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Finding Courage Through Music

Creativity, Healing, Mental Health, Story Series

Towards the end of 2015 and in my second year of studying an undergraduate degree in Art Theory and Music, I felt my life was improving dramatically compared to my first year where I grappled to adjust to the alien planet that was uni life.

This sense of overwhelm in first year was enhanced by my Asperger’s (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and I was gradually ascertaining how to succeed socially.

Originating from a very sheltered environment of an all-girls school, I felt my life was improving and exposing me to a variety of new experiences and cultures. As a viola player, I joined an orchestral organisation; the Sydney Youth Orchestra (2014-2017) which provided a place where, as a shy introvert, could emerge from my comfort bubble; meeting heaps of new people which consequently sparked my first romance. I also succeeded in gaining an internship with a museum organisation, in an industry I was aiming for. It is clear that I was naively optimistic at this point in my life and felt ready to tackle the world at large.  

The event of my parent’s separation in early 2016 dramatically changed the trajectory of my mental health and life circumstances in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I remember the night my mother left the family home and I was initially glad that she was able to escape her unhealthy relationship, but, what came next for me began to mirror the emotional blackmail suffered by my mother for a quarter of a century. 

At the beginning of 2017, about 6 months after failing two courses, I realised I needed to make a change as I was struggling to grapple with the mental exhaustion of toxic family relations. I’d lost motivation to continue with a full-time load and decided to study one subject to get my academic grades back on track.  Part of the loss of motivation was due to adjusting to a new retail job with a narcissistic boss and attempting to resist the negative voices circling around my head; voices mirroring the words of disapproval from my father for my own life choices. This encompassed my decision to have a relationship with my mother, which he made difficult by interrogating me with questions about ‘what she was doing’ and ‘who she was with’ for an affidavit; a legal document used in family court proceedings, in an attempt to plot against her. I realised after a year of emotional blackmail and escaping the family home that I’d lived in for most of my life, that my mother and I were no longer victims but survivors of financial abuse.

In mid-2017; about one year after my setbacks, my grades improved immensely as I gained the motivation to get my life back on track. Despite my circumstantial depression, I started healing from my old life, gradually easing myself from being an instrument of someone else’s power. I was taking small steps towards empowerment and with my new confidence, I started making new friends at uni through engaging with extra-curricular clubs and societies. I also joined a string quartet with a bunch of great people I’d met at the Sydney Youth Orchestra as a way to gain a healthier self-concept, after years of emotional abuse. I knew the power of music with its ability to foster healing from emotional trauma. I was adamant that I couldn’t give up on this creative pursuit. A year after in July 2018, with a close confidante of mine, I travelled to Nashville, Tennessee. On a night out, I seized the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play ‘Say it Aint So’ by Weezer on acoustic guitar …

which ignited a part of me that was dormant for so long, a sense of spontaneity and courage to be unapologetically myself. 

Receiving therapy for a year after discovering the personal ineffectiveness of anti-depressants, I was gradually starting to recover from past narcissistic abuse. After having these empowering life experiences, such as performing acoustic guitar in Nashville and finding a supportive group of people, I’ve never felt more empowered in my life.

Therapy has assisted me in feeling less guilty about negative feelings, after realising that you can’t help the disapproving voices from your childhood and adolescent environment.

I believe in the power of therapy to make a positive change – to re-train your brain to perceive thoughts as ephemeral and fleeting, and not; the truth.

I’m inspired to help others realise this; people who have suffered the inevitable internalisation of external voices. I want to remind people that you’re not defined by your past hurts and that the butterfly effect: how you commit to small actions today, determines the rest of your future. This is why I am now pursuing a Graduate Diploma in Counselling at the Australian College of Applied Psychology. So far, I’ve enjoyed learning about defence mechanisms relating to Freudian theory and, how we use these to protect our egos. I’ve realised that one of the healthiest defence mechanisms is humour and I am determined not to take life as seriously as I used to.  

The most important thing to me is nurturing relationships with family and friends and discerning potential relationships that do not give you energy or don’t feel mutually beneficial for either party. I’ve gained more self-confidence as a result of leaving my toxic family household and have become more self-aware about what I want in life. I’ve learnt that music is inherent to my wellbeing and I hope that I can incorporate this value into a potential career as a music therapist. I would like to remind anyone in a position of feeling stuck in a vicious cycle of domestic abuse; that freedom is a possibility.

You need to share your story with others and see another perspective, whether it’s a close friend, family member or therapist to realise that you don’t deserve to suffer in silence. It’s only through freedom that you can fully heal and become the authentic person you’re destined to be. 

Ashleigh Sarah

Ashleigh Sarah

Ashleigh is a wanderer, a multi-instrumentalist and counselling student at the Australian College of Applied Psychology. Her healing journey has led her to take small steps towards empowerment with new confidence. She has overcome narcissistic abuse and social anxiety while learning how to live a life with Asperger's. Ashleigh is inspired to help people realise that they’re not defined by their past trauma and that small actions today can determine the rest of your future.

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