When the doctors told me the news, my world stopped.”
At that moment, LynnMarie Rink, a Grammy-nominated artist and entertainer, began a journey she did not wish to take. “I was frozen. I thought my life was over – much less my career. I even wished it were over. But in that “frozen” period, I slowly began to write, and just like the end of a winter thaw that leads to spring, through writing, I found a new beginning”.
That new beginning came when LynnMarie stopped running from her past and fearing her future, and learned to accept her life as it was. An Adult Child of Alcoholism, she was now ready to admit that she was a codependent, a survivor of depression, and most importantly — the mother of a special needs child.
“The news that James would have Down syndrome took me to a place of darkness so black I never thought I would get out. I didn’t want to raise a son with this disease. All I wanted to do was “fix” him. But through therapy and the help of family and friends, LynnMarie slowly began to heal. She is now ready to tell her powerful story in the hope that it will help others to do the same.
In order to truly appreciate LynnMarie’s story, you need to know her past. Raised in an ethnic community outside of Cleveland, Ohio, the customs and music of her Eastern European immigrant grandparents served as the backdrop for the chaos of her dysfunctional childhood home. But she learned at an early age the power music had to bring joy in the midst of pain.
“It was my First Communion party, and it was boring,” she remembers. “Then my dad began to play his accordion, and in an instant everyone was laughing and having a good time. The music changed people’s spirits. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to entertain people and make them happy.”
LynnMarie did exactly that. She learned to play the button accordion, and began to work hard to break down the barriers in people’s minds that polka music was only performed by portly old men in lederhosen. In the course of a few years, she garnered not one, but five Grammy nominations, and is the first and only female artist to hold that honor. She performed all over the world, bringing her modern-day polka music to people who loved the fresh sound. Jay Leno introduced her as “The Dixie Chick of Polka” when she performed on The Tonight Show. And after moving to Nashville, legendary guitar player, Chet Atkins, invited her to tour with him. They did a show together before Chet succumbed to cancer.
Throughout her successful career, she’s released thirteen recordings and had the honor of writing, recording and performing with such legendary artists as Vince Gill, Hal Ketchum, Dobie Gray, Air Supply, Riders in the Sky, Ricky Skaggs and Willie Nelson. For many years, she collaborated with Nashville guitarist and producer Charlie Kelley, and they became innovators in the genre, changing the face of polka music forever.
On the stage, her career was soaring but on a personal level life was much more challenging. After several miscarriages, her son James was born in 2006… and LynnMarie went into total depression. “Depression is an odd thing. You are still functioning on a daily basis, but it’s like there is a veil around you dimming everything. “I did the only thing I knew to do: I went back on the road and performed.”
But being back on the road didn’t make things any better. LynnMarie and her band, The Boxhounds, were traveling in a 1986 motor home that broke down on every trip. One time they were stranded outside a Japanese massage parlor, which she was forced to enter to use their bathroom. “God showed up in that dingy whorehouse bathroom and it was there that we had very heated conversation!” “She says laughing. “After I cried and screamed at Him for a bit, He said, ‘Do I have your attention?’” It was one of the pivotal points in her journey.
Finally, four years after James was born and years of running from the truth while simultaneously hitting walls with her career, LynnMarie decided to take some time off and figure out what her next steps should be. It was during this time that she got to know her son, and came to a deeper understanding of her destiny.
“It’s amazing what happens when you take a break and breathe; take time off, take long walks and really get to know yourself. It’s then that God speaks to you most creatively,” LynnMarie admits. It was during this time she began to know – and to like – herself.
“What I realized is, that I couldn’t love James until I loved myself, but first I had to forgive my father.” “My dad wasn’t a ‘falling down angry drunk’- he was an amazing entertainer and a high-functioning alcoholic. But still, any type of substance abuse changes your family dynamics and your reality, and you develop survival skills to deal with the pain.” With this understanding, she began a journey that would lead to acceptance – and joy.
“I had to understand and heal my past to understand my future. I had to get to me before I could get to James. Once I did that, all the creativity came back.” An accomplished songwriter, LynnMarie was surprised to find that that creativity began to take a new direction.
During the year that she was off the road, stories suddenly began popping into her mind while she was walking, when she was sitting in quiet moments thinking and while she was watching James fall asleep in his crib. But Lynn had never thought about being a writer.
“At first I thought the stories were just for my own personal healing, but then I started to let people read them and found myself telling the stories out loud at parties. It was at that point that my friends encouraged me that it could be more.”
And now it is. LynnMarie has written a one-woman show: Stories & Songs from my Bathrobe- One Woman’s Journey from Depression to Dessert.” She laughs as she relays the title, and then explains, “I bought this bathrobe that had polka dots on it because I thought it would cheer me up. I wore it everyday for months. It has a lot of stains and caught a lot of tears. But I wrote a lot of stories and songs in that bathrobe and now I’ll never get rid of it.” And the dessert part? “Well, I love dessert! I always want to know what’s for dessert before I eat my meal, so I know if I should save room or not! But during my depression, I couldn’t even get out of my robe to get to the restaurant, let alone order dessert!” she laughs.
But the singer and new found author did eventually get out of that bathrobe, and start to live life again. “In one of my ‘other’ heated conversations with God I said “God, I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that I have a special needs child, and he calmly responded, “I’m not asking you to wrap your head around it … I’m asking you to wrap your heart around it.” It was then that LynnMarie realized she wasn’t supposed to “fix” James, but just love him. And in loving him, she found more joy than she could ever imagine.
Today LynnMarie is working to complete her book, Wrap Your Heart Around It, and plans to launch her one-woman show by doing concerts at her home in Nashville. “It all started in my family room as a little girl with my dad. It seems perfect that this show should start there as well.” She hopes these “home” performances will soon turn into concerts in theatres, churches and other venues where she can be a “motivational entertainer,” bringing love, hope and laughter into the lives of others through her stories and songs.
“I get it now,” LynnMarie affirms. “It’s all about acceptance, and living from your heart, not your head.” For LynnMarie, a new journey is just beginning.