“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” -Victor Hugo
Entering group each morning I am often drawn to music as a means to quickly connect the energy of the group and set a tone. Not only can it connect a room full of people but it can also move people beyond words helping to set the stage for the group and connect people more immediately to emotion. When entering treatment so many are shut-down to their emotional being and find it difficult, as well as scary, to enter the emotional realm. Even in a group, certain individuals can hide in the background, avoid focus, and check-out completely. Often times, this skill has been created in their life as a means to protect, especially in light of trauma, and therefore can be a tough barrier to move past and underneath, so to speak. Music helps us to quickly do so, because it sparks the neurotransmitters on the emotional side of our brain. Intellect does not stand a chance in the wake of this and what you find is a person captured in the moment and in their emotions for the first time, sometimes, in a long time.
Think for a moment about how music transports you back in time to events that you either long to remember or can’t soon forget. Now I know that everyone can recall such a song or a time in the past that has done just that. There is a long list of songs that invoke joy in me as I recall childhood dances, friends, and my first love. Who remembers what they were doing or where they were the first time they heard the classic “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey? There are also many songs and artists that reminds me implicitly of my father including; Sinatra’s greatest hits, Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”, Andrea Bocelli, and Damian Rice. For a long while, when any of these songs played, I was sent into a wave of emotions surrounding my grief and loss and missing my father dearly since his passing. Today I hear ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and I smile as I recall times with my father and appreciate that he is still with me today and always through my memories and in my heart. The way in which I respond has changed over time due to the work I have done to address my own grief. Music has been a strong proponent of this work as it has helped me to go into my emotion, sometimes even when I didn’t want to.
In residential treatment it is clear that one of the biggest challenges we give each individual is that of sitting in their own emotional discomfort. This can be discomfort around emotions that have been avoided for years or the emotional anguish experienced when letting go of drugs and alcohol. In light of such discomfort, at times music can also help to lift spirits and moods drastically. There are some current songs that invoke pure joy and light in the spirit, like Pharrell’s, “Happy”. I frequently use music in group not only to help connect but also to help regulate following an emotional release. Some have tried to run out the door, some have softly and quietly let tears fall and some have fallen to the ground and wept uncontrollably. Lastly, others have voiced that it was exactly what needed to happen to help them face that emotion that they had been afraid to touch and or struggled to access. The gift of music is one that can continue to give again and again making it a special avenue towards healing and wellness both physiologically and psychologically. What makes it even more special is that it provides a unique experience for each individual as no two people hear a single song and connect in exactly the same way. I leave you to ponder just that as you take a journey in response to reading the lyrics written and sung by Paul McCartney so many years ago. “I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”