Healing Through Music

“Why’d you have to have such a damn good taste in music? Oh, if all my favourite songs make me think of you, I’m gonna lose it.”

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things about music is its ability to be relevant to so many different people. The music we love follows us through our lives – tracks us phase to phase, through time, relationships and mental spaces. Especially for lovers of music, music is at times ever-present. I spend much of my time in a sonic cloud often letting the music I love articulate the difficult feelings I cannot express, match my elation, or bring me into a new frame of mind. Music is an emotional experience for so many of us.

As much as this can be an extraordinary thing, it is also painful. I recently went through a very traumatic separation and difficult period with my family. The time that I spent in that relationship was filled with a cloud of beautiful, thoughtful and extraordinary music. It was a year and a half where I listened to hundreds of albums, artists and moods – I explored love and sacrifice and pain, every song following me down a different area of the West End, with each hand-held walk or on each anxious journey to finally reunite with my long-distance partner.

The relationship broke me and my normality in a way that I have never experienced before. Music used to be my constant, my foundation, but how could I use my music to heal? How could I use my music to reclaim my identity and process the painful experience that I’d been through when it just reminded me of the beautiful romantic times that were now over, or the frame of mind that I will never get back? I felt like he had robbed me of so much, and now he had robbed me of my most precious connection to music.

The first few weeks were silent: from a time of constant noise suddenly my reality was dull and quiet. I simply couldn’t listen to anything, it seemed like everything was attached to him and I believed I would never be able to listen to my favourite songs again. I tried to delve into the strangest genres, with my very musical parents sending me their favourite experimentalist tracks from the 80s. My Dad sent me ska and classical, my Mum sent me punk and new wave (‘This Is The Day’ by The The is a song I credit for getting me out of bed and dragging myself to work all summer). But as much as the songs and artists were amazing and varied and exciting, they didn’t have those comforting connections that I used to have with my favourite songs. I attempted to listen to old songs again and all I could do was cry – I was very ‘triggered’ (I hate how stigmatised this word is) by what I used to love, a Paul McCartney song coming on in a shop reducing me to a crumpled mess multiple times.

I have spoken to so many people about this issue and many of us have songs and artists that we can’t listen to because our cheating ex used to love them, or because they are what an estranged friend that you miss introduced you to, or an album that you over-listened to in a time of emotional difficulty. Music has this incredible power to transport us back to a feeling, a person and a place. So how do we cut these ties? How do we reclaim this music and allow it to heal us? I’ve made a wee list of methods you can try because nobody deserves to be at the mercy of bad memories or someone’s power over you forever and reclaiming music is a brilliant way of getting your life back. Let’s empower ourselves together! (woo)

1* One of the first things you need to do is to tell those around you – tell your friends how music is bothering you. It’s not trivial, it’s more common than you think. It’s important to explain to them why things hurt you and even just with their understanding a lot of pain initially can be avoided.  It could even just allow you the opportunity to talk to someone about it or even to laugh about it (which is also very healing.) Crying to ‘Say Say Say’ was a hilarious moment in my life in a very cynical way!

2* One of the first things I did, and is a good way to carry on with your life initially, is to explore music further. Ask your friends to send you their favourite music, ask your parents to send you their favourite music, have a look through playlists on Spotify you’ve never looked through before! Not only will this expand your knowledge of music, you may find an absolute gem. I have a friend who sent me a Mitski album and I fell in love instantly. This won’t heal you completely but it’s a good way to break the silence, saving you from the darkest thought patterns even if it’s just the Mamma Mia soundtrack.

3* From here I found it very helpful to make a ‘trigger free’ Spotify playlist. I took the music that I found and loved, old music and classic bops like ‘I Will Survive’ and combined them. I recommend combining lots of songs with different moods in here, from slow ballads to cheesy 80s hits, to instrumentals, as this will create a more varied mood. Happy music can seriously annoy you on some days when you’re really struggling, but this will prevent you from listening to James Blunt and sitting in self-pity for too prolonged a period.  This playlist can be very long or very short, but it can allow you to create a new version of your ‘sonic cloud’ pounding the streets of the West End in a space that frees you from tears and heartache.

4* Create a goal. Start small and build up to it. My personal goal is to rediscover and fall back in love with Bon Iver and The Beatles. They particularly broke me at my most vulnerable moments and I knew that once I had power over these influences in my life, then I could say I was separate from the relationship’s influence finally, disjointed from the old romantic feelings and finally ready to carry on with my life.

5* I worked on the periphery of these artists, listening to lesser known albums, live takes and covers before jumping into the big ones. This process took a while, but I always knew when I was ready by how the music made me feel listen to listen. Eventually the associations tied to the songs made me feel nothing, just with persistence.

6* Then I set aside time, I sat down and faced my demons one evening by myself. Digging into the lyrics, I found new meanings and associations attached to the massive journey of healing I’d been on so far, as opposed to how the songs felt to the person I was back then – it’s amazing how much strength you can gain. Joni Mitchell’s song ‘Both Sides Now’ was no longer a romantic declaration and song I sung with this person, but a song about perspective: “I look at love from both sides now, from up and down…”. These artists weren’t his. I imagined telling Paul McCartney what happened, and him chatting to me and understanding, sharing his own troubles through the lyrics “yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away”. Facing the things that hurt us is so brave. Every time you do something like this you are taking another step towards being yourself again and no matter how insignificant people may think listening to a song is, you yourself know that you worked very hard to get here.

I’m still not completely there myself. But I will be, and you can be too. For me, simply listening to The Beatles is an act of defiance, honestly you won’t feel the same forever. I know it’s a cliché but give it time, time can improve any situation, or at least change it. Music is for you and you are allowed to love again and let yourself be vulnerable again. Share the music you love with the people you love, let it fill you with joy as much as it breaks your heart, but most of all let it allow you to feel.

Yesterday I reclaimed my favourite song, ‘Something’ by George Harrison

“you’re asking me will my love grow? I don’t know…”


[Image credit: Jason Staten/flickr.com]

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