wiser, but it seems our proverbial balls somehow shrink with each birthday candle we add to the mix. Our priorities shift. We settle into our choices – stop taking chances. Or maybe we just have more to lose.

Sometimes it takes remembering how far we’ve come to realize the direction we want to go.

Still, it doesn’t mean we need to sleepwalk through the rest of our story. Every once in a while, it’s good to touch the wet paint next to the sign warning us not to.

Having balls doesn’t mean putting them up on the chopping block of recklessness. Being fearless isn’t synonymous with stupidity. If anything, our courage should be even greater as we age, not dissipated for simply knowing better. We don’t need to mirror our 20-something daredevil behavior to feel alive. We just need to give ourselves permission to make better mistakes.

Christine Macdonald