Music has played an important role in my life, both as a player of it and a consumer. Like so many others, music heals me, soothes me, empowers me, and connects me with others. I decided to make a playlist of songs as a different way of expressing and sharing this journey. After each video, if you want to read what I have to say about it, you can click the “read more” button to expand my synopses. If you just want to listen, all you have to do is hit play. I have no idea if this post will be helpful for anyone else, but I will say that this was a cathartic project for me, so if nothing else I can recommend making your own playlist to tell a story of yours.
1. Crystal Ball by P!nk
On March 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm on Facebook I posted the lyrics, “I’m learning to be brave in my beautiful mistakes. I’ve felt that fire and I’ve been burned, but I wouldn’t trade the pain for what I’ve learned. Pennies in a well, a million dollars in the fountain of a hotel. Fortune teller that says maybe you will go to hell, but I’m not scared at all.” Less than 12 hours earlier, I was raped for the first time. Two people ‘liked’ it, both of whom have since deleted me on Facebook.
It’s hard to remember that day. It’s hard to remember a lot about this story. But the beauty of social media and timestamps are that they help me put together pieces of it that my memory cannot properly narrate. It helps me establish a contextualized timeline. So while I can’t remember my rapist even leaving my house or anything I did to fill those hours between when he did and when I posted this, I can see that around 4 pm that day I was commenting on a good friend’s status about the Disney Channel Original Movie “Minutemen”, and I can remember what this song used to mean to me, so I know why I posted this quote that day.
Because in that moment, I knew I was going to hell. I didn’t know how I was getting there or when, but I knew that no matter what else happened before I arrived, based on what had happened that day, I was condemned. I didn’t really believe in God – I definitely didn’t believe in hell, but I knew I was a sinner. I found this song inspiring to kind of just embrace the life I had left before I got there, to bravely face the mistakes I believed I was making, to walk under ladders on the way to hell because why not? I was already cursed. Might as well own the devil in me.
Back then I focused on ‘maybe you will go to hell, but I’m not scared at all‘ rather than ‘I wouldn’t trade the pain for what I’ve learned.’ That message is one I need to tell myself is true every single day now. I still don’t believe it. But I think I’m supposed to. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but if there’s any way to honor the very beginning of my demise, the commencement of me finally joining the rest of my loved ones in ignoring myself, it’s to listen to her now.
I think she would want me to feel that this pain was worth it for the lessons it’s brought to me, even if she didn’t believe it then, even though I don’t believe it now. So I tattooed it to my arm this year as a reminder; even though it’s hard, now I’ll never forget to try. When I look back at me that day, I see the final day where I could still be saved, but I was not. And listening to this song and getting that tattoo are the closest things I can think of to redeem that beautiful mistake I made that day – not the mistake I thought I made where I slept with a friend’s boyfriend; the mistake where I gave up on myself.
2. Get it Right by Glee Cast
“Hurt everyone else, now I feel the weight of the world is on my shoulders. What can you do when your good isn’t good enough and all that you touch tumbles down?”
I used to listen to and sing this song back then A LOT – I still do, actually. I felt such a special connection to it. Too special, I realized. While I do find the lyrics meaningful and beautiful and satisfying to belt, when I thought about it recently I wondered what it is about this song that makes it one of my favorites in the world, because in reality it’s not that good.
So I did what I do: I googled my way to an answer. This song was featured in Glee Season 2 Episode 16 titled “Original Song” which aired on March 15, 2011, a week and two days after my first rape, who knows where in the timeline from the second, or maybe it’s closer to the third or fourth or fifth – I’ll never know that, probably.
That episode featured, unsurprisingly, multiple songs that were not covers, for the first time in Glee history. Some of them are intentionally bad. I’m gonna say ‘Big Ass Heart’ and ‘Hell to the No’ are songs I genuinely enjoyed as amusing and non-emotional tracks. ‘Get it Right’ in all likelihood was the first ballad I heard for the first time post-rape, the first emotional song that my newly-traumatized ears got a listen to. So now I realize in a way, it’s the first new song I loved in life as I know it today. I think that’s why it means more to me than I could explain.
“Can I start again with my faith shaken? ‘Cause I can’t go back and undo this.”
3. Gravity by Sara Bareilles
“You loved me ’cause I’m fragile, when I thought that I was strong, but you touched me for a little while; all my fragile strength is gone.”
One of my oldest and most trusted friends in the world told me about this song in middle school, because at the time I was really into Sara Bareilles’ hit ‘Love Song,’ and she thought I’d like ‘Gravity.’ I remember her asking if I’d heard of it, and when I said no, she sang part of it. She has a soft, sweet, beautiful singing voice. I downloaded the song back then because I thought it was great, but whatever I used to think it meant escapes me now. All I know is, thank god she told me about this song, because it turned out to be one that meant much more to me. Though it reminds me of my rapist, it also reminds me of one of the kindest people I know. It makes me feel understood in my most confusing pain, yet it also makes me think of her, and that makes me genuinely happy.
“You’re neither friend nor foe though I can’t seem to let you go. The one thing that I still know is that you’re keeping me down.”
4. Believe in Me by Demi Lovato
“I wanna wake up feeling beautiful today and know that I’m okay.”
This song came out in 2008, and I would sing along to this album in the shower frequently during that time. I remember one day, presumably in 2011 when I was still singing it, all of the sudden I realized it was about an eating disorder – because now that I had one, I understood what the song was really about. I got out of the shower and googled ‘Demi Lovato eating disorder,’ and it turned out that just a few months prior – November of 2010 – it came out that she had entered treatment for emotional issues including bulimia nervosa.
This is the next song on the list because it represents the shift in my mind from what was going on with my rapist to my food issues. It shows how my brain capacity became devoted to a separate problem, one I had the illusion I could control, as a means of coping with the disorienting and profoundly difficult feelings that were being caused by my abuse which I felt helpless to stop. This song encapsulates much of what I can remember of my life between the ongoing abuse and my graduation of high school over a year later – eating disorder, eating disorder, eating disorder. It covers a vast portion of what should be vital time which is now nothing more than a foggy black hole in my memory.
“It’s amazing what you can hide just by putting on a smile.”
5. Last Hope by Paramore
“The salt in my wounds isn’t burning any more than it used to. It’s not that I don’t feel the pain, it’s just I’m not afraid of hurting anymore. And the blood in these veins isn’t pumping any less than it ever has, and that’s the hope I have, the only thing I know that’s keeping me alive. It’s just a spark, but it’s enough to keep me going. So if I let go of control now, I can be strong.”
My yoga teacher training in February of 2013 gave me escape. I distinctly remember that January feeling repulsed with my body and desperate for it to change immediately to the point of intense suicidal thoughts, but knowing in a month I would be somewhere new and better, I felt I could survive it. I ended up making one of my favorite pictures from that trip my Facebook profile picture with the quote above as the caption shortly after returning, and it stayed my profile picture for nearly a year. At the time, this song gave me hope life could get easier. My month in Hawaii doing yoga every day and being with humans and not running one time was a fleeting and challenging reminder that I did not need to be trapped forever in the isolating routines I had become enslaved by. Yoga was helping me forgive myself and begin to appreciate my body. I was healing in some meaningful ways.
Yet one of the first things I did when I returned was weigh myself. I remember exactly how much I weighed — and to my twisted thrill and astonishment, I had lost weight. It filled me with relief. Though I had come far from my rock bottom and had semblances of what seemed like endless hope, I had a very long way to go – I just didn’t know it, because what “normal” looked like was so distant I had forgotten, and “thriving” was beyond my wildest imagination.
“Every night I try my best to dream tomorrow makes it better, then I wake up to the cold reality that not a thing is changed.”
6. My Immortal by Evanescence
“These wounds won’t seem to heal. This pain is just too real. There’s just too much that time cannot erase.”
I don’t know when I discovered that this always beautiful song transported me to another realm deep in the heart of my pain, but I’m glad it did. Though agonizing, this song is one of the most cathartic for me to shout and scream and it makes me therapeutically feel the things I’m often scared to feel. It’s the anger for the pain that’s been inflicted. It’s the frustration, disappointment, desperation that I can’t seem to let it go. It’s the stupor of beginning to recognize that my rapist cannot be my friend and never was. It’s the vomit I feel inside me all the time in words so powerful the reminder of the nausea can subside for the few minutes this song plays.
So sometimes I put it on repeat and I blast it in my ears and I nod along to it and sometimes I even sing it out loud on the subway platform because I just cannot resist. Once I was listening to it over and over and over again at work, apparently very loudly, because after several plays of this I received an e-mail from a coworker who sat on the other side of the room from me saying, “We all love Evanescence,” and when I took out my headphones they laughed and told me they had been singing along. It was both embarrassing and very funny. I appreciated the reminder of the present moment, because this song is so spot on it can suck me right back into it, and sometimes I need a hand to get out of that.
“I’ve tried so hard to tell myself that you’re gone, but though you’re still with me, I’ve been alone all along.”
7. Praying by Kesha
“You said that I was done; well, you were wrong, and now the best is yet to come ’cause I can make it on my own. And I don’t need you. I found a strength I’ve never known.”
Back then, I used to google all kinds of things to try to find songs that really described how I felt. In case it’s not already clear, music is one of my primary coping mechanisms. So now I’ve realized I was googling all the wrong things, such as “songs about cheating,” and “songs about being the other woman,” and that’s part of why I wasn’t yielding results then. But even googling more accurate descriptors, “songs about rape” are few and far between, and “songs about betrayal” don’t seem to cover it.
After all these years, the song I had been waiting for finally appeared, only after I finally accepted why I felt what I did. I don’t think I need to say much more because it speaks for itself. All I will say is, I’ve listened to it enough to make up for the years I needed it.
“We both know all the truth I could tell.”
8. Fight Song by Rachel Platten
“This is my fight song, take back my life song, prove I’m all right song. My power’s turned on. Starting right now I’ll be strong.”
I loved this song when it came out in 2015, and it always did remind me of my rapist. Even before I knew to call him that, I knew (and was ashamed) that he had ruined me. This was one of the few songs that just empowered me to do better, to ‘prove I’m all right.’
Now, it is quite literally my fight song. When I was reporting him, as I’ve continued to pursue justice and spread awareness and tell my story, this song reminds me that I am my own best friend, my biggest advocate, and I have to keep fighting for me.
“I still believe in all of those things I didn’t say, wrecking balls inside my brain. I will scream them loud tonight. Can you hear my voice this time?”
9. She Used to Be Mine by Waitress Cast/Jessie Mueller
“You’re not what I asked for. If I’m honest I know I would give it all back for a chance to start over and rewrite an ending or two for that girl that I knew.”
The first time I heard this song was on Pandora, and having no idea it was from a musical, I literally scrambled for my computer to figure out what it was because it spoke to me intensely. In a way, similar to ‘Get it Right,’ I feel like this is the first song I really loved in this new version of my life, where I realize I was raped and have begun to understand, finally, all I went through.
A huge part of this chapter of my life is grief for what I’ve lost, including myself and a future I will never know. The lyrics to this song tell that emotional story I carry with me often in my heart these days, they are sung so emotionally, and they bring me great comfort. This song helps link this current version of myself with the version of myself from before, and that’s a connection I crave. This song makes me feel deeply grateful, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s gratitude towards my old self that I never gave myself back then, or if it’s simply towards the song itself for giving me something I need. In any event, it belongs in this story, and I think it belongs right here.
“It finally reminds her to fight just a little to bring back the fire in her eyes that’s been gone but used to be mine.”
10. Why by Rascal Flatts
“Now you’re gone and we cry ’cause it’s not like you to walk away in the middle of a song.”
This chapter of my life, as previously alluded to, triggers a lot of nostalgia that I think will take a long time to dissipate. This song is the quintessential oldie but a goodie for me. It’s somehow the only country song on the list, despite country being one of my favorite genres.
I don’t know how I got into country music, but it’s one of the first things I figured out about myself without any influence from my surroundings. My love of it feels very pure to me, so it’s something I treasure about myself.
This song in particular is about suicide, and though it’s awfully sad, it’s written from the perspective of a grieving friend. It shows the self-blame, the regret for not knowing and for not doing anything about it, the insatiable wish to understand. It has been both helpful and validating for me to remember that suicide is not some beautiful rescue. It torments those who cared for you. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the last thing I ever want to do is hurt others just for loving me.
“I do have one burning question: Who told you life wasn’t worth the fight? They were wrong. They lied.”
11. The War is Over by Kelly Clarkson
“I’m finally walking away ’cause you’ll only hurt me, and you’re not worthy. And I won’t let you pull me in because I know you’re gonna win, but the war is over.”
Kelly Clarkson has been one of my favorite artists since she won American Idol in 2002. Her song ‘Hear Me’ got me through middle school, and ‘Because of You’ got me through my parents’ divorce. ‘The War is Over’ is from her album Stronger which, I literally just googled and of course it came out in 2011. At the time, this was not one of the standout songs to me whatsoever. But maybe a year ago when I decided to make a playlist on my iPod of the music that really speaks to me now, the title stood out, so I gave it a re-listen and knew it was an important track.
It’s turned out recently to be unexpectedly meaningful. It reminds me that the years I spent looking for answers from my rapist himself was me continuing to believe there was some way to seek truth through a pathological liar. In that sense, I’ve discovered I cannot win against him, for I know he will go to any lengths to protect himself with no regard for reality. It is a difficult thing for me to accept this, because it requires that I stop believing in someone who I was addicted to believing in. It requires me to face truths that frighten me and to face them alone.
But in this acceptance I realize with the truth on my side, I am invincible to further pain from his lies and mistreatment. Though it was a much more pleasant thing to believe that he was not evil and depraved, knowing this protects me and gives me permission to be my own ally. Even though that makes someone I cared about for so long an enemy, the message I hear in this song gives me the courage to face him without susceptibility.
“This is not my surrender. I’m not running for cover. I’m right here. I know you see me. But your words no longer defeat me.”
12. One Song Glory by RENT Cast/Adam Pascal
“Like a sunset, one song to redeem this empty life. Time flies, and then no need to endure anymore, time dies.”
Another nostalgic pick, RENT is something I loved before I was old enough to understand it and have unwaiveringly adored as I grew up. I believe my desire to get tattoos stemmed as a way to control my body and make very certain it was not the same body my rapist had known, and my very first tattoo in 2012 was a RENT quote, “No day but today.”
Roger was always my favorite character, and if you’re unfamiliar with the musical [then you should watch it] he is a recovering drug addict who has had an abundance of hardship and loss and lives life very numbly. He sings ‘One Song Glory,’ and to me it’s about his struggle to feel anything again, to be inspired, to create the way he used to, at least just one more time to make all he’s endured mean something. His inability to let go of the past and his frustration at being unable to do something that he believes is important to him, like write a single song, is something I relate to now. Also, the next song is kind of my “one song to leave behind.”
13. Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken by P!nk
“My freedom is burning. This broken world keeps turning. I’ll never surrender. There’s nothing but a victory. There’s not enough rope to tie me down. There’s not enough tape to shut this mouth. The stones you throw can make me bleed, but I won’t stop until we’re free.”
It feels appropriate to start and end with a P!nk song. This song was released the day after my birthday this past year, which also happened to be Friday the 13th, which if I’m superstitious I always considered my lucky day. It took me a few listens before I realized that this was the song to summarize all I’m going through right now, in this current chapter of fighting for justice for myself and for future victims, this loneliness and desire that others will join me in the battle, this tenacious hope that this chapter of my life will truly end and in a way that I can live with.
“This is my rally cry. I know it’s hard. We have to try.”