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HOW TO RELEASE TRAUMA WITH YOUR OWN PERSONAL PLAYLIST


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am only an expert in my life, my past, my own healing journey, and accountable for my own taste in music.


Before I was able to pick and choose my own music, my exposure had mostly been Top 40 hits on the radio. Casey Kasem introducing the likes of Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, and Hall & Oates. My parents’ taste, which I inherited through osmosis, were artists like Billy Joel, Carole King, Bob Seger, and Pink Floyd. Some of these albums were played over and over, forming tiny little grooves in my brain, much like the vinyl that they’d been pressed into, and while I liked them, I didn’t really appreciate them on a deeper level until later in life.


Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, however, there seemed to be an explosion of new music happening all around me. Rap, Gangster Rap, Hip-Hop, Grunge, Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Rap/Metal hybrids, and Alternative Rock. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but this was simply an ongoing expansion — growth from an evolution that had been marching on for decades. What I DID know was that I wanted to try ALL of it, like a sponge wiping the down the trays at some kind of musical buffet. Some of what I tried stuck and some of it didn’t. I could go on and on, sorting through my favorite bands from this insane era of music, and I will touch on it slightly, (a bit later), but I’m going to focus primarily on a band that was new to me around this time, who I became a big fan of and then promptly lost all interest in — METALLICA.


If I’m being honest, this is probably the last place I would have thought to look for some type of internal healing, or as a way of understanding myself better. Metallica was in and out of my life relatively quickly. But, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t dictate your past or where these connections get made internally. Otherwise, this would be a dissertation on Peter Gabriel. No, the best we can do is invest the time, effort and love it takes to track these connections down, feel into them, and get curious about what it all means.


MY HEAVY METAL PHASE



Like many people, the first Metallica song I’d ever heard was “One”, from their album …And Justice For All, which is frankly, an astonishing metal album and one of their finest achievements. Watching the video for “One” on MTV blew me away and filled me with curiosity the movie and Trumbo’s book, Johnny Got His Gun. Incorporating those clips was as much of a revelation to me as a double-bass kick pedal. My little brain couldn’t understand and why EVERY song wasn’t using one.


I picked up that cassette, followed by Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and later, Kill ’Em All. The guitar was the fastest I’d ever heard. The drums were ripping. The vocals were . . . mostly intelligible? To that point, the heaviest things I had listened to were probably Alice In Chains, Skid Row and Motley Crue. With the exception of AIC, it was a lot of what is now considered Hair Metal or Glam Metal, and while I still have a soft spot for some of the hits from those days, I pushed most of those albums aside when Metallica entered the picture.


Not long after I’d discovered them, they released their self-titled effort, best known as “The Black Album”. The cover was SO dark, you could hardly read the band’s name, and when you’re thirteen years old, that’s about as metal as it gets. They didn’t even need to advertise who they were! I mean, yeah, it’s written plainly on the side of the tape, but you get the point.


(Insert air guitar here.)


The sheer number of hits from this album is mind-boggling. “Enter Sandman”, “Sad But True”, “The Unforgiven”, “Wherever I May Roam”, “Through the Never”, and “Nothing Else Matters”? It was their biggest record on every level and one of those rare moments when a album just overtakes the world for a little while. Metallica had introduced melody into their metal, and you could hardly turn on the radio or MTV without hearing them. Ultimately, for me, this is what signaled the end.


Much like AC/DC before them, it eventually got to the point where hearing “Enter Sandman” meant instantly turning the station. 


It was around this time that bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana had infused some kind of angst that matched my own changing energy and I started drifting in that direction. Then bands like Tool, Melvins, Rage Against the Machine, Kyuss, and Deftones grabbed my attention and everything went off the rails. Bands like Pantera and Sepultura were playing faster and heavier, but even that was starting to lose its luster as my tastes shifted to music that made me think and “feel stuff”, as I’m sure my fifteen-year-old self would have put it.


WHERE DID ALL OF THIS TRAUMA COME FROM?


By that point, I’d been writing stacks of poetry. (See my book, “A Lit Wick” for more on this.) What makes a young man write bad poetry, you might ask? What pushes someone to pour out all of their anger, sadness and grief onto an empty page? Well, I’ll tell you — it’s a combination of having nowhere to turn and receiving encouragement for writing at an early age, and maybe just a hint of daydreaming about singing in a rock band. (Which, I eventually did.)


Fast-forward twenty-five years, where I am not only having serious issues with my love life, work life and mental health, but my mother has just passed away, followed, not long after, by a global pandemic. I was riddled with anxiety and doing everything I could to simply feel normal again. When talk therapy plateaued, I kicked things into high-gear, moving into one-on-one coaching and EMDR sessions.


I had no idea at that time, but these decisions and the work that followed, would completely change my life.


EMDR, in case you’re not aware, is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming. Essentially, using audio or visual cues, with the help of a therapist, to uncover memories and heal traumatic events. My experience was audio-based and included a set of headphones and a binaural metronome sound that created a 3D effect, bouncing back and forth through my ears. This process allows past trauma that’s been stuck in the “low brain”, (this is where a lot of our repeated behavior patterns are formed), to come forward, so that my high brain could reprocess it, heal it, and eventually start to let it go.


You may be seeing where all of this is leading.


If you’d asked me ten years ago, how my childhood was, I would have said, “Fine, I guess. We moved a lot, so I was always the new kid and never had any really long-term friendships, but I never wanted for anything. I didn’t always get along with my mom, but she took care of me and worked hard to make sure there was food on the table.”


If you asked me now, after years of therapy, reading, understanding, coping and healing, I would say, “It was tough. My mom did her best, but struggled with a bipolar disorder that made her emotionally chaotic, which left me feeling unbalanced and seeking that same chaos in my romantic relationships later in life as an attempt to heal those parts of me.”


The reality is that she was supportive in some cases and abusive in others. Telling people how proud she was of me, then telling me I was worthless. I was manipulated at every turn, over-protected in some moments and abandoned in others.


This is a big part of the reason that, for most of my life, I struggled with self-worth to the level that I rarely wanted to be alive and thought regularly about suicide. The chaos was literally tearing me apart, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. So, days turned to weeks, which turned to months, pouring my soul out onto paper in those early teen years, writing poetry that got stuffed into folders.


This is not only how I honed my writing craft, but how I became an expert at escaping into my imagination to create new realities where I was in control.


I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself, where to go from where I was, or how to feel safe and healthy. A quick look at the recurring themes in my novels and graphic novels, (please support this, btw, so I can keep writing), are death, absentee fathers and mothers who can’t be trusted.


You do the math.


The nice thing about the work I’ve done to uncover all of this, is the evolution that’s happened as I was able to heal and begin the process of letting it go. Now I’m in the driver’s seat and capable of choosing where to dig deeper to uncover more, rather than reacting to powerful emotions that I couldn’t fully understand. 


By association, the characters in my stories, which my brain created without prompting in order to heal my past wounds, have started to evolve as well.


Let’s be clear — you cannot escape yourself or your programming without the intention to do so, but once you start down that road, you’ll quickly realize how much of your life was either pushed on you or molded for you by grief, guilt, observational learning, or some other form of manipulation.


I HAVE A MUSICAL MEMORY



I’m pretty big on nostalgia these days. One of the things I love most about my healing has been uncovering things from my childhood that I had forgotten about. Cartoons, toys, old commercials, 8-bit video games — anything to bring back those simpler times and relive them in a healthy way, after spending most of my younger years in survival mode.


There’s a joy that was missed the first time around that I get to re-experience, but when I got to returning to those old tapes and CDs, something a little different happened. I was having strong emotional reactions to certain songs.


After spending over a decade writing and recording my own music, and going back years later to revisit those songs, I learned one of my biggest life lessons — MUSIC IS THE SUBCONSCIOUS ANCHOR TO MY MEMORY.


When I listened to the songs I had written with my closest friends, I didn’t just remember the words, (in fact, I often forgot them), I had almost total recall to those moments — where I was and how I felt when we wrote them, the recording process, and even touring around. I remembered what was going on in my life, in my heart, and in my head. The songs themselves were like an EMOTIONAL TIME MACHINE.


Consider the fact that musicians or singers, in the process of creating a song, listen to that song thousands of times. Little changes here, an adjustment there, rewriting a lyric until it feels just right, then performing, recording, etc. It makes perfect sense that all of that repetition would catapult someone back into those old feelings, even when listening to something you haven’t heard in twenty years. It’s like an imprint on the brain.


Now consider that your mind does this ALL the time.


What if you got dumped and were heartbroken, listening to Adele all summer? You think your brain didn’t store those feelings and memories in a convenient little Adele-shaped package for you to find and unravel later?


Now consider again, just how many months Metallica was everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. If hard rock or metal was your jam, it was a big part of the soundtrack of 1991–1992. And remember, I never even bought another of their records after The Black Album. They had dropped off my radar completely.


METALLICA & MUSIC THERAPY



Fast forward to my forties. My uncle had passed away and I was clearing out his basement when I found a cassette single that included, surprise-surprise, “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters”. I thought, “Oh, man, I haven’t listened to that in years. I remember how burnt out I got on it, but I should see if I can stream it somewhere.”


(Hint — You can.)


So, I’m driving around, doing some errands, jamming this record, (which truly holds up when you’ve taken roughly thirty years off from it), and then “The Unforgiven” comes on. My body froze up a bit and I started to have an emotional response, even though I didn’t understand why.


My mind was occupied with my errands at the time, so I chalked it up to nostalgia and let it pass, enjoying the song before moving on to the next. I didn’t think much more about it, to be honest, but over the next few days, I kept waking up with “The Unforgiven” in my head.

I had only listened to it once, so why was it back and why was it so unrelenting? Why not “Through the Never”? (Which is a real banger, by the way.)


This is where years of therapy and healing and self-love really start to shine. I’m at a place now that when things like this come up, I don’t just dismiss them or push them back down . . . I get curious and pull them in for a closer look.


I sat down after my morning meditation, put my headphones on and pressed play. I closed my eyes, thinking, “Isn’t this a Clint Eastwood movie? Is the song based on that?”, and before I could answer, I was already tearing up. I cried through the first listen and went back for more with the lyrics open, which is where things really started to click.


Through constant pained disgrace

The young boy learns their rules

With time the child draws in

This whipping boy done wrong

Deprived of all his thoughts

The young man struggles on

A vow unto his own

That never from this day

His will they’ll take away


I was instantly transported to those young teenage years — a time in my life where I had never felt more hopeless and helpless with my circumstances and, at the same time, so angry and scared. It was a time where the only thing I could do was lock myself in my room and pour my heart out onto paper with the hope that someone would find it one day and have some kind of understanding as to who I was.


My conscious brain may have remembered that I had those old folders full of poetry, but the emotions that were connected to those days were locked far away, still hurting, and buried under years of distractions. I’d done my best work to avoid those feelings, rather than uncover those raw moments of my life and show that younger version of myself the compassion he needed.


Let’s take a look at the chorus of “The Unforgiven”.


What I’ve felt, what I’ve known

Never shined through in what I’ve shown


Here’s a man who either never believed he was worthy to share his feelings, or had no one who cared enough to listen. His thoughts and emotions were stuffed inside of what we can only assume was a hardened exterior.


Sound familiar? Like me and almost every teenager I grew up with?


Never free, never me

So I dub thee unforgiven


Rather than working through this, the man in the song has decided to bury his feelings and hold them against everyone in his life that had hurt him. He’s become so bitter that he is unable to overcome himself, likely because he was never shown how, (by loving himself).


You labelled me, I’ll label you


Now look, I don’t know James Hetfield, but I know that Metallica covered “Turn the Page” by Bob Seger — a song in which he discusses being looked down upon because he had long hair and stood out from what was deemed “normal” society. (It was a different time.) And I can bet, based on my own experiences and those of my long-haired, metal-loving friends, that he was looked down upon, too.


Quick Sidebar — Labelling doesn’t help anyone and most of us have been on the receiving end of it. What can be dangerous is that sometimes, when you expect the worst from kids, they show you exactly what their worst looks like just to make sure you got a real taste of it.

Unfortunately, teenagers don’t think too far ahead when it comes the repercussions of their actions, or considering how labels can stay with them, carrying over into a persona that sticks well into their adult life. Especially when there’s no one watching out for them at home, or no one who cares enough to help them sort through these complicated feelings.


And we can’t all write a multi-platinum (16x) record about our experiences. Believe me, I’ve tried.


GETTING TO THE POINT


The point here is this — it’s hard to know exactly where healing lies for each of us, and it likely depends on where your focus was growing up, but it WILL find you. It’s likely staring you in the face every day, and if you’re paying attention, you can do some real good by uncovering it.

I turned to music when I was hurting, maybe more than some, but I still think of this as a universal thing. We dictate the soundtracks of our lives and I believe we owe it to ourselves to make sure that we didn’t leave anything playing ON REPEAT IN OUR HEARTS.


Since this discovery, I’ve dug deeper with some astounding results, and always come away feeling lighter. Freeing those little stuck pieces of ourselves may seem inconsequential, but they quickly add up to living a healthier life, free of the old burdens that got stuck along the way.


Keep in mind that healing and doing this type of work is hard. It takes practice, patience and dedication. There’s a lot of trial and error involved and scenarios where you take two steps forward, only to take five steps back. It’s not a mountain you climb with a summit that you reach. The path is constantly changing and evolving along with you. I still have much more to explore.


Part of the joy for me, is in the timing of when and how these little synchronicities pop up to find us and help set us free. I highly suggest revisiting some of the albums from your past. Check out your mother’s music, your father’s music, and stuff you shared with brothers and sisters or friends in high school and college. Pay close attention to the feelings, memories and energy that they bring to the surface. Dive down a little deeper on the specific songs that trigger reactions and listen to them again while reading the lyrics to see if it leads anywhere.

You might just uncover some hidden trauma and release it, freeing up a little piece of your heart and making some wiggle room for you to love yourself deeper, or even gain a new perspective on a past situation. Or maybe you’ll let go of some pain that has been stuffed down for so long, you forgot it was there in the first place.


With some additional work, (have your therapist on stand-by), you can remove those old blockages and rewire some of that old programming on the way to becoming the best version of yourself.


And at worst, you’ll spend a little time wandering through your past, feeling and remembering who you were, so that you can see how far you’ve come and be proud of who you are — with or without Metallica.


🖤


I hope this resonated with you and helps you along your own healing journey. Have you tried this for yourself? What songs or lyrics helped you uncover a lost memory or let go of past grief? Please share your comments below for others to learn from and discuss.


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