THE HEALING POWER OF MUSIC by Michael Skinner
“Music can heal the wounds which medicine cannot touch.” – Debasish Mridha
Music has a profound way of touching us in so many ways. For myself, the power of music has given me great joy, hope and healing. Music has been a lifesaver for me and that is not something I throw around lightly. I would like to share with you how it has affected my life in so many positive ways – I am forever grateful to have the gift of music in my life. Music continues to help me in healing from the effects of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, mild traumatic brain injury and serious back injuries due to abuse I have suffered.
I was born in Boston, Massachusetts and lived there and in Cambridge, MA till the age of six. My family then moved to the small town of Billerica just twenty miles outside of Boston. I was the oldest of five children, four boys and one girl. Our life was hard-my parents were cruel and abusive in just about every way one can imagine. They and several of their friends should have been arrested and thrown in jail for what they did to children–they were pedophiles. Sadly, they were never caught, so my siblings and I all paid a terrible price for that abuse-it would affect all of us for the rest of our lives.
Thankfully, there was music, and it gave this young boy the greatest of joys to just sit and listen to someone singing on the radio or on TV. My friend’s dad played the guitar and he would sing all of his favorite country and western songs and I would be mesmerized just watching and listening to him play. I thought how nice that would be if I could do this. Though it was a secret desire to play the guitar and sing, it was something I kept to myself due to my low self-esteem and reinforced by the ridicule I heard from both of my parents when they heard me singing along to a record or the radio. They would shush me and tell me how terrible I sounded. My father told me, “You sound like a castrated hyena.” So music wasn’t an option for me to consider learning how to do.
But then came this most magical moment that was to change my life forever. By the time I was six years old I knew I wanted to join the military so I could learn how to protect myself, my siblings and other children from people like my parents. That was all to change when just before my tenth birthday, “The Beatles” appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was awestruck with their performance and I immediately burst out in excitement, “I want learn to play the guitar and sing just like them!” That only brought more scorn and ridicule from my parents, so once again my hopes and aspirations were crushed.
Music still helped me to persevere-the simple act of listening to songs on the radio kept my mind off of other things that hurt. To this day I can still hear Petula Clark’s voice singing “Downtown” and how it helped me keep my sanity. And yet, that simple act of listening would also bring to me this great epiphany. While listening to songs I would be tapping along to them and could anticipate what a drummer would do next. Ah ha, this was it, I could be a drummer! And so I set about to teach myself how to play the drums, but this time I would not share this with my parents.
“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity.” – Billy Joel
A short article cannot share all of the power and the joy that music has given to me. But learning to drum gave me the opportunity to join the local rock band and perform at parties, dances, and win Battle of The Bands contests. By the time I was sixteen years old I was playing professionally in nightclubs, bars, functions, and outside concerts. It was my greatest joy to say I was a professional musician. I was able to tour Great Britain for two years [1976 & 1977] with a very successful hard rock band, “American Train.” I lived in Liverpool, England, the home of my heroes, “The Beatles.” I was able to perform in many of the same venues that The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, etc, performed in . Words cannot describe what that did for me. I also felt safe for the first time in my life-I had the Atlantic Ocean between me and my perpetrators. This allowed me the freedom to write songs and to start singing.
Back in Boston I continued to perform throughout New England and New York and soon went into the business side of music as a manager and talent agent. The business was successful and it helped me support my own family of a wife and five daughters. I still continued to perform on the weekends with a classic rock band, so life was good. I had it all but the past would soon come back to haunt me and I was laid low and lost everything due to PTSD and major depression because all of the suppressed memories and feelings from my childhood came back to devastate me.
I thought I had already known abuse as a child and teenager, now I learned first hand just how devastating the label of “mentally ill” would be. The stigma, discrimination and the shunning by family members and some friends in of itself was hard and crippling-but now, music only sounded like noise to me. This I could not understand, this only made the depression worse when I was unable to play the drums or listen to music. But music and healing has its way and soon those gifts were returning. I now decided I would learn to play the guitar, sing, and write songs. Once again I had to hear scorn and ridicule from so many about this dream of mine. My wife [soon to be ex-wife] made fun of this as did several mental health treatment providers I was seeing. They let me know that, “Michael you’ll always be mentally ill and unable to work again. Maybe you can volunteer in a library that has a music section someday.”
I am happy to say that I shrugged off their criticism and I did learn to play the guitar and sing. I have released three albums and I get to travel around the country sharing my songs of hope, love, loss, and joy to so many. By way of example, I share the painful parts of my life, but to let others know, to never give up on your dreams and goals–whatever they may be. Life is indeed hard for so many of us, but always follow your heart and your dreams. It is a journey and there are many bumps and obstacles along the way, but the simple act of trying is worth the taking.
“Music has the power to heal, transform and inspire and we have the power through deep listening to increase our intuition and self awareness.” – Andre Feriante
Live performances, interviews & more – https://www.youtube.com/user/mcstrain