Trauma and Music Therapy: Let the Healing Begin | Karla Hawley | TEDxSnoIsleLibraries

Trauma and Music Therapy:  Let the Healing Begin | Karla Hawley | TEDxSnoIsleLibraries

Translator: Geoff Jensen
Reviewer: Vui Nguyen I am alive now! (Laughing) And, I am thriving. While lying awake
after my nightmares had passed, I was startled to hear music playing. I did not know that anybody in my home
knew how to play the piano except me. Lessons for me began
when I was about 6 years old. And by this time, I had less than
a year’s lessons in my fingers. But music was playing. And I had to find out. So careful not to make a sound,
I left my bed and I crept to the boundary of my bedroom door
and I peeked around the corner and down into the living room. And I saw my mother. She was playing a song. Well I felt dumbstruck. Why didn’t I know? An answer to that question,
the all too familiar belief and its matching feeling,
began to surface. I am unworthy to her. And what was worse was
the feeling of being unloved. I was almost seven years old
and I had never witnessed my mother playing until now. As the song continued,
her image at the piano began to fade. And the spell of that music
was drawing me in. That melody rocked me back and forth. And in that moment
there was just me and the music. With every note played, I melted. And I melted into a very unfamiliar place. And it felt warm and safe. I was being transformed from despair into feeling alive for the first time. My feelings are real. As the song continued, I imagined angel-like voices emerging from the music, whispering and singing to me,
“Karla, you are loved “and you’re going to be okay.” Suddenly, there was silence,
the absence of music. And the quiet of the house
brought me back. The song was over. It was late;
it was past my bedtime and I carefully crawled back to bed. The worst of my nightmares began
on the night that I had to be brave. There was no one to tell
and there was no one to ask for help, knowing and believing that if I did — if I did, my family would fall apart. And what would be worse
would be finding out the truth that my mother hated me. So it was up to me to make him stop. Standing at the bottom of my bed,
my stepfather asked me if I wanted to watch
the 9:00 movie with him in his bed. Well my heart sank. And the fear in my stomach jumped. Now was the moment for me to be brave. And with all my strength I said,
“No, it’s late; “it’s past my bedtime;
I am growing; I need my rest” — all the things
that I had been told as a child why I had to go to bed and stay there. “That’s okay,” he said. “It’ll be alright.” And he picked me up
and he began to carry me away. Well that was it for me. I was desperate. I was well into my seventh year
of life and he had been abusing me for over a year. And I just couldn’t do
what he wanted anymore. So I yelled, “No!” And I slapped him across the face
as hard as I could, demanding, “You put me down! “You put me down now! “What you are doing is wrong
and you know it! “Leave me alone.” “Don’t touch me again.” I was thrown across the room. And he stormed out. Shaking,
I realized he’s going to come back. I admonished myself saying,
“Karla, what have you done? “You know what a bad temper he has. “He’s gonna come back here
and he’s gonna kill you.” And sure enough he returned,
asking the same question. And my useless resistance was met
with his immense strength and will to have his needs met. Unable to speak,
I heard this clear and strong voice in my head resounding. And I heard,
“I will say no to you.” “Even though you can’t hear me now, “you may hurt my body
but you cannot hurt me. “I will say no to you,
and the day I don’t “is the day you have killed me.” There was a glimmer of hope. But the abuse continued. I’m not sure when I went looking
for that song that my mother played or how old I was. I might have been 8 years old. But by then, my desperation had turned
into hopeless despair. All I had was the memory of that song, how I felt. I was alive once. And I needed that song
now more than ever. And I found it. It was lying askew
inside the piano bench. So sitting at the piano,
staring up at all those notes with only about two years
of lessons in my fingers — all 3 pages — (exhales) The first page held giant chords
that were too big for my small hands. But the second page held promise. The notes were lower down on the staff
and they were closer together and I instantly recognized them. Yes, I was so excited. There I was staring
at the four magical measures that held my life, my worthiness. Upon first playing, there was nothing. No angel voices whispering and singing
to me of love and worthiness. But I wasn’t discouraged. I knew that it took time
to master a piece of music. And I thought, I will learn this song. I will play it perfectly. And I’m going to be okay. By the time I had turned ten years old,
my thoughts of suicide had turned into feeble attempts. I had learned that song. And I could play it perfectly,
note per note, per measure, per measure. It was perfectly executed. And never was there a whisper
from an angel. There was nothing. So late one night, I became aware
of a voice speaking to me. It was this very tender but reassuring and confident voice. And this is what I heard: “This will soon be over. “And the lesson of what you are learning,
the gift of what you are learning now, “will be given through your children.” Yes! Okay, great. How do I get there? How do I learn to conjure up those feelings of aliveness,
of worthiness? A question came to me next time sitting at the piano. What if I play how I’m feeling? Forget trying to play the song right. What if I played the song
how I am feeling? Well I chose anger. And I pounded on those keys,
soon to be reprimanded by my mother for playing inappropriately. Choosing sadness next had more success. Sadness was successful
because it was quieter. And I soon realized that it was safer. No one can hear what I’m feeling. I could play what I felt now
without consequences. And when I realized that,
I tried everything that I could think of. And every time my playing would match
closer to how I was feeling. I discovered how to touch the keys
of the piano in just the right way, as if to transfer my sadness
into the piano. And out would come my feelings in the form of beautiful music. Desperation and despair began to fade. Dreams of not wanting to be alive
began to fall by the wayside. My song had saved me. I could now be alive and safely express myself
within the music. So suicide was no longer the only option. Playing the song how I felt was the best option. And this is what it sounded like to me. I’ll play those four magical measures
for you two times. It’s kind of tattered. (Laughter) (Music) (End of music) By the time I was 19, my “no’s” and resistance came to an end. He stopped. I told my story and I asked for help. My family disintegrated. And my mother,
she disowned me saying, “I wash my hands of you.” But I still have this song. Mine is a terrible and tragic story, one that I share and have in common
with many of today’s children and adult survivors
of yesterday’s abuses. And for you,
it has been difficult to hear. For me, it’s been challenging to share. Yet, here I am. I am alive. And I am brilliantly thriving. Yes! (Applause) Thank you. So I ask the question, “Why?” Why am I alive? Why am I thriving when so many people with similar stories
are not alive and barely surviving? What is it that made the
difference for me? Today as a music therapist,
I understand why — why that meaningful engagement
in this song, in my music to feel alive,
made the difference. And this is how it works. When we are the ones
that are making the music, we can at any given moment make
strategic changes to how we are playing
to match what it is that we need, to give us that what we need and target the heart
of our pain and our trauma. Because trauma blocks our ability to think
and understand what is happening to us, it drastically diminishes our ability
to be in our lives in a meaningful way. So when music is applied
with intentional strategy it can restore our ability to be back in our lives with meaning,
to understand your pain and to understand your trauma story. And that is the difference. This is what gives us the strength
and the control that we need to move forward in our lives and leave our pain behind. Making sense of my pain with my music has given me the strength
to be here with you today. My pain is no longer
a measure of my worthlessness. It is now a measure of my humanness. And I know that we don’t have to endure
lifelong suffering. I know because I am alive and I am thriving. And my song saved me. May music be with you always. Thank you. (Applause)

16 Replies to “Trauma and Music Therapy: Let the Healing Begin | Karla Hawley | TEDxSnoIsleLibraries”

  1. This has brought so much understanding to my drive and need for certain songs to be played over and over again when my anxiety is at it's most unbearable. When I put on those songs reality, the world, and my anxiety disappear. I feel strong emotion but it is empowering relief and release. Until now I had no insight to why I obsessively listen to the same songs over and over, only that it helped sooth me. Thank you Karla for sharing.

  2. Thank you for sharing! I'm grateful to be able to hear your story. I can relate to so much of how your own trauma history unfolded. Started music therapy today, and am hopeful and optimistic.

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