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

Skin Deep: What made me start stripping at 19

“Everybody has scars. It’s just that most people wear them on the inside” – M.W. Stromberg

HF

At Fourteen, I didn’t have any big life dreams other than to fit in with the rest of the 80’s misfits in high school. In a sea of Member’s Only jackets, leg warmers, pastel Izod polo shirts and Z Cavaricci jeans, you’d think it would’ve been easy. But hearing my nick-name, Freddy Kruger because of a skin disease on my face, over and over through the halls punctured my sense of self. With every Kruger calling, internal scar tissue seeped through my bones, weaving its way throughout my teenage years, and even in adulthood. As it turns out, my Pee Chee folder force field and Trapper Keeper sun visor I used while walking to class – not helpful.

My only dream at that time was having Brooke Shields, Cosmopolitan Magazine cover, flawless skin. And even though my face wasn’t magically cured, when I walked on the stripping stage for the first time just five years later – it sure as hell felt like it was.

il_fullxfull.81200872I don’t remember what life was like before having scars on my face. Their presence has been tattooed on my soul, far deeper than what my skin allows. The familiar grimace when greeting my reflection, the slight panic when my eyes lock with a child or walk in a crowded elevator, the slick dinner candle maneuvers; placing them as far from under my chin as possible. It was all autopilot defense in what personal history has taught me. The mirror will always be unfair. Children, in their innocent brutality of truth, will question why something looks different. And shadows, tucked inside my skin, will never, ever be my friend.

It’s hard to believe it all started thirty years ago with a pea-sized bump on my cheek. This wasn’t something I could just pop, either. Much like my love for Chachi Arcola and Shaun Cassidy, this was deep, and it was real. And as if looking like I was shot with a BB gun wasn’t awesome enough, this…thing hurt like mad. It felt like a nasty bruise and every time I smiled or spoke, someone pressed it – hard.

Within days the tiny bump wasn’t so tiny. It filled with blood and was now close to the size of golf ball. It was also no longer alone –  almost overnight, it seemed to have multiplied all over my face. I didn’t see any other kids’ faces in school resembling anything close to mine, so I was truly baffled, not to mention irritated. It was putting a major dent in my plan of becoming a Solid Gold dancer after graduation.

Most every teen on the planet (except, maybe Brooke) gets to live through the lovely coming-of-age meat grinder of adolescence by having acne (not to mention braces, body odor, mood swings, menstrual periods, random hard-ons, and sprouting a wild jungle of pubes), but this was something else. It seems I won some kind of puberty jackpot. I learned (during the first of many doctor visits) that my case was an extreme and rare form of acne called Stage IV Acne Vulgaris (also known as Acne Conglobata, a very serious skin disease complete with nodules and blood-filled cysts).

As soon as Doctor Vulgaris broke the news to mom and me, my eyes welled up. And with the voice of a guilty teenager begging for mercy, I sat up on the tissue-paper covered table and vowed on back issues of Hi Life  magazines to never eat chocolate, greasy fries, pizza or Chinese food again. But Dr. V just shot me half a smile with I’m sorry dear in his eyes. He explained to us that this horror had nothing to do with diet. This was a blood disease and was hereditary. I was grateful for his honesty, but he could’ve at least broken the news with a Snicker’s bar or deep-fried won tons.

Hereditary.

After assessing mom’s flawless skin and raven-haired, hazel-eyed beauty, the level of disdain I already had for my scar-faced father percolated.  It’s one thing to fall in love with a Pan Am stewardess, bail on your wife and two babies, move to Canada to avoid paying child support – but to give me THIS – thanks, dad – you’re the best.

“I hate him.” I could barely get the words out between hyperventilating through my tears. I had not seen him in years but envisioned my father at the bottom of the elevator shaft in the hospital. I wanted the cables to snap, causing us to plummet eighteen floors right on his selfish, Vulgaris-riddled face. I knew he didn’t do this to me, but something about knowing my dad’s genes were a variable in the equation of my pain induced a type of heartache that didn’t feel human. “I really, really hate him.”

“I know, honey.” The fluorescent lights above her angelic face reflected against her glasses, but I could still see it in her eyes; I knew all too well, the look of worry when it came to disappointment from him.

It didn’t take long before my face was covered with red and purple cysts that oozed blood with the touch of my finger. And they didn’t just leak where I pressed them. It was a maze of gore, connected deep under my skin; an ant farm of Freddy.

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One night propped up on my bathroom counter in boxer shorts and my favorite Blondie t-shirt, I folded my legs and planted myself in front of the mirror, one ass cheek in the sink. I wanted to get a closer look at a particularly massive cyst on my temple next to my left eye. It was so huge and purple, almost black – that a kid in school announced to the class earlier that day that it looked like I got punched in the face (which I didn’t deny, because beaten was better than ugly). I could barely see out of the corner of my eye so I decided to drain it myself.

After lighting a match to the tip of one of mom’s safety pins from her sewing kit (I don’t know why I thought that would make it more sterile), I went to work. I barely pierced my flesh and in a second, I heard a hissing sound,  like air being let out of a balloon and the cyst exploded, splattering blood all over the mirror and walls. It looked like a crime scene. But there was still more blood in the wound. I held my breath, not knowing what would come next and pressed the edges around the cyst gently. Then something freaky happened. The skin under my chin tracing my jaw ripped open and before I knew what was happening, I felt blood dripping on my thigh. It was from a cyst I wasn’t even touching. Fascinated and mortified, I couldn’t call out to my mom or even cry. I spent the next twenty minutes using every bathroom tissue in the box wiping up the evidence.

A couple of days later, more cysts. This time, in addition to my face, they showed up on my neck, chest and back. My throat would ooze blood if I stretched my neck to one side. This time the tears managed to come. I was wearing a Halloween costume that was impossible to take off.

Somewhere between the bathroom crime scene and waking up with bloodstained towels covering my pillowcase every morning, I did something religious for the first time in my life, without feeling like I had to.

God, if this is you, if you really do exist, I know it’s not Christmas or Easter or anything, and I’m nowhere near a church, but if you can hear me, if you’re not too busy with that whole Kingdom of Heaven gig, I’m begging you – please, please – don’t wake me up.

Of course, I a130204111816-high-school-student-hallway-sad-bully-story-toplways woke up, and to my horror – high school.

No matter where I was – in class, the cafeteria, the gym or walking home, those days were tainted with a chant that still haunts me to this day: “Kruuuuger! Kruuuuger!” Sometimes I still hear it; when I give my fear exclusive sabotaging rights over my willingness to take a risk. It’s the serenade of self-doubt when the beads of sweat from belief and worry exhaust themselves from the tug-of-war within the space of my courage. The bellowing melody of cruelty, which wraps me in pain, suffocating my strength when faced with any challenge in my adult life.

It didn’t take long before cutting class (behind moms back) seemed logical. Why roam the halls dodging bullies when I could hang at home, listen to The Smiths, and get loaded off  Chablis and Fresca?  Besides, compared to Erica Kane, my life somehow didn’t seem as bad.

The next couple of years were a blur of at-home, alcohol induced pity parties nestled between monthly doctor visits (complete with blood tests, cortisone shots, dry ice sticks, Tetracycline and Accutane doses) and even a couple facial surgeries. Accutane was a new pill on the market, still in the testing phase, but Dr. V suggested I give it a try. The side effects were brutal: the skin on my palms, bottom of feet and lips peeled like rice paper, and my scalp was so dry I could “make it snow” like Ally Sheedy’s character Allison in The Breakfast Club, but I didn’t care. My cysts were nearly gone. The only problem was the crater-like scars left it their wake. Over 80 percent of my face looked like melted wax. No longer bloody, but far from Brooke Shields smooth, my skin took me from Freddy Kruger to Moon Face. And still, another year of high school to go.

Before twenty-first century laser beams and magical serums were invented, 1986 for me was spent mostly recovering from the same surgery – twice. This archaic procedure, called Dermabrasion (not to be confused with the micro-Dermabrasions of today) took me under general anesthetic while the skin on my face was sand-blasted with a wire brush. The idea was to smooth out the deep craters as best it could, but I was warned that the results were going to be less than perfect.

Moon Face – Forever?

On the plus side, I discovered Demerol. It’s one thing to shoot back wine all day when I should’ve been conjugating verbs and mastering algebra, but adding pain killers to the mix was a total game-changer.

Then – senior parties, fake IDs and night clubs. Somewhere between the pills and booze, the 80s glam drug cocaine found its way to my wheelhouse. Self-anesthetizing my pain with chemicals became my safety net from suicidal fantasies, which is how I justified walking the graduating line with a half gram of blow tucked inside the cup of my bra.

Many stories behind the velvet rope

Many stories behind the velvet rope

If it wasn’t for my beautiful Barbie Doll friend, Angela convincing me to join her in entering a wet-t shirt contest at nineteen, I never would have stepped foot on the stripper stage. My face was still heavily scarred but I could at least leave the house. Besides, my 1987 Chaka Kahn hair served me well, replacing my Trapper Keeper shield. And with the help of some new drag queen friends from the dance clubs, caked-on theater make-up became my friend.

With my cellulite-free, size four body and natural dance moves, I was a hit on stage. Every dollar bill tip in my garter was validation. For the first time in my life, I felt…pretty. I was finally home.

Freddy and Moon were far from dead, but they were definitely muted with my new-found life of velvet ropes and VIP rooms. Two years flew by and with my 21st birthday on the horizon, I had no idea where my rock-star life would take me, but I was more than ready to find out.

Thoughts?

Christine Macdonald