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How Joining A Garage Band Saved My Life

When I was 22 years old, I dropped out, (or if I am being honest – flunked out) of college, where I was studying Vocal Music.

My passion for music comes from my father’s side of the family, where my grandparents fell in love while at music school at the University of Illinois, then became music teachers. I recently learned that while in college in the 1930’s, my grandfather would take the train to Chicago and play “stink-finger” piano in the speakeasys while he was in college, where he was often the only Caucasian in the entire building. (How cool is that?)

I am grateful for the gift of music that they gave me and singing was an important part of my life all through junior high, high school and college. I took voice lessons and sang everything from jazz to opera. I even sang in a traveling jazz octet in college, which I loved.

After abruptly leaving school, I moved home with my parents and bartended at Outback Steakhouse. I had racked up over $80,000 in college debt without anything to show for it.

It felt so shameful, embarrassing and sad. I didn’t feel like I had anything to look forward to. My self-worth was non-existent. Without a doubt, this was the most humbling, rock-bottom time of my life.

It was all so confusing.

“How did I get here?” I would ask myself, in complete disbelief.

Somehow, I had gone from being an ambitious and creative young woman with big aspirations to living in a dark, dark time.

It all started in my junior year of college. I met a handsome guy who took me out for nice dinners and gave me a lot of attention. I began a two-year relationship with him. My parents and friends didn’t like him and encouraged me to stop seeing him.

It turned out they were right. He abused me emotionally, mentally and eventually – physically. I fell into a deep, gloaming depression and believed there was no way out. I knew I was better than this relationship but I was frightened – actually terrified — to leave him.

My only refuge was occasionally going to see my favorite local alternative rock band, BELLEVUE. For a few hours, I escaped into the music and forgot about what I was going through.

One day though, I just stopped going to classes altogether. I was sleeping until noon and had no idea what was wrong with me – I just had no ambition. I would sit in my apartment with no lights on and wore pajamas all day. I felt isolated from everyone and my boyfriend was the only thing I had.

One night, he went on a rage. He started screaming, punching holes in the walls of my campus apartment and then he started hitting me. I was completely defenseless and in shock. After beating me until I was black and blue, he locked me in my closet.

Luckily, a neighbor heard the incident and called the police. I remember the female police officer taking Polaroid pictures of my bruised, tear streaked face. She called my parents who immediately came to get me. I felt so humiliated. I dropped out of college without telling any of my friends or sorority sisters what had happened. With the help of my parents, I ended my relationship with him and never spoke to him again.

I lost many friends during those two years. I did have a few college friends who stood by my side afterwards, for which I was grateful. It was quite a humbling and eye-opening experience.

During that time, the only thing that I looked forward to was going to work at the steakhouse where I had regular customers who would sit at my bar. One of them was a guy named Junior. He was around my age and looked like John Lennon.

One night, Junior asked me, “Hey – you sing, right?”

I hadn’t done any singing in a while but I responded enthusiastically. “Yes.”

“Are you any good?”

His question made me laugh.

“Well, I won some university talent contests and studied vocal music in college…why do you ask?”

“I have a garage band and we’re looking for a new lead singer.”

I didn’t hesitate. I had nothing to lose.

My “audition” was that very next week in Junior’s garage, where his band had been practicing and jamming. After singing “Man in a Box” by Alice in Chains, I officially became their lead singer.

Going to rehearsals three times a week was fun and cathartic. Being behind the microphone was what I loved. It gave me purpose and gradually restored my self-worth. The guys in the band had no pretentions and shared my love of music. They didn’t know about what I had been through so they saw me for me. I, in turn didn’t feel judged and could just be myself.

After a year, our band KEROSENE GENIE put out a 5 song LP, had headshots made and started playing in clubs for free. Three months later we were picked up by the biggest agent (at the time) in Oklahoma and began traveling and getting paid for gigs.

In the meantime, my parents had encouraged me to go to counseling. At my first appointment, I filled out a written questionnaire the results of which indicated I had the classic symptoms of a battered wife. It blew my mind. I continued going to counseling and also learned that depression can be hereditary.

In counseling, I also realized I needed to start loving myself and being kind to myself. As I rebuilt my self-esteem, I met a new group of friends and was blessed by them. They liked me for who I was. These women are my “tribe” to this day.

Eventually I was able to finish my Bachelor’s Degree, marry the man of my dreams and go on to earn my Master’s Degree at the University of Oklahoma.
I held on to the shame over my college experience for far too long. Some twenty years later, I can honestly say that I am no longer ashamed. That experience, although I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, made me the woman I am today.

God recently laid it on my heart to share my story, so that it might help someone else. According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in 10 high school students have experienced physical violence from a dating partner in the last year. Nearly 1 in 3 college women report having been in an abusive dating relationship. Further, 58% of college students say they don’t know what to do to help someone who is a victim of abuse.

Looking back, there were some early signs that I missed. My relationship with him moved very fast. He was incredibly possessive of me and always wanted to know where I was. He had terrible mood swings and tried to isolate me from my friends. I started losing myself and stopped going to class. And of course, my family and friends didn’t like him.

Going through this experience in my early twenties also helped me recognize the signs of depression and remove the stigma from it. I had post-partum depression after the birth of my first son and sought support. Later when I was suffering from secondary infertility and recurrent miscarriages, counseling helped get me through to the other side.

Life came full circle for me in other ways, too. Little did I know that I would end up being in a band with some of the guys from BELLEVUE several years later! Our band SILVER has been together now for almost twenty years. All of my bandmates are like my brothers and are the most talented group of musicians around. A few times a year, we still get together and perform. Playing on stage with them fills my cup and makes me so happy.

I am so grateful when I see the musical talents of my grandparents alive in my children. My miracle twins love to dance and sing and my older son sings and plays piano, marimbas and cello. I am so happy to have passed on those gifts to them and that our family legacy will continue!

I don’t know if Junior realizes that he helped to pull me out of the darkest time of my life. Even though I was with my first band for only two years, it gave me a purpose, which I desperately needed. It was unlikely friendship with a group of guys and we were just a little garage band – – but the music saved my life and literally gave me a voice.

Sidenote: For those who are experiencing depression or abuse, I encourage you to ask for help. Do not be ashamed – no matter what you are going through or how you are feeling. You are loved and you are worthy. If you suspect someone is in an abusive relationship or is experiencing depression and needs help, I encourage you to reach out to them or their loved ones. 

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