• jess

The Trauma Genre; Punk rock saved my life

Ever look back at your life and think “huh, actually I guess I did alright, considering the clusterfuck?” when you’re forcing yourself to be honest? (or, let’s be real, when your therapist is telling you so.)


Maybe it isn’t how you see yourself. Maybe you have a laundry list of perceived failures and self-resentments. Maybe you try not to think of your upbringing and extenuating circumstances at all.


I get that.


But, if you roll all the external factors together, take an objective stance, and pretend you’re looking at someone else’s life, do you find that suddenly the story seems more inspiring than you normally recognize?


Go ahead and give your kiddo self the same consideration you would give any child now. If little Astrid or Walter (or whatever the fuck 19th century names trendy people are giving their kids these days) from up the street was living in a household like you did… how would you feel for that little buddy?


Go ahead and give your kiddo self the same consideration you would give any child now. If little Astrid or Walter (or whatever the fuck 19th century names trendy people are giving their kids these days) from up the street was living in a household like you did… how would you feel for that little buddy?

Pretty sad? Scared? Certain that baby Esther Rose is going to have a bad life? Expect you’ll see her 80 year name in the paper one day?


Right.

Did you come from: Abusive roots? Limited resources? Generational family trauma? Addiction? Violence? Isolation?

If your life didn’t follow an explicit trajectory of addiction, abuse, and codependence that landed you in a jail cell or early grave. If you’ve established a professional career and removed yourself from pervasive poverty. If you’ve made any meaningful and loving relationships. If you’ve gone on to become a supportive mother, friend, or partner.


i.e. If you’ve grown beyond the circumstances you were born into…. you should be immensely proud.

As much strength as you mustered up from the inside, I’m willing to be there was at least one positive force that helped you escape your setbacks. One guiding adult. One local club. One passion of yours.


How did you make it out? What shaped the interesting, successful, loving person you turned out to be? Which external factors or influences helped you claw your way up from the bottom? What fibers run through your life, weaving your struggles and celebrations together?


How did you make it out? What shaped the interesting, successful, loving person you turned out to be? Which external factors or influences helped you claw your way up from the bottom? What fibers run through your life, weaving your struggles and celebrations together?

What made you, you?


Here’s mine. I know it sounds dumb. I know it’s got a bad rap. But at least it kept me from developing one.


Punk rock saved my life.






From the bottom


I never should have gone to college. I never should have escaped my rural little shit town. I never should have become a scientist or wound up with any salaried careers. I never should have found a way to live healthily outside of the 24-hour observation of a rehab center.


If you take a look at my family and personal history, there are no signs that predict any sort of “normal” life ahead. I fully expected to be a drug addict or a cashier for my entire shitty, purposely short, life.


If you take a look at my family and personal history, there are no signs that predict any sort of “normal” life ahead. I fully expected to be a drug addict or a cashier for my entire shitty, purposely short, life.

It seemed like my family’s fate was predetermined; each of us struggling with mental health and addiction that ultimately overtook each member, one by one. I had the same genes inside me, why would I be any different?


Funny enough, I escaped the fate because some crusty drunks said I could. Because of them, I was influenced to embrace my intelligence and otherness, change my circumstances, and eventually find deep connections.


Funny enough, I escaped the fate because some crusty drunks said I could. Because of them, I was influenced to embrace my intelligence and otherness, change my circumstances, and eventually find deep connections.

These are the steppingstones that brought me out of rural bumfuckville, gave me somewhere to belong, and kept me away from way worse influences than an underage beer or five.


In hindsight – holy fuck. I have come a long way.


Paths split


I can’t say that personal merits pulled me out of the trauma trap that is a generationally abusive family.


I doubt I would have found a successful way to move through the world all on my own. Growing up, I was too uneducated, timid, and influenceable to do it alone.


And most of my young life had been entirely alone.


I had been stunted by the household where I grew up, I never knew who I was or felt comfortable in my body. I never fit in anywhere. I never had a real family or friends to lend wisdom or hope. I was bullied and isolated as a kid. I was aimless, outcast, and meandering, with a pervasive sense of inferiority and a desperate desire to be accepted by anyone.


I had been stunted by the household where I grew up, I never knew who I was or felt comfortable in my body. I never fit in anywhere. I never had a real family or friends to lend wisdom or hope. I was bullied and isolated as a kid. I was aimless, outcast, and meandering, with a pervasive sense of inferiority and a desperate desire to be accepted by anyone.

Per his own account, these were all of the same personality flaws and fears that introduced my oldest brother to doing drugs for acceptance.


He started out smoking weed with kids from school, like plenty of others would. But, his desire for friends while contending with extreme social anxiety led to harder and harder drug use. From pot to crack to pain meds… until he was a full-fledged heroin addict before his adult years had even begun.


He would spend the next 10-12 years battling the opioid addiction handed down from my dad. He’s spent time in Cook County jail, he’s been homeless on the streets of Chicago in the dead of Winter, and he’s been dead before. His life was completely devoted to the drug for most of the years that I can remember.





And as far as I can tell, there’s only one significant difference that kept me from taking the same path my oldest brother did… besides taking his life as an example of what not to do…


The difference in our early experiences is, I eventually found a community that accepted me. People that inspired and identified with me. Friends in unexpected places. Comrades to cope with the emotions. Comforts in the lyrics. Escape in sweaty, pushy pits. Release in rowdy adventures.


The difference in our early experiences is, I eventually found a community that accepted me. People that inspired and identified with me. Friends in unexpected places. Comrades to cope with the emotions. Comforts in the lyrics. Escape in sweaty, pushy pits. Release in rowdy adventures.

A way to turn my outcast status into an identity.


Without question, I wouldn’t be who I am today without the heroes that changed my life and gave me a home.


Without the friends and strangers who understood me from the moment we met. Without the culture that embraced intelligence, personal growth, hard times, and self-hating weirdos. Without the words and riffs that provided escape whenever the screaming started. Without the culture that I was finally proud to be a part of.


Call me a liar, an idiot kid, or an idealist… but punk rock saved my life.


Let’s count the ways.



A preamble – this is “My” punk rock


If you’re not into it, you’re probably scoffing at the idea that snarky drunken brats could save anyone.


But hell, it’s not even an original assertion. “Punk rock saved my life,” by Frank Turner, anyone?





There’s nothing for me to gain by waving my musical interests sky high – so many before me have spoken the same sentiments that it’s a semi- trite and embarrassing observation. But I fucking believe it every time I hear those old familiar chords.


There’s nothing for me to gain by waving my musical interests sky high – so many before me have spoken the same sentiments that it’s a semi- trite and embarrassing observation. But I fucking believe it every time I hear those old familiar chords.

I know that won’t stop people from making jokes about Good Charlotte saving lives or Simple Plan being the answer to addiction. Trust me, as an asshole music supremist, anyone who actually feels that way is due for a dose of giggles from my corner, too.


I get it, there are plenty of radio rock artists only worth their weight in hot topic arm bands. The genre has been clouded with commercialism, like everything else. The purity of the message dragged through myspaceable teenage angst by marketing execs and sad, outraged hipsters with scene haircuts.


I know.


But you should check out MY punk rock. Midwest Punk. Folk Punk. Chicago Punk.


Escape from the glittery pop productions and hysterically hypocritical lifestyles of “mainstream punk,” and you find something completely different. In the tiny, rundown venues tucked into shady neighborhoods that smell like pee, you find hard working, honest, insightful, so-idealistic-that-they’re-pessimistic, normal, loving, struggling, scarred, hopeful, humans.


Escape from the glittery pop productions and hysterically hypocritical lifestyles of “mainstream punk,” and you find something completely different. In the tiny, rundown venues tucked into shady neighborhoods that smell like pee, you find hard working, honest, insightful, so-idealistic-that-they’re-pessimistic, normal, loving, struggling, scarred, hopeful, humans.

Punks are a group of thoughtful folks, with similar passions and life experiences that also led you to this sweaty pit of strangers, getting punched in the back of the head while downing cheap beer and screaming until throats are raw.


They're people who get up every day, work their asses off in all varieties of career, take care of the ones they love, and try to move on from the ones they wish they could forget. People who make the best of their circumstances.


I’m just saying…


If you haven’t dipped your toe into the less-sparkly world of commercialized anthemic punk rock, far away from the Top 100, you might not realize that you were meant to wear a bullet belt all along.


It is, after all, the genre of trauma.


The trauma genre


I’ve said it before, and I promised to expand on it again…


Punk rock is the musical genre for the traumatized, by the traumatized.


Popular knowledge would tell you that punk is all about political uprising, bitching about people you just don’t like, and wearing eyeliner. And yes, that exists all over the place. But, no, that’s not what I flock to. You know me, it’s all about the honesty and emotions.


The truth, in my Chicago experience, anyways, is that the music is about coming from low places, finding hope in the people around you, and working your ass off for a better life with the strength gathered from your chosen family and idealistic hope for a better life.


The truth, in my Chicago experience, anyways, is that the music is about coming from low places, finding hope in the people around you, and working your ass off for a better life with the strength gathered from your chosen family and idealistic hope for a better life.

Also, copious drinking, depression, poverty, heartbreak, idealism, and anger… Like I said, music by the traumatized for the traumatized. For better or for worse.


Well, that just about sums up my living experience. And the same can be said for millions of other people who self-identify, for better or for crushing judgement, as punks. I’ve mentioned a few bands before – like Off With Their Heads – who explicitly dig into depression, anxiety, and complex trauma. But there are so many similar threads - mental health, poverty, or just feeling cast aside.


Whether their songs have tiny lyrical nuggets of goodness that make you pause and get goosebumps, or entire songs devoted to the struggle of growing up with assholes and alcoholism. There’s pain, acceptance, and honesty smattered across the genre.


Whether their songs have tiny lyrical nuggets of goodness that make you pause and get goosebumps, or entire songs devoted to the struggle of growing up with assholes and alcoholism. There’s pain, acceptance, and honesty smattered across the genre.

Give me the gruff voices, the fast drumbeats, and the fist-pumping choruses. The more grating, the better. It feels like another form of protection. A way to push the people who might otherwise want to hurt me to a safe distance when they hear things that scare them.


Just like I do now, with mental health.


Origins; Street Brats and a baby blue van


My exposure to punk came through means of my middle brother, who was at the forefront of the tiny punker scene in our Northwest Chicago community that otherwise glorified farming, churches, and gun shops.


The other kids listened to country and pop-rap. The emo movement was still new and largely unaccepted. The name of the game was wearing Hollister and Wranglers, joining the FFA, and bringing your tractor to school (this is real.).


My brother Eric, on the other hand, was a skater, BMX rider, and general miscreant from a young age who rejected the bullshit of public school and the idiots around him. He fell into the Tony Hawk soundtracks that ran the local skatepark and started learning about punk from the older, grittier kids, while he was out honing his abilities to skate, smoke, and drink.


My brother Eric, on the other hand, was a skater, BMX rider, and general miscreant from a young age who rejected the bullshit of public school and the idiots around him. He fell into the Tony Hawk soundtracks that ran the local skatepark and started learning about punk from the older, grittier kids, while he was out honing his abilities to skate, smoke, and drink.

He was the unwashed, stale cigarette smelling, grumpy punk wearing a flannel covered in Rancid, A Minor Threat and GBH patches every single day. Getting sent home from school for his Social D tee shirts. Going to the city every weekend to see local heroes in this weird, morbid, local band called Alkaline Trio.


As a youngster, I had picked up some of his poppier bands and was no stranger to the Blink/Sum/Green Day radio punk scene. I listened to the handful of albums I could get on repeat, wearing out my Walkman wherever I went, and escaping into the sassy, pissy, mom-don’t-understand-me lyrics when things were unsettled at home. It laid the groundwork, but thank god things progressed.


It was the day my brother Eric walked into my room, told me he “would break ‘American Idiot’ in half if he ever fucking heard it again,” and handed me a Street Brats album that my musical interests really began to move in the right direction. “You listen to this now,” he said.


And I did.


Destination Nowhere became my new soundtrack on repeat.


After that, the bands started stacking up like hotcakes. For one single year I attended the same high school with my brother. He would give me a ride IF I filled all the tires of his shitty, baby blue, velvet-upholstered, full-sized van, every morning. And I mean EVERY morning.


In between trying to stick my head out the window to get away from his secondhand smoke, I would hear a line here, or a lyric there, that hit me right in the feels. And I would steal that album from Eric as soon as I could.


In between trying to stick my head out the window to get away from his secondhand smoke, I would hear a line here, or a lyric there, that hit me right in the feels. And I would steal that album from Eric as soon as I could.

From our 5-minute drives to and from school, I can vividly remember my first exposures to now-modern classics and hilarious jokes, like Taking Back Sunday, Motion City Soundtrack, Alkaline Trio, the Lawrence Arms, Reel Big Fish, and so many more.


There was something about their words that struck me. The attitude. The fuck-off frustration. The moments of emotional honesty masked by cheeky lyrics about fucked up livers.


There was something about their words that struck me. The attitude. The fuck-off frustration. The moments of emotional honesty masked by cheeky lyrics about fucked up livers.

After my first hit, I couldn’t ever get enough.


I started borrowing my brother’s massive CD collection every few weeks and trying to educate myself on the dense, formidable, chaotic music inside. I bought an iPod with my early earnings and ripped every single thing he ordered from Interpunk.


And I found a home.


Lifeline lyrics


The thing that drew me to punk rock wasn’t the sweet fashions or the need to piss off my mom (although, it definitely did, and I loved it).


I fell into the genre when I heard the lyrics; witty, emotional, tongue-in-cheek poetry often hidden behind raw, screaming vocals. Strong words that sounded so similar to my daily thoughts, feelings, and struggles, I felt like I was the one writing the songs for myself. But, from a place of strength and resistance that I wasn’t yet skilled in expressing.


I fell into the genre when I heard the lyrics; witty, emotional, tongue-in-cheek poetry often hidden behind raw, screaming vocals. Strong words that sounded so similar to my daily thoughts, feelings, and struggles, I felt like I was the one writing the songs for myself. But, from a place of strength and resistance that I wasn’t yet skilled in expressing.

It was the first time I felt like any media captured my existence.


Before that, I consumed “popular” media. And I never heard a fucking song on the Billboard 100 that had anything to do with my personal perspective.


In rural Illinois, people weren’t playing songs about getting harassed by the cops, beaten by parents, or stealing just to get by. Watching people overdose, getting all your shit stolen, or literally having nowhere to go. Depression, anxiety, or frustration.


But these cranky old punks were.


When shit was too real at home, I buried my emotions in the hard, grating, reassuring music of my role models. I blared The Falcon on my car stereo to drown out the injustices of my life, I asked Matt Skiba for grim comforts when my emotions turned dark, I dove into Dillinger Four when I needed something smart and sassy to qualify the pseudo-christian stupidity I saw all around me.


I didn’t realize other people felt so equally hopeless, helpless, and doomed based on the circumstances they were born into. I didn’t know other people thought or felt the way I did. I also didn’t know anything about the power of friendship and community in hard times – the ways the people around you could inspire you and keep you afloat.


I didn’t realize other people felt so equally hopeless, helpless, and doomed based on the circumstances they were born into. I didn’t know other people thought or felt the way I did. I also didn’t know anything about the power of friendship and community in hard times – the ways the people around you could inspire you and keep you afloat.

And then, I heard punk rock.


That shit is poetry. Dirty, hard, brutal, beautiful, poetry. It makes me feel to this day.


Falling into friends


As someone who never had lasting or authentic friendships growing up, it was the most glaring void in my life.


In school, friends are safety. They’re a shield from the other insecure little fuckers who want to tear each other down. They’re proof that you aren’t a freak. They’re tiny lifelines to keep you afloat throughout your hormonal rages – or, shitty homelives.


For me, friends signified the love, acceptance, and reliability that I was lacking in my family. I desperately wanted them, but instead, I spent most of my years feeling outcast and insignificant to my peers. I was bullied from a young age; the best-case scenario was being ignored so no one was publicly humiliating me for looking and dressing funny (read: being poor).


For me, friends signified the love, acceptance, and reliability that I was lacking in my family. I desperately wanted them, but instead, I spent most of my years feeling outcast and insignificant to my peers. I was bullied from a young age; the best-case scenario was being ignored so no one was publicly humiliating me for looking and dressing funny (read: being poor).

And then there was punk rock.


Admittedly, my brother was probably my first real punk rock friend, and it felt like a momentous success. When we became buddies, it was a massive shock and a thrill to my approval-seeking self.


For years it had been rough between the two of us. We weren’t a close brother-sister pairing for my entire childhood. It really wasn’t until we started going to shows together that we actually started talking like friends, instead of him begrudgingly putting up with me or outright bullying me.


Fittingly, my first real punk show was seeing the Street Brats at the Beat Kitchen with my bro. Using MapQuest directions to try to navigate Chicago in said shitty baby blue van, we made the journey after school.


I still remember my brother introducing me to Max, the singer of the band, at my first show. Coming face to face with the voice that had been carrying me through shit days, I felt like I just touched a real god. This 24-year-old kid definitely didn’t understand my intense perspective, after months of counting on his words to keep me afloat. How could he? He wrote those songs for himself and his weird friends.


Coming face to face with the voice that had been carrying me through shit days, I felt like I just touched a real god. This 24-year-old kid definitely didn’t understand my intense perspective, after months of counting on his words to keep me afloat. How could he? He wrote those songs for himself and his weird friends.

Following that first dip into shows and new socialization, things changed quickly.


Throughout high school, like so many others, I transitioned from identity unknown to full-blown emo to more subdued and sardonic punk. I fell in line with a group of punk boys at my school and found friendship in our similar political views and disdain for the morons around us.


I became good buddies with my brother’s older friends and a regular fixture at their big kid parties with the Hoffman Estates punks (hilarious statement now). Even when I was around the impressive, tattooed, bigger kids, they embraced me. They told me I was smart and cool as shit. They wanted me around, and pulled me under their wings.


It wasn’t too long before I was going to shows in the city every other weekend, learning to drink in alleyways, and taking the midnight train home with blaring migraines.

It wasn’t too long before I was going to shows in the city every other weekend, learning to drink in alleyways, and taking the midnight train home with blaring migraines.


Running around with packs of boys who would drag me out of the pit if I passed out.


Sneaking beers with the older kids, hiding our “underage” insignias while we pregamed the pit that was about to explode into action.


Punk was how I made connections and started living.


Establishing “self” and embracing intelligence


All of this is to say, I entered adolescence with a dangerous combination of past family trauma, lifelong abuse, and no sense of self that could have really gone south, like it had for people before me.


I was always so desperate for human connection and understanding from my peers, but never felt the acceptance or kinship that I was so sincerely lacking on all fronts. I don’t know who I would have become – what group I would have fallen into – if it wasn’t for my older brother Eric and his enlightening world of angry white people music.


Through punk rock, I prospered (relatively speaking) in high school, in ways I never had before. I had friends, I had interests, and I had a way to escape the shitshow that was my homelife – physically and mentally.


Through punk rock, I prospered (relatively speaking) in high school, in ways I never had before. I had friends, I had interests, and I had a way to escape the shitshow that was my homelife – physically and mentally.

Most importantly, I wasn’t ashamed anymore. I always had a sense of “otherness” from the kids in my town that led to a feeling of shame and inadequacy. Now, it was a proud sense of separation that I embodied.


I wasn’t like the “regular kids” whose parents took them on A&F shopping sprees and seemed to effortlessly fall into the social stratification of middle and high school. I was somehow outside of all this. Not exactly at the very bottom of the social hierarchy – because I wasn’t in it at all. And I fucking loved that.


I was always on the outside of things looking in. When I became a punker, though, I changed the narrative by proudly standing outside the window, shaking my head at all the assholes who got trapped inside the box. I wasn’t trying to be a part of the social machinery; my friends and I were engineering our own.


I was always on the outside of things looking in. When I became a punker, though, I changed the narrative by proudly standing outside the window, shaking my head at all the assholes who got trapped inside the box. I wasn’t trying to be a part of the social machinery; my friends and I were engineering our own.

Before punk rock, I didn’t have friends. I didn’t have a group identity.


At best, I was one of the “smart kids.” As worst, I was “ugly girl.”


I have little doubt that without the Midwest punk scene that guided my teenage years, I would have become another Marengo All-Star, as we called them. A small-town hero who peaked on the high school popularity scale, popped out a few babies, developed some drug dependencies, and never left our rural shitstain of 7500 gun-toting, confederate flag waving, Walmart workers.


**Notes: Yes, confederate flags in NORTHERN ILLINOIS. Fuck man. And no, we didn’t even have a Walmart in our town. To further qualify this itching geographical taint I’m trying to describe, understand that people in my town commuted to work at Walmart.**


Or, it could have very well ended even worse than that.


There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have made it through high school, at all. At the point in my life when my living situation was 100% out of my control and 100% fucking crazy, every day, I was also the most suicidally-inclined I’ve ever been.


There wasn’t a single thing about my life that felt good, comforting, or promising. For my entire early life, probably starting at the age of 8 or 9, I had suicidal ideations. I wanted to end it all so badly because of the internal suffering and silence I felt. And, it seemed like no one would even notice if I did. I had no friends, no viable family, and I fucking hated myself.

There wasn’t a single thing about my life that felt good, comforting, or promising. For my entire early life, probably starting at the age of 8 or 9, I had suicidal ideations. I wanted to end it all so badly because of the internal suffering and silence I felt. And, it seemed like no one would even notice if I did. I had no friends, no viable family, and I fucking hated myself.


Truthfully, there were days that early Alkaline Trio kept me alive. Later, my friends who shared Skiba’s sentiments were the buoys I clung to. The intelligent punk boys who made me proud for the first time to be a smart kid, in a school where idiocracy and feigned country attitudes were the trend.


These were the kids who showed me that being outside of the majority, embracing your differing perspective instead of feeling ashamed and alone, was a good thing. The wiser, stronger, punker dudes who allowed Jess to become Jess.


These were the kids who showed me that being outside of the majority, embracing your differing perspective instead of feeling ashamed and alone, was a good thing. The wiser, stronger, punker dudes who allowed Jess to become Jess.

Because of these punks, I enrolled in all the highest-honors courses available at the school. I got a 4.12 GPA without trying very hard (again, all the underage drinking, retail work, and general shittery that we got into…). I had protection from the other kids, who seemed to fear us to some degree, or just had no interest in tangoing with our snarky, pretentious attitudes.

Punk, man.


I had friends, I had fun, and I had grades that would eventually catapult me out of this small-minded, limited-opportunity rural town so I could do bigger things.


Without those influences, I doubt I would have wound up getting into UIUC and becoming a scientist. I never would have traveled outside of McHenry County. I wouldn’t have started on this long and winding journey that brought us all together here – talking today.


Without those influences, I doubt I would have wound up getting into UIUC and becoming a scientist. I never would have traveled outside of McHenry Country. I wouldn’t have started on this long and winding journey that brought us all together here – talking today.

I wouldn’t have had a modicum of self-assuredness, identity, or drive.


And I wouldn’t be so proficient at telling people to “git fucked.”


After high school, real school


This brings me to my next point. Punk rock didn’t just save my life IN HIGHSCHOOL. It gave me direction and community there, which was so necessary for my evolution as a person. But I wasn’t graced by Lord Kelly to find a group of hooligans at 16 and never again.


Looking back, punk has been effortlessly running under the surface, directing the flow of my entire life through social support and community - let alone internal attitude and outward influence for how I interact with others.


Looking back, punk has been effortlessly running under the surface, directing the flow of my entire life through social support and community - let alone internal attitude and outward influence for how I interact with others.

Almost every friend I’ve ever made, every boy I’ve ever dated, every sentiment I’ve ever carried in my head for strength has been directly related to my interest in punk rock. There’s no doubt that my life course has been heavily affected by the coincidental meetings that come with going to shows and wearing obscure band tees.


I’ve bumped into people at shows and wound up having the most fun nights of my life with strangers who feel like old friends. I’ve had kids at parties correctly identify the tattoos on my arms and become lifelong pals. I’ve attracted random individuals into following my way of thinking, which is modelled after all the “fuck you” group singalongs in my favorite songs.


Almost every friend I’ve ever made, every boy I’ve ever dated, every sentiment I’ve ever carried in my head for strength has been directly related to my interest in punk rock.

Whether they were good for me or bad (you know about my relationship history), these folks indisputably changed my life in some way. Every connection is an influence in one way or another.


Even my toxic ex (formerly the drummer of a semi-successful metal band) who I had a terrible relationship with… well fuck, he got me out of Illinois. He inspired my mental health rebellion. He set me on a new path, entirely.


Even thought he would facetiously refer to me as "Punk Rock Jess" when I wasn't taking his shit, I don't doubt the impact. Would he have liked me half as much if I weren’t a semi-grown punk kid, still going to shows and finding new bands every month? If my friends weren’t gritty, sarcastic, life-hardened humans? I really don’t think so.


Besides all the social connections that have nudged or shoved me into new directions… my personal style and the way I move in the world is so intricately linked to those punker mentalities.


I doubt I would be who I am today – former scientist, former craft brewery logistics manager, current psychology rioter, or otherwise – if it wasn’t for the way I learned to present myself, physically and verbally.


I doubt I would be who I am today – former scientist, former crafter brewery logistics manager, current psychology rioter, or otherwise – if it wasn’t for the way I learned to present myself, physically and verbally.

The bright hair, the piercings, the tattoos. They’re not popular where I grew up – at all. They turn plenty of people off, sure. But they also seemed to entertain and intrigue a lot of folks who couldn’t quite blend my articulate mouth with my weird appearance and fuck-off-attitude.


I’ve had professors who gave me jobs, furthered my career, and wrote me amazing recommendation letters… because I was interesting to them. They commented on my hair, my tats, my bruises from shows. And we’re still in contact today.


I’ve had professors who gave me jobs, furthered my career, and wrote me amazing recommendation letters… because I was interesting to them. They commented on my hair, my tats, my bruises from shows. And we’re still in contact today.

I’ve had “adopted family members” who took me in and treated me like part of the clan because they thought my holey face and purposeful appearance was such a unique blend with my half-scientist, half-sailor mouth. “Bring Jess over, I want to see what she has to say about this!”


I think they’re just giddy with all the things I’ll say that they never felt empowered to.


Seriously, there have been connections left and right in my life with older people who had nothing to do with punk rock, but thought it was curious that I did. Folks who thought I was brave for being different. Off the wall for purposely getting myself beat up in mosh pits. Or just strange enough to be wildly entertaining as a conversational partner.


Plus, it’s worth noting that all the people who were judgmental and small-minded due to my technicolor hair and purely black wardrobe… well fuck, that’s another form of influence.


Plus, it’s worth noting that all the people who were judgmental and small-minded due to my technicolor hair and purely black wardrobe… well fuck, that’s another form of influence.

The folks who didn’t give me a chance impacted my journey just as much as the ones who did.


Thank GOD I didn’t get promoted to manage PetSmart because I wore converse, the wrong colored pants, and had a “controversial” style. It’s no problem that I’ve missed job and social opportunities because some conservative perspective couldn’t comprehend that you can be smart and pretty and an outsider who doesn’t need your goddamn approval, all at once.


The folks who didn’t give me a chance impacted my journey just as much as the ones who did.

These close-minded buttholes showed me how not to be. A scared sheep who will never rock the boat or step outside of the norm… someone who’s probably stuck working in the “safety” of retail upper management and devoted to an unfulfilling nuclear family to this day. Eek. No.


I’m much happier having stumbled around in life, connecting haphazardly with people who open-mindedly pushed for something less conventional.


Motherfuckers, like you.


Getting old and growing out of it


Just kidding, that’s probably not happening.


To this day, I’m a dedicated punker. My musical interests have diversified a little… but no matter what I find temporarily toe-tapping… you know I always circle back to the same fucking songs I’ve been listening to for 15 years.


Those bands, those riffs, and those words have a way of putting me inside my brain and body. They’ve never stopped being comforting and meaningful. Inspirational. Grounding. They make me feel like me.


Those bands, those riffs, and those words have a way of putting me inside my brain and body. They’ve never stopped being comforting and meaningful. Inspirational. Grounding. They make me feel like me.

Besides, a lot of the bands I grew up with are still out there, grinding their teeth and making new magic for the next generation of little fuckheads. They aren’t necessarily hammering out the same tunes as they were 20 years ago… which causes me to be angry and interested, depending on the day.


But no matter if I love what they’re doing now or pretend that they died in 2005 (cough, Alkaline Trio), we’re still evolving together. Dead End Kids with nowhere to go, just figuring it out with an ever-changing perspective on life and love.


So no, I’ve never stopped going to shows, quit planning new band-related tattoos, or felt like it was my time to give up the “adolescent” interest. It’s never even dawned on me to “give up” and move on.


I’m now that 30-year-old weirdo elbowing the fuck out of people in the pit so I can get as close as possible to my heroes. Screaming their choruses back at them with the purest joy and sense of belonging I know how to feel. Arm in arm with my brothers, swaying with new friends and instant comrades.


I’m now that 30-year-old weirdo elbowing the fuck out of people in the pit so I can get as close as possible to my heroes. Screaming their choruses back at them with the purest joy and sense of belonging I know how to feel. Arm in arm with my brothers, swaying with new friends and instant comrades.

Only now, I don’t have the underage insignia on my hands. I can’t physically chug UV Blue in the alley before running into the venue. Warm beer passed through the hands of several older friends doesn’t sound so great.


And most nights after a show, it ends before I make new community connections – instead of a curfew to break in the spirit of youthful rebellion, I have a boring adult bedtime.



Wrap up


I’ve put off writing this entry for years now.


It’s a topic almost too large to comprehend. The details get muddy in my head as my brain screams about the neverending material to consider and the long-lasting reach of this early accidental interest. Once I started spinning through overwhelming thoughts, I decided it was stupid anyways. Too personal and too self-indulgent. No one would get it.


And then… people started joining the Discord community and showed me that I was being the judgmental butthole.


My story isn’t unique. Escaping life as a social outcast by further outcasting yourself… it’s a common theme for Motherfuckers. These smaller alternative scenes are where we ultimately find people who get us, because of our difficult experiences rather than in spite of them.


My story isn’t unique. Escaping life as a social outcast by further outcasting yourself… it’s a common theme for Motherfuckers. These smaller alternative scenes are where we ultimately find people who get us, because of our difficult experiences rather than in spite of them.

And none of that is at all dissimilar to the entire message of this entire mental health community project.


Some people will get it. Some people will push it away because it scares them. And that makes it a safe place for us self-described weirdos to find each other and seek acceptance.

The outright polarity of the Traumatized Motherfuckers message is as purposeful as it is punk rock, just like my physical appearance.


Folks who get it, get it. Naysayers can still git fucked.



Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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