Spiritual Abuse, Fighting Cancer While Pregnant, and Learning to Sing Again

I sang my first operatic solo when I was eight years old.

The song I sang wasn’t the one I originally auditioned for. The one I had auditioned for was given to someone else, while the one I ended up singing was added to our elementary school’s program specifically because my teacher wanted the song I sang to be – number one, just my voice – and number two, to showcase my range and abilities better.

The concert was for the entire second grade, and all the parents and school came to it. We were doing Disney songs. 

The song I was given was “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

You know: the one the cricket sings in Pinocchio.

In an eight year old’s voice, the song was incredibly difficult. The range was extremely high for such a young voice, especially to maintain any sort of tone that anyone actually wants to listen to.

I was terrified. My brother tormented me constantly in those days. And I’m not talking about the cute little sibling rivalry you see in sitcoms. I’m talking literal physical, mental, and emotional abuse. I pretty much generally had zero self confidence. The only reason I got brave enough to audition for the song was because I had a babysitter and some friends who had heard me sing occasionally and they made me promise them I would try out.

And then I made it to the concert. I have vivid memories of being frozen in horror, knees shaking uncontrollably, staring at the audience and finding my brother’s sneering gaze.

It was then I resolved that I was going to
KILL this solo.

And I fucking did it.

I experienced for the first time the absolute thrill of owning a piece of music and executing it perfectly while watching an enraptured audience sit in stunned silence.

I experienced, at eight years old, scores of people flocking to me after a performance and congratulating me on a job well done. I fell in love with music for the first time that night. I fell in love with being able to express my feelings in a way that connected with other, our shared experiences connecting us and elevating us.

I had been singing in church my whole life, in the pews and in the children’s choirs. To this day one of my earliest memories is of sitting between my parents while they helped me follow along to the music in the hymnal.

I remember listening to my dad’s low, resonant bass voice and feeling giddy when he voice reverberated in a way that I could physically feel. When I later studied waves and was able to connect the reasons why this happened, I talked about it for a week straight, to the bewilderment and confusion of my whole family.

My brother, of course, was always jealous of me, and tried to discourage me from my music every chance he got.

He got literally angry when I sang at home: mocking me, forcibly shutting me up…

Yeah…some of my earliest memories are of the physical pain I endured because of my love of singing.

I thankfully always had encouragement and support though. My parents never failed to stop my brother when they knew what was happening, and paid for voice lessons every chance they got. The couldn’t always know the abuse that happened behind their backs, unfortunately. And I, obviously, couldn’t tell them.

The pain would be worse the next time if I did.

But I always found a way to continue with my music.

When my family moved between states between my fifth and sixth grade years, I wound up at a school with a music program that was lackluster, to say the least. I went through sixth grade music as if it were an elementary class. Had we not moved, I would’ve wound up at a middle school where there would’ve been a band, marching band, choir, and just plain music classes.

When I reached the seventh grade, I was put in the high school choir simply because there were only two or three junior high students even interested in choir.

Being the seventh grader in a high school choir on a school campus containing preschool through 12th grade was…awkward. I was the youngest, shyest, and least experienced.

It was around that time, too, that I was recruited onto the praise team at my dysfunctional, cultish church. It was on this praise team that I was subjected to the worst emotional, mental, and spiritual torment of my life.

This is the church where I would eventually meet my first husband, whom I would marry just two months out of high school, when I was 19. The husband who would play drums on the praise team in which I was lead singer, where my brother played bass, where their other best friend (yes, my husband was one of my brother’s best friends, and that how I met and later married him) played guitar. The actual leader of the praise team got my dad, and later my husband, a job at that place she worked.

Our congregation had around 100 people in attendance at any given time.

So all that to say…there was a fuck ton of pressure associated with being on this praise team, and I was there from the time I was around 14, till I divorced my husband at 23.

This is the church werein the masquerade dance was never ending, where SANCTIFICATION, at the dictation of our pastor, reigned supreme, and was always inextricably linked to our salvation/immortal soul, eternal destination, etc.

The leader was an emotionally damaged woman who was more manipulative and played more heinous mind games than my own mother. This, along with a cripplingly low level of self esteem that would rival even mine today, caused her to see me as a rival on caliber with the types of scum who would actively seek to steal your money, jobs, spouses, and pets.

Everything I ever did or said on that praise team was constantly questioned, undermined, mocked, and ridiculed. There were regular sit down meetings in the pastor’s office where I would be lectured to the point of tears, my body coiled so tight that I was literally shaking, sobbing hysterically, begging for forgiveness.

Because if I didn’t break under the pressure, it meant I was in rebellion. As a younger person and as a female, it was my spiritual imperative to yield at all times, whether or not I was even opposing anything to begin with.

If, while the guitarists were having issues figuring out what notes to play, I should happen to offer my service, I was accused of being disruptive, of trying to take over the team. If I tried to explain, I was being rebellious, and should simply submit. If I didn’t, if I still respectfully tried to offer up my opinion or help, then that would lead to one of those sit down meetings.

This (and other similar situations) went on for literal years. My mother, the youth leader, would feel obliged to take the side of the pastor and leaders. They manipulated her the same way they did me. She, in turn, having a background of abuse and manipulation even worse than mine, would also twist and manipulate things till I submitted to her as well, if I questioned her or the others.

I was trapped in this literal hell in every way a person can be trapped. In the rural, small town area where everyone knows everyone for hundreds of miles… In a religion where if I tried to get out – be it mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, or anything else – any attempt to escape was “rebellion,” which meant I would spend eternity in hell.

It is what I had been taught all my life, but even worse when my family moved between states. At my new school, even the education reinforced it.

I started escaping, finally, when I left my husband…and got kicked out of that church.

That was when I finally left the community college I’d been at for four years with nowhere else to go because my husband wouldn’t move.

I moved to Kansas City…to a college in the same denomination of which I was a part.

It was there the escape became REAL.

I majored in music, and had my horizons SPECTACULARLY broadened when I got to go with the Jazz Band on a month long trip to Germany. All the teachers there had doctorates, were extremely well educated. And, being in the music department at a small college, I finally got to start becoming the person I was supposed to be.

My talents were recognized, respected, and nurtured. The only other place that had ever happened for me was in the music department at my community college, and the people I met at those two places are the ones who, to this day, are my very best friends.

The music, these past two or three years, has mostly lain dormant in me. After going through cancer while pregnant, with a tumor that had cut off my air supply and wrapped around my esophagus, I haven’t been able to sing for a tragically long time. After watching Donald Trump get elected and completely losing the last shreds of my faith, I felt for a long time as though literally every last bit of me that ever wanted to sing had been destroyed.

You see…when I was about 11, I had been told that if I ever started singing for non-Jesus reasons, Jesus would take away all my talent.

After watching “Jesus” people elect Trump…I didn’t want that talent.

Today, I’m finally healing from all of this bullshit. I’m learning to name and overcome all my neuroses that I’d never known I had, because “Jesus” has always healed me (also know as: suppress that shit, you’re supposed to be sanctified/perfect).

As I heal from these neuroses, my body is also getting stronger. My lungs, one paralyzed by cancer treatments (the nerve controlling the diaphragm took a hit during radiation), are getting stronger.  My vocal chords are getting stronger. My mind is getting stronger. I had the forethought to marry a guitarist when I got remarried, and he and I have started writing and playing music together again.

I’m finally remembering, again, why I fell in love with music in the first place.

Music, my friends…heals.

Blessed be, ya’ll.

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