I was brought up in a Christian household. Actually, Christian may be too broad of a term. I grew up in a conservative, homeschooling Christian home. For the first 7 odd years of my life my mother insisted I wear dresses reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie, despite my sincere, tomboyish objections.
My mother’s dream for me and my 3 younger siblings was for us to grow into wholesome, steady, predictable people. And for us to have a stable healthy home life. Unfortunately though, life did not work out that way. Things don’t always stay rosy just because you will them to.
My mother taught me to play guitar when I was 11 years old, and I immediately latched onto the instrument. I quickly began playing music at church, as well as writing my own songs.
Sometimes around the time I was 12, things in my house started to crumble apart. My father developed a severe drinking problem and began taking his frustrations from work out on us. Particularly on me and my mother.
It was terrible and abusive for years to come. So many nights I would hide in my room, listening to my family downstairs, knowing full well that if I were to be downstairs with them, that my father would go into a rage over something I had done, and the night would end with him screaming at me while backing me into a corner.
And eventually the verbal abuse also escalated to physical.
During this time, we were attending church, and hiding in plain sight. Nobody suspected anything, and I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. It was then that I realized this kind of hypocrisy and hiding does no one any good. And just because you attend church, doesn’t mean you have to pretend your life is perfect.
As I tried to cope with my hellish home life and teenage heart breaks that were simultaneously attacking my heart, I picked up the habit of self-harming. While I would cope in healthy ways, like pouring my pain into the songs I would write, I was also coping in detrimental ways, and I became heavily addicted to cutting.
My father’s abuse had not only affected me, but also younger sisters and brother. One of my siblings developed a severe eating disorder. Anorexia Nervosa.
It eventually became a matter of life or death for my sibling, so we took them to an out of state in-patient rehab center. This was where my family first started going to therapy. That rehab center helped save our family. My sibling is still with us today, and it helped begin the healing process that we so desperately needed.
Our home life slowly started to heal, and when I turned 18 I joined my first official band. It actually began as my sister’s band, but I snuck in by way of vocal harmonies, and an indie folk band was born. We began playing around Riverside, CA. This was the first time I really experienced a music scene. With tons of artists getting together, collaborating, and making friendships as well as musical projects.
I actually ended up meeting my now husband and guitarist at one of these open mic nights we frequented.
Through all the trauma life had dealt me up to this point, I had learned to worry and lean on feelings of anxiety to make me feel like I was making progress in my life and musical career.
In my early twenties I had also devolved severe body dysmorphia. No matter how fit I was it was never good enough. I took to over exercising- 1 to 5 hours of intense workouts a day.
After a while my lifestyle of hyper activeness and constant worry caught up to me and I developed a sever panic disorder. I had never experienced anything like this; I thought I was losing my mind. Everything felt surreal, nothing seemed real, and it just wouldn’t go away. During this time I wrote tons of songs to try and cope with what was happening to my mind and body. In fact, our song “This Will End” which if off our first album titled #hyenarock, is specifically about this time of hopelessness and despair.
Thank God, after about a year of suffering, I was eventually directed to a website called anxietycentre.com
This website and the affirmations and direction it gave me helped me save my life. Through a drastic change in physical and mental habits, including guided meditations every day, as well as trusting and keeping myself in a calm state of mind and not over exercising, eventually my mind and body began to level out. I am now almost completely recovered. And, so long as I continue my new found way of life, I rarely have episodes.
I still struggle with body image. Since I could no longer supplement a poor diet with copious amounts of exercise, I ended up gaining quite a bit of weight while in recovery for the panic disorder. And that has been very hard for me to cope with. Now I have to deal with the real problem, having self-control. Which anyone who has ever had an addiction(to food or otherwise) will tell you, is a long hard road.
Earlier last year I was embarrassed even to go onstage with my band, because I was sure people were judging me because I was no longer as thin as I once was. But every time I force myself on stage, I realize how worth it the music is. It is scary and hard, but I am, and will continue to try and be as kind to myself as I can while I work on getting myself and my routine as healthy as possible.
Playing in Graves and The Bad Weather with my husband and close friends has been such a wonderful thing. They always encourage me to be the best I can. And with them having my back, I can share the stories of what I have been through by singing them over strangers who may be going through the same things. And that is one of the most beautiful things I could ever ask for.
Written by Leandra Graves, front woman of blues-rock band Graves and The Bad Weather. Words and images are used with permission by Leandra Graves.