April 14, 2014

4. You Are Not Alone : Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast

Part 1.

If I am going to write honestly and openly about my lifelong passion for underground music, I have a series of life changing traumas I should share. I have rarely spoken of these events to my closest of friends and I have never written them down for anyone to read. The truth of my early life is even largely unknown to my extended family, so I am certain this very personal post will be a shocking one for many.

My desire to withdraw from the mainstream and make music my permanent alternate universe happened when my body was violated and abused by men I trusted.

I was molested by my father multiple times before the age of 11. It is impossible to express what this level of betrayal feels like when it came from a person who was supposed to define trust and offer me boundless protection. A child’s safe place should be their home and in their parent’s care but I lived in dread of mine. By the time I had the courage to finally tell my mother about it, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I couldn't bring myself to add to her grief so I opted to keep this terrible secret to myself. Being a victim of molestation by my father has remained my painful secret for over 30 years.

The world around me collapsed as a preteen and in turn music became my primary escape. Mainstream Pop music however suddenly sounded insincere and felt meaningless. The top 40 radio I was raised on represented a poisoned youth for me so I was quickly driven to find something new and different. I was dedicated to finding music that sounded as raw and emotional as I felt: tortured, angry, sad, wounded, weird, and dramatic. I was and wanted to hear all of these things. When you are trapped in a threatening environment, music can have miraculous powers to transform you elsewhere. I quickly became obsessed with finding music that fulfilled this need and I found that solace with Modern Rock.

By the end of grade school (8th grade) I wanted to spend as little time at home in the same space with my father so I worked a part time job from the moment I legally could. It was there I was sexually assaulted multiple times by a male co-worker who was just a few years older than me. As many victims of abuse will tell you there is a fear that somehow you must have deserved it and although this was the farthest thing from the truth, it prevented me from telling others about it. And just like that, another place I once considered safe, was suddenly a threat to my body. The fear of judgment by others and my attacker's revenge outweighed my courage to seek help.  

The following year I briefly had a boyfriend who was a senior at my high school. After just a few weeks of going out, he date raped me on Valentine’s Day. Then after dropping me off at home that same evening, he never spoke to me again. School, the one place a kid with no place has to call their own became just another place where a man had taken advantage of me in the most unforgivable way possible. The burden of carrying yet another terrible secret ate away at my insides. By the end of my freshmen year in high school I was suffering from ulcer like symptoms. I also suffered from severe panic and anxiety for the next two decades and it continues to be a lingering issue for me today. As a young teen I lived with depression, shame, and bitter frustration because every environment I was stuck in left me feeling utterly powerless and abused.

At this dismal point in my life, truly the only thing I had as a 15 year girl old in crisis mode was my faith music. These newly discovered non-mainstream musicians sounded and looked far outside the safety zone of the average Pop star but it was the most average people in the world that had taken advantage of me. "Normal" was officially dead to me.  I could have let my anger and hate win or I could have gone into survival mode and found peace. I chose the latter. Music helped me transcend my body and most importantly it made me feel less alone during a time when I didn't know of other people like me. Before the internet as a kid who was dependent on parents or school buses to take them places, my options for real freedom in suburban N.J. were limited. I built a comfort bubble by avidly collecting music that separated me from everyone else I knew. It makes sense. When you feel different, like an outcast, you naturally seek out things that personify this. The few things I did have control over like clothes, books, film,art, and music is exactly how I chose to redefine myself.

Today I live in the present. I cannot change what has already taken place. All I can do is work on healing myself and continue to grow. These experiences have made me more sensitive, compassionate, expanded my emotional pallet, and most importantly, helped me find forgiveness where I never thought I could. I know exactly how strong I am. I can endure the worst of times and survive. It is painfully unfortunate that these traumatic events have happened to me but it is reassuring to know I made it through. I have worked very hard to come this far and I am proud that these poisonous  people didn't ruin all of humanity for me. I can honestly say I feel lucky to be the person I am today and have so many tremendous people in my life who have helped me reach this point. I am filled with love, joy, and hope. I want anyone who has been through something this awful to know it is possible to recover. There is no exact healing timeline or steps since each person and experience is unique but it is possible. The first step is knowing you are not to blame. The second step is offering yourself unconditional love and patience as you begin your path towards healing. If the numbers are correct, about one third of the American female population has been sexually abused, so as lonely as the feeling can be, you are far from alone.

People who have not been a victim of molestation or sexual assault often have a hard time understanding how a person could not seek immediate help after something like it takes place. The reality is that young people, especially children, can’t be expected to know how to handle something this traumatic. Mentally and emotionally it is an especially complex thing to digest when you are attacked by someone you know. These brutal experiences can cloud the mind. Terror and shame creep in and suddenly common sense and logic have been replaced. It can be difficult to know how to talk to strangers openly about something like this and it can be even harder to try and tell friends about it when there is a good chance they know the person who you are naming as your attacker. This is why so many girls and woman remain silent.

If there is one thing I would like to ask of others if they hear stories like this from loved ones, it is not to judge the person who has survived this devastating experience. It is never appropriate to tell someone they should have done something differently before or after they were abused. Listen and be supportive. Don’t confuse the victim for the catalyst of the crime.

Part 2.

I have gone through many channels of therapy as an adult but the best tool for healing turned out to be singing in a band. I joined Dahlia Seed in my early twenties and it was then I was finally able to explore my emotions and no longer suppress them. For the first time in my life I was able to share my insides publicly. There was nothing more empowering than this. I could scream and vent in ways I never dared to before.

During my early 20’s I also tore my skin by scratching it severely; often performing shows with my arms pouring blood. I was cutting  (I only learned later in life that this compulsion had a name) , a subconscious effort to expel my demons and take control of my body when other’s had robbed me of that privilege . On a more dramatic level, seeing my skin bleed reminded me that I was human when internally I felt anything but for so many years. What few people understand is that this ugly period of self exploration helped me regain my self esteem and strength. To be even more specific, I finally owned myself again. From the outside we were just a band with an intense singer but it was a thousand times more important to me than that. If you listen to these old Dahlia Seed records, you can hear it not just in my words, but in every note I sang.  (The final DS release entitled Please Excuse All the Blood maybe makes more sense now) I thankfully grew out of my bloodletting practices but singing remains a very important, positive emotional outlet for me. This remains true as a member Positive No today.

One of my least favorite questions about my singing style to this day is “Why do you sound so angry?” The truth is I have spent my entire adult life recovering from a stolen childhood and taking my body back. My voice tells that story; a resilient woman with a wounded child at her core. I am not angry. This is me breaking the silence.

For more information and for those seeking help:

To Start at the beginning of my Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast, go here