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

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

Power Strip: An Adult Extertainer’s Backstory

Every stripper has their reasons for choosing that life. Here is a little bit of mine.

~ ~ ~

I’ve never been a rule person. Breaking any and all guidelines for being a good kid was my thing. Screw conformity. I’d scale the fence at the exact moment my brain registered the “No Trespassing” sign. If you told me I wasn’t allowed to go there, I’d shoot you an adorable smile, nod obediently, and then do everything in my power to defy you.

Things began innocently enough. As a mischievous pre-teen, my adventures in search of complacency weren’t very earth shattering. Days were spent dreaming of first kisses with Chachi Arcola from Happy Days and thoughts of navigating Rydell High School as both Sandy and Rizzo from my favorite movie, Grease. There were worse things I could do.

Every now and then my exploratory mind served me well. My impressionable brain was a delicious symphony of borderline dangerous adventure and idle curiosity. I possessed the perfect mindset to allow myself permission to experience things I never thought possible despite a brief church upbringing designed by our mother to keep my older sister and me in line. I don’t know where the idea of religion started with Mom. Maybe not having a father in the mix for her two girls swayed her thinking. Instead of one dad to help her raise us girls she’d get the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Not that we were strict Catholics; our occasional Sunday Mass attendance was peppered with the usual holiday events each year. But that was enough. An hour of Mass, complete with accepting the body of Christ on my tongue while being reminded that He watches my every move was all I need to be freaked out. The long drives home served up haunting views from the back seat of Mom’s station wagon. Hypnotized by the shimmering stain glass windows framing the entrance to the church, I always wrestled with the pockets inside my breath.

Church visits stopped shortly after my thirteenth birthday when, after my first and only Confession, I decided the feeling of being wrong all the time just wasn’t for me. Then there was the why. Why I felt the need to confess. And why I felt so guilty.

Even though I was unconscious when it happened, I still thought I needed forgiveness for losing my virginity that night on the beach. I don’t know what I expected to feel after releasing my truth bomb in the confessional, but it didn’t make me feel any better. If anything, the blanket of shame wrapped around my shoulders became heavier. After the priest shelled out my Hail Mary and Rosary penance to absolve me of my sin (and what a doozy, at just thirteen), I walked away and never looked back.

Ever since I learned the difference between pink and blue booties I’ve been curious about my body. As a freshman in high school and shortly after the beach incident, my curiosities about sex grew stronger. One night when I couldn’t sleep, I snuck downstairs to watch an R-Rated movie on cable. After getting lost in this new wonderland of nudity and pleasure, my hunger for knowing the whys exploded.

The next morning with the sun winking through the glass louvers in the bathroom, I sat on the toilet and opened my legs. Like a doctor asking me to say “Ah,” I began to explore myself with my fingers. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to see myself, to visit the birthplace of the moans and pleasure scenes that had captured my attention the night before. So I ran to my bedroom, got my purse and scurried back to the toilet. I reached for the sliding door, ensuring that it was locked, and grabbed my compact mirror.

Holy shit.

I was in awe of that place—that sacred part of womanhood I was taught to never discuss. I loved every inch and fold of her. She was soft, fragile and safely tucked away. But also, I knew she was a force. At some point, I moved from sitting on the toilet to lying naked on the floor. I opened my thighs and held the mirror with one hand, exploring myself freely with the other. My thoughts streamed together on a repeated loop of wow, this is you and a baby comes through here – you can create life! My very own No Trespassing sign.

The more I got to know myself, the more pissed off I became about that night on the beach at camp. I started to realize my virginity wasn’t lost at all, but that it was taken. At just thirteen years old, my No Trespassing sign was broken through without my permission. I wasn’t even conscious!

That’s it, I thought. Never again.

It makes perfect sense that I faked my orgasms during my twenties. With each lover I was an actress, making them think they rocked my world. Even if it wasn’t true, it was my lie and my body.

Stripping was another way I felt control with my body; I’ll show you my goods, on my terms, the way I want to – you give me your money.

It was years before I would confess my childhood secret to anyone but the priest. When I finally shared with Mom about the week I spent at camp and how her baby girl returned home a woman, she was mortified and I felt somehow she blamed me. The blanket of shame felt even heavier. I felt like that little girl being scolded in the Confessional all over again reaching for a life raft in her lungs, waiting for the stain glass on the windows to fade.

After much self-discovery I finally understood I was raped. It took a bit longer to truly believe it wasn’t my fault.

Feelings of somehow bringing it on myself— asking for it—suffocated my self-worth, serving as landmines along the way. But I worked through that wreckage and got out from under the cloak of self-blame.

After nearly ten years on the stripper stage I was done; burned out and ready to find a new life.

At twenty-eight, I moved away from the only world I knew, started regular therapy and began to delve into my own whys. Through much introspection and forgiveness (with myself and others), the blanket of personal shame I wore for so long eventually disappeared. It has been replaced with something much lighter – an extension of me. The new fabric is a delicate blend of strength and self-love. I’ve earned this survival cape and wear it with pride.

Every story inside us from our past is a piece of fabric that makes us who we are. Some parts are tattered and worn; frayed with struggle and defeat. Other patches are threaded so tightly and strong, it’s a wonder we ever survived without them. How cool is it, to know we have.

Christine Macdonald