Music has always been a way for me to cope with the instability that comes with waking up in the morning and choosing to leave my bed. My routine each night always involves blasting music at full volume, laying on my bed and staring at the small holes and bumps in the ceiling that are barely noticeable with the lights dimmed. I place my phone on the dresser next to me, lay flat on my back with a pillow covering my face and enter a trance as the Red Hot Chili Peppers escort me into dreams.
Taking into account the amount of headphones and AirPods I see on campus every single day, I think that I’m not overstepping by claiming that music plays a pretty crucial role in all of our lives. I’ve been repeatedly told that music isn’t just a way to distract ourselves from the mundane, but can also be a catalyst for growth after something traumatic or painful is experienced. Music has been known for generations and generations to have a beautiful healing effect on those that are physically or emotionally hurting. Until recently, I had not personally experienced the transformative effects of playing music. But, like many people around the world each day, I went through an experience that shattered my entire world, and playing music has helped me to slowly start using the shards to build a new one.
Traditionally, we are told that the five stages of grief go something like — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When something traumatic occurs, like a loss of someone that has shaped who you are, or a loved one walking out of your life, it is completely understandable that our hearts tell us to contest the memory of each step in the play-by-play occurrence of the loss. Anger toward the world or the person who you think wronged you also undeniably comes about and can often be redirected at ourselves. You might be so angry at yourself that you lose sight of all the ways that you can love or continue to be loved. This self-hatred leads to deep sadness, feelings of loneliness and we begin to try to act in particularly uncomfortable ways that we think will make us feel whole again. For me, learning to play the guitar has reshaped the final stage of grief — acceptance.
Acceptance that something tragic occurred in your life can be extremely hard to come to terms with. However, you never need to force yourself into believing that what happened to you was meant to happen, or that it was entirely your fault or that you should have done something different. Accepting what happened in the past is simply a realization that something really awful happened to you, and that your life has changed because of it. When I pick up my guitar after a long day of classes and clumsily try to learn a song or two, I can enter a place of comfort where I am able to face the reality of the situation without blaming myself. Music places you in a state where your heart is already placed out of your body and sits in your instrument, so that you don’t need to spend time digging and scratching and bruising yourself to locate your regrets and mistakes.
Playing music makes me cry. Listening to songs on my favorite movie soundtracks, or placing a new vinyl record in my record player or watching a movie with songs that make me think about my life in reflective ways makes me cry. But, as I’m sure many people have told you before, this vulnerability is a state of strength and resilience. So, to anybody in a hopeless situation, or to anyone who has experienced loss and is trapped in a state of regret, I strongly recommend picking up an instrument and playing, and then crying and then crying some more.
Sean Reichbach is a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law.