Who are you? (No, really)

“We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

The road to self discovery is long no matter what age. And no matter what anyone tells you, it’s seldom easy. Landmines of self-sabotage in the face of normalcy tend to go off just as we start to believe we are finally at a place of having our shit together. Something always trips us; and it’s usually us.

But the harder we fall the more we grow. And as our love affair with ourself evolves, caring about others’ perception of us falls by the wayside into the abyss of It’s None Of My Business. Whether someone tells you to your face, texts or emails you a colorful yarn of who [they think] you are, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that does is what we think of us.

It’s an excellent mantra: What other people think of me is none of my business. But what do we think about who we are? Do we know  – really?

Part of being younger is feeling out theories and testing the waters in our own life rafts. We choose partners who are wrong for us – falling in love with love, swearing that it’s the real deal. We don’t listen to the universe with her many obvious warning signs. We instead project our fears on to others, instead of focusing on why we make the choices we do. It’s all a tightrope of very personal whys; a delicate balance that leads us to knowing our true self with each tumble and rise.

Whenever I’m tested from outside distractions on my road to self awareness and love, I’m always reminded of the final scene in HBO’s Six Feet Under.

Has it really been over a decade – twelve years to be exact – since we said goodbye to our favorite dysfunctional family? Long before Michael C. Hall mastered the art of vigilante murder as Dexter and Peter Krause’s Adam Braverman taught us how to be better fathers in Parenthood, creator and producer Alan Ball kept us enthralled with the Fisher family.

With so much on-line video streaming at the ready these days, my painting a picture of Six Feet Under for those who’ve not experienced the ride wouldn’t serve Alan’s vision as well as buckling in for yourself would. Just know that the same mastermind who delivered American Beauty and True Blood does not disappoint with this unique dramedy about life and death, love and longing and deep insight born from sorrow and struggle. Its flavors are unique with a side of dark humor wrapped with cynicism and sprinkled with hope – just when you thought life was doomed to fail. To some, Six  was an acquired taste while others wanted to lick the spoon as the ending credits ran every week – pondering and personalizing life lessons and deep meaning behind the minutia of every day life.

As a woman in her mid-thirties when the series wrapped, I found myself captivated by the final scene more than any other in the show’s five-year run. The youngest sibling Claire, artist and dreamer, drives to her new life away from California to uncharted waters in The Big Apple. I’m always instantly connected to my younger self and how hard it was to leave my old Rock Star Life behind in my twenties whenever I revisit the this scene. Without saying a word, actress (who plays Claire) Lauren Ambrose nails it; that feeling of being lost and excited, afraid but eager.

Sometimes no words are needed.

Whether you’ve seen Six or not, the message is universal. Anything that inspires us to dig deep into learning about who we are is a gift.  Even those long emails and texts from people claiming to know us is a gift. No matter how wrong they are, they help us realize how far we’ve come and remind us that everyone has their own road and some of us may have farther to go before arriving at their own place of self certainty.

Once we learn how to stay in our own lane and balance personal longing with fear, a new kind of growth happens. No longer are we so focused on others’ stories and how they affect our own. There’s a certain freedom in lifting the veil of worry about what others think. Evolving means making it more about us; who we are, what we want, and how we can serve our happiness.

And when we get to a place of comfort and healing something magical happens. We live from our raw truth, and this energy is echoed into those around us. True happiness attracts the same. Just as toxic people can bring you down, surrounding yourself with like-minded people who are in a place of self awareness and honest insight does wonders for our own path to fulfillment.

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen the final scene in Six Feet Under, it never fails. The combination of Claire’s face saying nothing and everything, my personal connection with starting a new life after stripping, and hearing Sia’s hauntingly poetic tune, Breathe Me makes me lose my shit. Not that this is a bad thing. There’s no better way to find yourself than in the throes of remembering how far you’ve come.

 

Final Scene in HBO’s Six Feet Under:

Christine Macdonald

The Sociopath and Me: A Love Story

49737013Because of the overwhelming messages I’ve received from my Narcissist’s Harem post a couple of years ago, I’m continuing my story. I’m lifting the veil of shame from choices I’ve made and want to share the personal lessons I’ve taken with me along this ever-evolving road of self-discovery. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through exposing intimate (often ugly) truths about myself, it’s that I am never – ever alone.  If you’ve been involved with someone crippled by the restraints of mental illness, I’m here to tell you, neither are you.

Before we delve further into my story of The Sociopath and Me, full disclosure time. If you’re new to this blog – I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m crazy. Yes, it’s true. As millions of us do*, I struggle with my own form of mental illness. It’s a lovely brew that simmers on low most of the time on the back burner of my life.

Everyone’s personal story is their own, so I’m not here to dissect the ingredients that create my savory dish (which include Clinical Depression, Histrionic, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). But like every herb and spice the makings of mental illness are as organic as their owner’s story. We are born with certain DNA that serve as welcome mats to things like mental illness, addiction, alcoholism and any other myriad of issues. But the nature vs. nurture argument cannot exist without mentioning the way we were raised as children, and how that plays a major part in the comedy and tragedy that is life.

17444642555_fa91a08408_bOnce delving into mental therapy and doing the dirty work as to why I kept making the same poor choices, the reasons for my diagnosis became clear. Yes, I have a family history of depression, but taking six pills of Molly (MDMA, Ecstasy, “E”, “X”) for five years almost nightly doesn’t come without some pretty major brain damage.

The delicious irony I can only see now – is that in my quest to capture the euphoria that Molly served (truck loads of Dopamine and Serotonin, the ‘feel good’ brain waves), my downward crashes were heavy. I was a 24-year-old stripper with cash and freedom, but suffocating on thoughts of suicide and self-loathing while I lived the rock star life.

“Stripper Cliché, your self-serving over indulgent table of toxic choices is ready!”

It took way too many damaged brain cells to learn that taking a little white pill for Happy always came at the price of The Unfathomable Sad.

In terms of the other ingredients making up my personal diagnosis, I will just say that nurture comes into play. You’ve got your garden variety father abandonment, step-father abuse and overall neglect peppered with a healthy dose of alcoholism from both parents. But I won’t bore you with the details of my Lifetime Movie of the Week. None of us need reminders that we are all products of our childhoods; we realize this with every bad decision and self-sabotaging action.

Although I don’t speak for strippers and drug addicts in general, it’s a safe bet to determine that anyone who like me, lived a decade naked on stage wasn’t there because of an inflated sense of self-worth. More irony here – growing up with a valid fear of abandonment pretty much ensures we’ll abandon our own selves in the process of becoming an adult. When it’s all we know, personal dysfunction is comforting and as screwed up as it sounds, treating ourselves like shit – feels like coming home.

Which brings us to The Sociopath and Me.

When hearing someone described as a sociopath, I used to immediately think, Ted Bundy. In other words, if you were labeled with this mentally ill moniker, you were a straight up serial killer – period. My judgement was so far into the horror of such a twisted mind, that I made the common mistake most of us who’ve been involved with sociopaths do: we dilute reality with fantasies. And hey – they’re not murdering us – so, they aren’t that bad’!

I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m thinking it’s kind of a red flag when “not murdering me” is on the plus side in justifying why you’re dating someone who you know isn’t good for you.

“He’s a total Sociopath.” My friend declared, after hearing yet another story of he and I. For my friend, these tales were a constant loop of dysfunction. It drove her nuts that I was still with this guy. Her conviction was enough for me to Google what exactly she was talking about.

After learning of the characteristics that make up your typical sociopath (not to be confused with psychopath), I was eerily familiar:

  • Lie to get what they want, Lie to see if they can get away with it (for the sake of lying)
  • Incredibly charming
  • Manipulative, Deceptive, Cunning
  • Impulsive
  • Disregard for Rules, Safety of Self or Others (Self Harm)
  • Thrill Seekers (Drugs/Alcohol Abusers)
  • No Personal Responsibility (it’s never their fault, they are always the victim)
  • Craves to Always be the Center of Attention

I should be clear in saying that my calling this person a sociopath is my opinion – and not a professional diagnosis. But after reading up on Psychiatrists’ articles, I gotta say I’m pretty spot on with my feeling. So is my friend. And here I thought my fella was just tinkering on narcissist tendencies.

So what’s the difference between Narcissists and Sociopaths, anyway? Here’s what I found:

THE SIMILARITIES

  • Both are very charming and charismatic.
  • Both tend to be very intuitive and skilled at observing and reading people.
  • Both are egocentric and self-interested. Me, Me, Me and Mine!
  • Both do not take accountability or blame for their actions but will gladly accept the credit for anything positive.
  • Both believe they are never wrong.

THE DIFFERENCES

  • Sociopaths will deliver an insincere but convincing apology if it benefits their agenda, a narcissist will not.
  • Sociopaths will appear more humble and less of a braggart. Narcissists are more oblivious to how they appear to others and will often boast about their achievements.
  • Sociopaths upon meeting you, will try to pick your brain and ask you a lot of questions. Narcissists will focus the conversation on themselves and their interests.
  • Sociopaths are manipulative and calculating and will exploit others to further their agenda. Narcissists exploit others who they feel are hindering their agenda.

All very interesting!

So why on earth would anyone get involved with this type of person? For me, it all boiled down to my lack of self-worth (doesn’t it always?). Also, like with most relationships, the beginning stages are always covered in bliss. The charm, sex, laughter and exploration of being with a new “love” is intoxicating. Add some serious intimacy issues with both people and the ride – no matter how dangerous – is even more of a thrill.

As I’ve written about in “Boredom or Bedlam: Are You An Emotional Cutter?” some people crave and create drama because it makes them feel. In my case, we were both unaware that we were doing this and totally getting off on the rush.

This post isn’t meant to call anyone out, but rather a way to shed light on why any of us would be with someone who is wrong for us. Especially after we know better.

When we don’t truly see our value, we continually give people discounts. We settle for crumbs at the table because we’ve been emotionally starving for love. The problem is the crumbs never fill us and we keep going back to the table for more. It’s not until we leave these toxic tables and choose other, healthier menus altogether that we finally find true love – especially with ourselves.

20141219182851-confidenceSo if you’re like me and you’ve allowed yourself too many crumbs and not enough healthy servings of love – I’m here to tell you, it’s not hopeless. The first step to being free from your self-loathing and shame (for being with yet, another ‘fixer-upper’ partner), is knowing we are worth more and truly getting the fact that – no matter how much we love someone – their issues are always their own – and NOT about us.

Being alone is scary. It can get lonely. It often sucks. But know this: feeling alone when someone is in our life is always, unequivocally worse than actually being alone.

I will always love The Sociopath. My heart is wrapped around him and his issues and I wish him well with his story. But in order to navigate my own in a healthier way, I had to close our chapter. It was easier than I expected because I’m in a different place than I was when we met. He has a lot to do with that.  As crazy as it sounds, I am grateful.

Once we realize the love for ourselves is what guides us to healthy love with others, being alone instead of with the wrong person isn’t at all bad.

* In 2014, there were an estimated 43.6 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with Any Mental Illness (AMI) in the past year. This number represented 18.1% of all U.S. adults. – National Institute of Mental Health. 

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