Marley and Music and Me: Why Music Keeps me Sane in Recovery

Music. It’s quietly paramount to recovery. When I experienced my first dose of heartbreak warfare, I remember lying in the fetal position at my parent’s house sobbing to the soothing sounds of John Mayer’s wailing guitar. The recording was of the very first time he’d played Covered in Rain in front of a live audience. Every chord struck a blow that let loose the flood gates holding my stormy emotions.

Intense, huh? But thank golly I had that song. Shit, thank god for John Mayer in general. That guy just knows what he’s doing, am I right? Even as a young kid, music always seemed like a safe way to put a finger on my pulse and to get connected to something that felt alive. Especially when I felt, well, dead.

Obviously in recovery, I work hard to stay present to my feelings. But prior to, I avoided them like the plague. Though if anything could get past my shiny shield of armour, it was a solid four chord song. If anything could coax a feeling that brought back some semblance of humanness to my rigid self-denial and self-loathing, it was the sound of music.

My mum used to play the Jesus Christ Superstar album from start to finish as she cooked dinner in the kitchen, and I dug it. It wasn’t just some tired religious re-telling of a white dude who was holier than thou (although in my beloved Australian version, John-Farnham-as-Jesus is about as white as it gets). It was the story of a guy who got pissed off when things didn’t go his way, and who got scared when shit got real. And I could relate to that, you know? It was music to my ears, and it was free.

John Farnham: As white as white boys get in the 1990s.
John Farnham: As white as white boys were allowed to be in 1990s Australia.

Having mental illness means I have a solid, working and demonstrable history of isolating from self and others to avoid the experience of perceived hurt, and music has helped to bridge that gap of alienation at some really crucial periods of my life.

So even though I feel the occasional pang of self-inflicted loneliness (much less now than ever before), I still have my music. I still have John Mayer’s soothing guitar solo in Covered in Rain. I still find comfort in Lauryn Hill’s live version of I Gotta Find Peace of Mind, where she cries on stage, or Miles Davis’s seemingly rushed rendition of My Favourite Things. Or Bob Marley’s powerful Iron Lion Zion.

They’re mine, these songs, and they aid me in my recovery when shit gets real and when I start to get pissed off because things aren’t going the way that I intended. So here’s to the cathartic therapy that is music. Without it, we’d all be a little crazier.

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