Naked In Alaska
This weekend Antonio and I went and saw his friend Valerie's performance Naked in Alaska at the Bootleg Theater. It was the story of a young Valerie in search of belonging & freedom and what started out as a quick way to make some extra cash turned into a ten-year career that tested the limits of friendship and her will to survive.
Valerie portrays customers, club managers, dancers, boyfriends and more in this one-woman show. Valerie's performance was incredible and it hit me in a way that I could not have imagined.
It opened up some old wounds and shed light on a time in my life that I had forgotten. There's one scene during the performance where men were forcing themselves on her, it was so intense and triggered my own sexual trauma and issues around my relationship to men + money.
As tears streamed down my face, I could feel my heart racing faster and faster. I could feel my cells being activated and I didn't know if I was going to be able to keep it together. I did that silent cry, you know the one you don't want anybody to hear or see, just trying to hold back the heaving cries. This performance left me feeling raw, exposed, and vulnerable. After the show, I began exploring my feelings more as to why this performance hit me so hard. Not only was it the triggering my trauma, but it brought the surface the reality that that could've been my life, easily!
There was a time in my early 20s when I spent a lot of time at strip clubs. I had friends that were in the business, I'd go out with them and men would pay me to give the other strippers money. At the time I thought this was great, they'd buy me drinks, the attention felt great (even though it wasn't the kind of attention I truly desired) I’d dance which I’ve always loved. Like Valerie, I too was looking for belonging, connection, and as a struggling young single mom, the money was very tempting.
At one point I even started bartending at a strip club in my hometown. Sometimes I’d make more money than the girls dancing and I didn’t have to take off my clothes, I thought it was great! Over time though, the truth was revealed… I’d see the way the girls would treat each other, the way they’d manipulate men, the way that men would manipulate & abuse them. The sex, the drugs, the alcohol abuse and as tempting as the money was, something always kept me from actually doing it. Even though I didn't know it at the time and I couldn't have explained it to you back then, something inside me told me that the environment I was in was toxic for me.
So much desperation, abuse, addiction, self-loathing, and sadness filled the walls of the OP where I bartended. I was part of that world for about three years and then one day it all became too much. Too much drinking, too much sadness, too much abuse, too much destruction.
One time, I was leaving the club and I got pulled over. They made me take a sobriety test, it was so embarrassing. I was just over the legal limit and thankfully the police let me go, they just asked me to sleep in my car for a while and said they’d be watching me if I left. So that night I slept in my car for a few hours and then drove home when the sun came up.
I don't remember what the defining moment was. I don’t remember when I decided it was time to get out of that world but I knew I had to. So, after awhile I just stopped hanging around the people that I once felt I belonged to and began the search to belong to myself.
This performance hit a little too close to home but I don't regret a thing. It reminded me of a time in my life where whether I knew it or not, I was listening to my intuition and choosing a healthier path for me. I guess what left me so raw after watching this was the thought that I could've easily experienced a whole lot more of trauma, abuse, and self-hatred then I already had but instead, I chose to love me. I didn't see it at the time but that's what I did, I chose me. I chose a better life, not an easier one... but a healthier one for me.
I'm so grateful for Valerie sharing her story, it reminded me of a life I once lived and a road I could've gone down and chose not to in the end. Thank you for this powerful performance and sharing your truth. This was a part of me I had forgotten about, a part of me that I wanted to forget but I now know that all parts of me, at all stages of life are so worth loving. I have so much love for the young girl who was just looking to belong, looking to ease the pain a financial struggle after becoming a mom at 16 years old, who was just trying to do her best to survive and who just wanted to be seen...
Thank you, Valerie! If you haven't had a chance to see this amazing performance, if you're in Los Angeles this is the last chance to check it out!