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

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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This is my blog. Please check out my website for book excerpts, old school stripping photos, press and more.

Christine Macdonald

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.”

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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