When I was fifteen, I went to Lourdes (religious site of a miracle, in France) with a group of children with a variety of disabilities. I was brought there by one of the best teachers I have ever had because of my depression, my tendency to self-harm, the fact that I had been in hospital and come out not-better. She realised what I needed to appreciate, some of the things that I needed to learn.
I learned so much. One girl had been beaten so badly by her mother as a child, that she had severe brain damage. She needed to be fed through a tube, she couldn’t talk, she would never walk. I learned gratitude, in a way I had never truly known before, being, as I was, completely self-absorbed. I realised how lucky I was in my own life but moreover, I learned about the differences between people as well as our innate similarities. I discovered in the other children the desire to love, to be loved, to connect and to lead the lives they felt they wanted to, or could. I also learned hope.
One of the helpers was an excellent guitar player. One day he played us a song that has forever stuck in my head because it was beautiful and haunting, and because of the one lyric I still recall: “release, come quickly”. I recognised myself in that line. I recognised the yearning I had for relief, release, to come as quickly as possible after the self-infliction of damage. Come quickly. I don’t think I will ever forget that line, nor think of it without that twinge of recognition, that memory of despair and the temporary release I found from it, in the only way that I knew how. Yes, I was selfish, I was self-absorbed and ungrateful. I was also in pain, and lost, and in desparate need for release from those feelings. That’s why the line resonated with me, why it still does, even now that I have learned new forms of release.
Throughout my life, that line has come up for me again and again. The release of a cut. The release of that first swallow from a bottle, that first popping of any given pill. The release found after days of not eating. Later, more positively, the release found in running, in the pain of a good session with weights, the release of telling my secrets to a counsellor I could trust, in a safe space. I would find whatever release I could grab and many times that lyric would come back to me and I would wish to hear that old song again.
I wonder if that man still plays that song. If he would even remember the song I meant if I could meet him again and repeat that lyric and hope. If he noticed the tears I swallowed back, hearing that song, a change from the grunge and pop rock that usually filled my ears. If he even knows how affecting that song truly was. I hope he occasionally takes out his guitar and plays it and sits back and feels satisfied with what he created. But I don’t even know if that was an original song.
Everyone needs their release from something. Pain, frustration, boredom, even. And many people find it in the ways that I did- in the dregs of a bottle, at the edge of a blade. Or running, feet pounding pavement, breath cold in the lungs. Or writing, the scratchy pen against paper. Or building a collage, or painting your pain in red ink. Positive, negative, I’d say it’s all relative. Who is anyone to judge anyone else’s release? We all crave it and in this busy world we all pray for it to come quickly. For that moment of freedom, however brief, to arrive as soon as it can.
I’m not ashamed of the ways I found mine, even if I feel twinges of regret, even if they are hard to explain, even if they seem unusual to some. How can I be ashamed for finding something I felt I needed at the time, and gripping on to it with both hands, clinging like a baby to a finger? Along the years I have learned that I shouldn’t, can’t, be ashamed of aching for something everyone sometimes craves. I can only be grateful that my methods have changed. I can only hope the best for the people using those old methods and feeling the shame and despair that I felt and still occasionally feel.
Release can be found in anything. In all of the things I described, and many more. In a million actions. In a range of non-actions. In writing.
In the echo of a memory of a song.