Music as Medication for the Soul

I couldn't live without music. Each major event in my life has its own soundtrack; places in my heart and my memory can be instantly unlocked using the key of a particular song.

Part of my nature seems to be a need to find connection -- with people, music, literature -- and as such I tend to listen to music that reflects how I am feeling. During periods of melancholia I am likely to drown myself in the aching sadness of Damien Rice's 'Delicate' rather than manipulate my mood with Pulp's 'Disco 2000'.

To some this may seem, well, depressing. A sure way to make yourself feel worse, not better. But one of the things that I have learned in getting through the darkest of days is that it is necessary to acknowledge how you feel, to accept it and find ways to hold on through the turbulence, rather than resist, struggle against or deny what ultimately cannot be ran away from.

There is one artist that I have listened to more than any other in recent years, a gifted singer-songwriter whose lyrics have often spoken directly to the challenges faced on my own journey through this game we call life:

Conor Oberst, and his band Bright Eyes.

He has a truly beautiful way with words, married to melodies that soothe my soul. So indulge me while I reflect on the lyrics that have spoken to me and echoed my life in the months that I have been writing.

Breaking Up

"If you walk away, I'll walk away
First tell me which road you will take
I don't want to risk our paths crossing some day
So you walk that way, I'll walk this way"

(Landlocked Blues -- Bright Eyes -- I'm Wide Awake It's Morning)

In order to move on from a painful separation or divorce we need to give ourselves the time and space to accept the finality of the relationship's end, and to find a way to begin walking our own path towards an unknown destination. But of course it isn't that easy. With children involved these paths are forever intertwined, when hearts no longer are.

And so we have to find a way to walk parallel paths; to tend to our hurts and bitterness, our regrets and heartaches, so that we can adapt to this new and painful reality that we cannot walk away from. The path is rocky, my walk unsteady, but my children are happy.

Another twist to the tale is that since this song was written it is much more difficult to avoid 'our paths crossing someday' due to the advent of social media. Now we are far more likely to be faced with seeing our ex happily moving on and showing the world how happy she is with her upgrade. And, like sticking pins into a voodoo doll of ourselves, we can be our own worst enemy in finding the temptation to check their profile too much to resist.

"I keep looking back for artifacts
To prove that you were here"
(Artifact #1 -- Conor Oberst -- Upside Down Mountain)

These words perfectly capture the shock, disbelief and sense of loss that accompany the end of a marriage. As two decades of a life shared give way to an uncertain future; as the life and hopes that have been lost begin to recede into the distance; as each day widens the gulf between us, we can begin to wonder if there ever was an 'us'. And discovery of such artefacts only reinforces the fact that where once 'you were here' now there is only empty space.

One of the strongest blows to my bruised and battered heart came with the discovery of a particularly poignant artefact when sorting through a bin bag of items that I was moving from the family home: amongst the junk and clutter that I seem to attract was my place-card from my wedding.

Matthew Williams
Groom

"I don't think that I ever loved you more
Than when you turned away
When you slammed the door"
(Poison Oak -- Bright Eyes -- I'm Wide Awake It's Morning)

It seems to be part of the human condition that only when faced with losing something do we truly realise and appreciate what we had. In the immediate aftermath of loss our instinct is to find, but no amount of digging can unearth what is now buried.

"Putting on my shoesI just want to make a clean escape
I'm leaving but I don't know where to
I know I'm leaving but I don't know where to"
(Landlocked Blues -- Bright Eyes -- I'm Wide Awake It's Morning)

"I don't love you in that way." Words that nobody wants to hear; words that possess a scything quality quite beyond 'it's not you it's me'. When these words rattled through my numbed head my marriage was over. I had to escape.

I took a bag, packed a few things and I left. I left my home. My children. My wife.

My life.

The Dark Place

"I tried to tell him he had a sense of color and composition so magnificent.
And he said "Thank you, please but your flattery is truly not becoming me.
Your eyes are poor. You are blind.
You see, no beauty could have come from me.
I am a waste of breath, of space, of time."
(Waste of Paint -- Bright Eyes --
Lifted, or, the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground)

Believe it or not I consider myself to be a pretty positive person. I believe that challenges are opportunities to learn, that things will work themselves out, one way or another. Holding on to this when life does its best to throw you off course is the challenge, a challenge that I'd like to think I am meeting, on the whole.

But whilst the rational mind can counter the negative voice that lives in our heads, the volume and conviction of this voice reaches a terrible pitch when depression takes hold, causing the rational voice to retreat to a secluded corner of the mind, where it hides away, leaving the stage free for the demon within to command with its constant screed of bullying self-hatred.

It is truly shocking how every good that you have ever done, every positive quality that you have sought to cultivate, becomes tainted by this demon's voice and redefined as something selfish, meaningless, fake, worthless.

"But there are hundreds of ways
To get through the days
There are hundreds of ways
Now you just find one"

(Hundreds of Ways -- Conor Oberst -- Upside Down Mountain)

We have to find a way to silence this voice, to give our minds moments of peace, to find it the space needed to build up its reserves of strength. Just one snag -- everything that you ever enjoyed now seems a pointless waste of time. O. K.

Don't give up -- 'you just find one'.

Salvation can come in unusual guises; for best-selling author Marian Keyes it came in baking (which subsequently became a best-selling book -- good things often do come out of the darkest of times when we believe in our talents...).

For me it was a Playstation 3, bought for me by my then wife, that allowed my mind a few hours of freedom from its prison per evening. Thank you Lara Croft.

Letting Go
"Life can't compete
With memories
That never have to change"

(Artifact #1 -- Conor Oberst -- Upside Down Mountain)

Letting go is hard. In letting go of a loved one we have to accept that what we cherished, what helped to define us, what gave us a purpose greater than ourselves, has gone. And it isn't coming back. The brain is a very powerful thing and its capacity to bombard you with long forgotten images is quite startling. And peculiarly masochistic.

Maybe it's our way of trying to hold onto something that we don't want to accept is over? But accept it we must if we are to move on. There are few certainties in life but here is one: everything changes, always.

The more we fight for things to stay the same, to retain our comfortable certainties, the more we face a losing struggle against the inevitability of change. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to embrace change and to adapt to it.

Hopes for Meeting Someone New
"I know you say you'll go all the way
But that's not quite far enough
Someone told me that same thing
Someone told me that exact same thing once"
(Time Forgot -- Conor Oberst -- Upside Down Mountain)

Dating after divorce brings its own unique challenges and brings a new perspective to the dating game. It really could do with its own Saturday evening show; how about, 'Take Me -- And My Baggage -- Out'?
I hate the term 'baggage'. Commitments aren't baggage. Life experience isn't baggage. Children most certainly aren't baggage.

What is baggage, is carrying around our hurts so that they taint our perceptions of others, allowing our past to damage us in ways that prevent us from from recognising the opportunity to find happiness with somebody new.

It's natural to be wary, moving past divorce is a long and painful process and isn't one that I am in any hurry for a repeat dose of. But it hasn't stopped me from believing in marriage, from believing that I will meet someone that will make everything that has happened seem like perfect sense.

What if it doesn't work out? Well, truth is that most relationships don't -- sooner or later the vast majority will end. But that doesn't necessarily equate to failure, and it isn't something that needs to be taken personally.

The fact is that timing, circumstances, compatability, and, well, life, can all conspire to run love off the rails. None of us are immune to this; I guess we just need to make the most of what we have and appreciate it when we have it.

"This is the first day of my life
I'm glad I didn't die before I met you
But now I don't care I could go anywhere with you
And I'd probably be happy"
(First Day Of My Life -- Bright Eyes -- I'm Wide Awake It's Morning)

I'm just a big soft knacker really (ok, so this ending isn't exactly a Usual Suspect-esque revelation) but I think if we're honest with ourselves we all want to feel this really. And in a way I'm lucky -- I have the opportunity to find this.

Will I ever feel this way? Who knows, but I'm looking forward to finding out. I've been dating but so far I haven't been hit by the thunderbolt. But maybe that's not what I should be waiting for?" Perhaps instead it will come in the form of a gentle ray of sunshine that gradually warms the soul.

"With these things there's no telling
We'll just have to wait and see"
(First Day Of My Life -- Bright Eyes -- I'm Wide Awake It's Morning)