Happiness For Sale?

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It’s what we all work for. What we need to provide for our families. Not having enough keeps us awake, and having too much is a dream. We take it for granted, disrespect it, even gamble with it. And these days, it doesn’t come easy.
 
When I was a stripper, I made great money. I lived large in a luxury high-rise apartment sporting panoramic views of Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean. Waikiki was the backdrop to a lifestyle I milked with every VIP pass and full moon limousine ride. I took taxis everywhere, enjoyed monthly facials, weekly massages with manicures, and hundred-dollar haircuts.
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I wasn’t kidding about the limo rides. I had a driver named James (his real name) on retainer for monthly full moon excursions around the island. My friends could set their watches by James pulling up to the club at 4:00 am, and in addition to a handful of strays (lucky tourists; right place, right time), my friends and I would sip champagne and act every bit the Rock Star Stripper Posse until sunrise. James was paid well and never complained once about standing by while we skinny dipped in the warm glow of the Hawaiian sunrise. Go figure.
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But I still wasn’t happy.
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Did I have blissful moments wrapped in laughter and comfort? Yes. Was my life one big party, full of excess and adventure? You betcha. I was also living on a hamster wheel full of denial, self-loathing and warped sense of security; my drug use perpetuating the mastery of camouflage.
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No amount of money would change the fact that even I wasn’t fully aware of how far I was falling.
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The older I get, the more I find myself nodding in agreement to age-old phrases like “you get what you pay for” and “money doesn’t buy happiness.” But back then, far be it for my twenty-something brain to realize – you really do and, it really doesn’t.
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Here’s the thing about clichés – they exist because there’s considerable weight to their words.
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When I was raking it in, I really did get what I paid for. I welcomed a life of escape and fascination, not realizing then that I was forking over top dollars to anesthetize my pain. I was able to numb myself from what I needed to work through by creating chaos of grand proportions.
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Ten years in to my rock star lifestyle, I realized something. I was creating more darkness with my unhealthy choices, which then compounded to the pile of shit I already needed to deal with.

Nothing was going to make me happy, if I wasn’t happy with myself.

There is a woman I see at the office every day, and she is never without a smile. Sometimes I catch her humming a tune or even whistling as she pulls her cleaning supply cart. We greet one another with a smile in the ladies room as she refills the paper towels. She is a lovely reminder that you don’t need wealth to be happy.

As for me, I live paycheck to paycheck now. There’s nothing fancy about my home, and I certainly haven’t hung out in a limo for a while. I see a therapist regularly and she’s helping me on my journey to my most authentic self (how very Oprah). I am working through my childhood traumas and learning to love everything about me, flaws and all  – because that’s what’s real.

Sure, I wish my purse strings weren’t as tight these days, and I kick myself for not saving my stripper money. But my life is progressing exactly how it’s supposed to. I am still here after two overdoses, not to mention countless choices I’ve made to put myself in harm’s way. My guardian angel is the coolest, and I owe her at least seven of my lives. And when you think of it, you just can’t put a price tag on that.

“Money alone isn’t enough to bring happiness . . . happiness is when you’re actually truly ok with losing everything you have.” ~ Tony Hsieh 

 

Christine Macdonald

Six Degrees of CPK

Sometimes it takes going home again to realize a part of you never really left.

WomanAs 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.

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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.

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Christine Macdonald

90’s Flashback: The Strip

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Strippers from the mainland always came to Waikiki to work and hearing their stories left me chomping at the bit. Having never left the island, I felt it was time to take myself on an adventure and see how the rest of the world lived; well one town anyway.
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Three years into my life as a stripper at 22 years old, I hopped on a plane to California from Hawaii after purchasing a one-way air ticket. I figured I would make my return fare home on stage, whenever I felt like making it back to the island.
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For work, I checked out the scene at Star Strip and a handful of other dives, but decided on The Seventh Veil located right on the Sunset Strip. Mötley Crüe filmed part of their video for Girls Girls Girls there so that was all I needed.
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Although I was officially on a working vacation, I still found time to let my overly teased and Aquanetted hair down – not to mention make very questionable fashion choices. Below are some Polaroid’s from a night after work at The Whisky on Sunset. It’s safe to say, I was going through an all-white nurse-fantasy fashion phase.

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The complete story of my Hollywood adventure will be told in the book.

Thanks so much for your interest and following. It really helps keep me going. 

Christine Macdonald