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1,460 Days

I graduated yesterday.

In a chaotic gymnasium after a cancelled outdoor ceremony, one of the most important and influential chapters of my life came to an end. Despite the fact that we didn’t get to walk across the stage, I feel so beyond blessed to have been able to bring this all to a close with some of my most favorite people in the entire world beside me. My emotions have been at an all-time high ever since, and my head is still reeling with excitement, fear, sadness, hope, and everything else that has come along with the bittersweet nostalgia of yesterday morning. I couldn’t have chosen a better place to call my home than CU - And though there will never be enough words to properly encompass all that this school has done for me, I feel that I owe it to my alma mater to do my best at saying thank you in one of the only ways I know how. So, here it is: A much-too-long, much-too-sappy recollection of the last 1,460 days of my life (and then some). I recommend you go grab your favorite pint of ice cream and settle in for this one.

When I first arrived at CU Denver four years ago, I was a significantly different person in comparison to who I feel I am now. A crippling anxiety disorder defined me, a manipulative relationship kept me from realizing my worth, and an overall lack of confidence made me feel unsure of everything. Everything, that is, aside from a simple truth I had repeatedly told myself:

I was here to make music.

My initial decision to study songwriting was one that didn’t come lightly. For the majority of my life up until this point, I had been training as a competitive soccer player, and thought I would be going to school primarily for the sport, while taking up a career in communications or journalism on the side. But at the end of my sophomore year of high school, the near-incessant bullying that had continuously come my way was enough to make me quit the sport, despite my incredible love and devotion to it throughout what had been the past twelve years. I still vividly remember sitting on the floor of my room, sobbing into the phone I had just used to call my high school coach and tell him I was quitting. I had a fever of over 100 degrees, which had lasted over three days due to my emotional inability to properly care for myself at the time. I was having panic attacks daily, each lasting between 45 minutes to over an hour, accompanied by hyperventilation, tunnel vision, and loss of feeling in my extremities. I was at my lowest low, and was searching desperately for a way out.

My parents had left the room so I could make the call on my own, but the second I put the phone down, my body set itself on fire. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe - Until my gaze locked onto the Ibanez guitar sitting in the corner of my room. I picked it up and began to play some of the only chords I knew how (I had taken a basics class my freshman year), and started to sing. At that point, it was mostly just melodic sobbing, but within the hour I had written a song.

It wasn’t my first song; I had been writing and performing original music since I was 12 years old, but it was what I now consider to be THE song - The song that made me realize there was no way I could survive in this world if I wasn’t writing music. (It exists privately on the internet, but you can hear it here.) Then and there, in a literal puddle of my own tears on my bedroom floor, I promised myself that this is what I would do for the rest of my life.

A few years and at least 50 solo gigs later, I was applying for colleges. My only real criteria: They had to have a good music program. I was accepted into all four of my top choices, but after touring the majority of them and making some obnoxiously in-depth pros and cons lists for each, I decided that only one felt right to me. So, I went for it.

I can remember exactly what I was wearing on the day of my songwriting audition, only because I spilled an entire half-bottle of pink gatorade on the front of my shirt and forced my dad to take me to a gas station 10 minutes before we had to be on campus so I could furiously bathe myself in TideToGo sticks. (Fun fact: it worked.)

I can also remember exactly how my audition went. The instructor and I spent the first five minutes talking about my favorite Italian foods in an attempt to calm my nerves, I played a couple of originals songs, a cover, and then with a final nervous laugh and poorly-executed handshake, I left the room.

Less than thirty seconds later, I heard my name called from down the hall where I had gone to meet back up with my dad. I turned around, and that same instructor was booking it towards me with a grin on his face.

They wanted me in the program.

It took all the willpower I could muster to wait until we were safely down the stairs before I started jumping up and down, grinning and looking at my dad in teary-eyed disbelief.

“That was fast,” he said.

And so began the long series of incredible experiences and opportunities I would find myself becoming a part of as I walked onto the Auraria campus each day. I could spend hours telling you all the dorky details about each one, but I’ll save both of us the effort and leave you with this list instead:

  • I met my very first roommate, who soon turned into my long-time best friend.

  • I went on the first of many annual songwriting retreats, where I met the people who I now call my family.

  • I turned 18.

  • I met a boy in the stairwell who asked me to write a song with him. It ended up on the radio a month later.

  • I began to work as a topline writer, and performed as a featured artist at venues such as the Fox and Gothic theaters.

  • I got my first “big girl” job as a student event manager at the College of Arts & Media. I stayed there until my graduation. It is still one of the best things to have come out of my CU Denver career.

  • I released my first EP & music video as a solo artist. I also learned what it’s like to make art that doesn’t feel like your own. I promised myself I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

  • I started dating the boy from the stairwell. We fell in love and wrote 4 more songs together. I was the happiest I’d ever been.

  • I was chosen as a student ambassador to travel to Uganda for a week and a half with some of my favorite mentors and best friends. We almost died. We also had the best experience of our lives.

  • I turned 20.

  • I took up 3 extra jobs and lived in 3 different places in between my junior and senior years.

  • I got burnt out of performing as a solo artist. I thought about quitting, and went through a minor existential crisis - But then I asked three of my favorite humans and some of the most talented musicians on this planet to start a band with me. Miraculously, they said yes, and Redamancy came to be.

  • I learned SO MUCH about music business, publishing & marketing, and started my own LLC.

  • I got my first tattoo.

  • I dyed my hair (just the ends).

  • I started anxiety mediation (GOD BLESS) and finally got control of my life back.

  • Redamancy released our debut EP less than 5 months after we started playing as a band. (Now, still less than a year later, we’ve signed our first production deal & have two more EPs along the way. Keep your eyeballs and earholes open.)

  • I turned 21 and got my second tattoo. I also continued to dye my hair.

  • I MADE THE MOST INCREDIBLE GROUP OF FRIENDS I COULD EVER IMAGINE

And then, this spring, everything changed.

In January, I lost my best friend to suicide. I was devastated. My boyfriend of nearly two years broke up with me the following week - And in that moment, my world completely shattered. I had no idea what my life looked like any more, and was hanging on by an absolute thread.

I went back home, and stayed with my parents for four days while I tried to figure myself back out. The panic attacks came back. I could barely get out of bed without collapsing into a ball on the floor. I thought about dropping out of school. I switched my medications twice and went back to therapy for the first time since high school. I POURED myself into the band and the friendships I had made here at CU - And, ultimately, that’s what saved me.

I have no words for everything these past four years have given me. They have brought some of the best and some of the worst moments of my life with them, and I have grown more than I thought I was capable of as a result. I am by no means the same girl I was when I entered this program - But I’m holding onto her same dream. And absolutely no one will ever be able to take that from me.

I was always “the girl with the guitar,” in the corner of a coffee shop; “the girl with the good voice,” in the corner of a private party; the girl who wrote songs that were good, but never good enough - Because they only felt like a small part of me. Now, I am THE GIRL. The girl onstage nearly every night with her best friends, screaming into a microphone and headbanging onstage, wearing leather pants and red heels and loving every second of her life. I am the girl who somehow managed to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Music Business, minors in Psychology and Leadership Studies, University Honors, and an Outstanding Graduate Award. I am the girl I always dreamed of being. I will be that girl from now until forever. And I have the past 1,460 days to thank for helping me find her.

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The Waves

My wonderful high school choir teacher (and second mom to many) recently shared an article with me about grief and the process it forces those who experience it to go through. I wanted to share it with you here all as well:

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love.

So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gorged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything… and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life. Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall.

And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

- Author unknown

As mentioned in my previous post, I am having to take on a lot more grief and a lot more loss all at once than I ever expected I would have to do. Within the course of less than a week, my world was completely turned upside down. Oceans have been flooding my mind ever since, leaving me gasping for air and frantically searching for remnants of something - anything - to hold onto.

When you lose someone, especially when they were an essential part of your life (whether that loss be through death or otherwise), these remnants feel both increasingly difficult and easy to find. Grief is a paradox of the pain and joy that comes with remembering while also wanting to forget; a feeble attempt to make sense of truths that may never fully be answered in full.

I have found that, at least in these early stages, when I do manage to grasp onto something - Whether that’s a memory, a shred of hope, words of comfort, a physical object that has been left behind, etc. - It is often too painful to hold onto for longer than a few moments at a time.

Especially that whole “shred of hope” thing.

Hope is weird. It’s an emotion that is often supported by little to no real foundation, just your mind doing its best to comfort you and give you a reason to keep on keeping on. And while there are many things to hope for at a given time, I have found that each of those things brings a whirlwind of uncertainty and doubt along with it. The more you hope, the more tidal waves come crashing into your head as you spin through various realities and possibilities your mind is desperately trying to find a place for.

This cycle is painful yet necessary, as it helps you to sort through your needs versus wants, versus the inevitable truths of a given situation. That being said, I’m finding that once your wants have been cast aside, and these truths have been fully realized, certain hopes are more than worth holding out for - And these hopes are often true. Such as the hope that everything will feel alright again. Give it time; it will. Or the hope that you’ll find something better on the other side. Give it time; you will.

I’m still riding out these waves, and I imagine I will be for longer than I’d like to admit. But, I’m learning how to catch my breath, and am realizing I can tread water for much longer than I thought I’d be able to. These past few weeks have acted as an incredible reminder that our bodies will always know what they need to do to survive. The real challenge is in silencing the mind.

You might, like me, feel as though you’re just floating through life during this time, going through the motions, not really feeling anything - Because if you did, it would simply be too much. Though that thought can be terrifying, it’s important to realize that sometimes it’s necessary to just get you through the storm. You’ll find land eventually; and though you’ll likely wind up being cast to the shore, exhausted and soaked, using every last ounce of your strength just to pull yourself away from the water, you’ll begin to feel like yourself again.

You’ll begin to prepare for stepping out into the water once more.

x  -Bella

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Starting Over

Welcome to my shiny new website, shiny new blog, and a not-so-shiny new… me.

The phrase “new year, new me” isn’t something I had been planning on adopting in 2019, but a certain series of events has more or less left me with no choice but to start from scratch and rebuild my life back up again.

If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. For me at least.

Within the past six days, I’ve had to say separate but equally painful goodbyes to two of my favorite people and best friends in the whole world. There’s no way to compare the two individuals or situations, other than the fact that they both left me with very large holes in my life that I have been scrambling to fill.

Prior to this, I was a stranger to loss. Now, I am becoming all too familiar with it and the intense emotions it evokes and causes its subjects to endure. Over and over and over again.

As it is now, my world is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate. It feels empty and broken, and I am unsure of how to move forward - But this is a step. A step that I’ve been meaning to take for quite some time, but haven’t had a fire lit under my ass to actually go do it until now. And let me tell you - this fire is a huge one. It scathes and burns deeper than I ever imagined it could, leaving me coughing into a pile of ash that I am now expected to make something out of. And though it isn’t much, you’re looking at the start of that something right now.

I’ve been wanting to turn my professional platforms into more personal spaces in which I feel free to openly discuss my personal struggles, motivations, thoughts, feelings, creations… Pretty much anything that plagues my all-too-active mind. So I’m doing it! But right now, that’s a lot of stuff. I’m still processing most of it, and at the moment need some time to pull my thoughts together in a way that can be considered to be productive rather than detrimental, to both myself and others. But rest assured - Sooner or later, the pieces will fall together for both of us.

You’ll be able to experience them through songs, blogs, poems, podcasts, poetry, photography, and so much more. I don’t plan on holding much back here - This has become a home for my world; a place to pick up all of my scattered pieces and put them back together again in whatever ways I know how. Lucky for me, I can get creative with it.

So, take this as your official introduction, as well as a warning - This is going to be one hell of a ride. And while I’m not sure that either of us are totally ready for it, it’s time to buckle up and do this thing as best we know how.

Let’s just roll with it, shall we?

x      - Bella

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