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Your Music Saved Me: Lifelines.

I have always had a healthy love of instruments. If we're being honest, some might say obsession. I've played piano since I was a kid, and along the way I picked up other instruments too. Always with the intent to learn but sometimes I just gave them a home. Harmonicas, drums, various flutes, expensive kazoos, jaw harp, Greek Lyre, stacks of old and rusted clarinets and trumpets, etc., if homeless instruments were cats, I'm the equivalent of that cat island in Japan that's overrun. If someone asks me to pass the salt, I say sure, but first I need to move the kalimba and rain stick out of the way.

Okay, it's not that bad, but it's obnoxious.

One of the few things I love more than playing sports is playing music. Much like playing sports, playing music is a beautiful dance of your brain speaking in a new language of logic and fantasy with your muscle memory then translating that language into something your heart can make sense of.

I love it for other reasons too.

Growing up in violence, suffocated by fear and having been robbed of my body by C-PTSD, I struggle with feeling like a hypervigilant hostage to my own traumatized brain. I hear things that aren't there. My resting heart rate won't fall below 100. I can't deep sleep. In the dark, I feel both protected and unseen but also vulnerable. Loud noises and surprises can send me into a mental freefall. And I know that it's an overreaction. I KNOW that I don't have to fight for survival anymore. I KNOW I'm not that kid hiding in the closet teaching myself to breathe shallow so that I can be as invisible as possible. I KNOW that I don't have to pretend to sleep as a last resort hoping to deter my abusers. Logically, I know that I'm a grown up now, and that I am safe. But my brain doesn't know that.

My nervous system doesn't know that.

All my body knows is that peace is a lie, and feeling safe gets you punished.

This is all it knows except when I cook, play sports, or play music.

Playing music gives me an escape from the cage of my C-PTSD. It combines my passion for learning new things and the opportunity to temporarily rewire my nervous system away from fear. When I lose myself in music, I am no longer a physical museum of past traumas. I am someone else. I am the person I was supposed to be who was loved and nurtured. I am not a hostage. I am free.

The past few years have been a time of great transformation for me. It hasn't always been positive transformation, but for the most part, I try to keep moving forward even if I do tend to spectacularly fall into Mario sewers, Pitfall quicksand and Indiana Jones crocodile traps once in awhile.

One of the shifts I have made was to start making a concentrated effort towards my Bucket List, which I lovingly refer to as the "Fuck It List." (A blog post for another time.) And on that list is all the attainable dreams of Kiley little and old. Little Kiley's dreams are especially fun. She delights in simple things and simple joys.

Eat the biggest microwave marshmallow I can? Done.

Ride a grocery cart across the entire parking lot? Done.

Learn electric guitar and be a major rock star? Kind of done...

I finally gave in to my inner child and traded in my career as a professional air guitarist for being a real one. I looked for months for the perfect guitar. (Her name is Christine, and she's on fire when she's alive.) I found a formal teacher. (I already know he's rad, because he is my friend first!) I bought chord books and started learning from teachers on YouTube. I spend time noodling and exploring until I find the chords that are in the songs I love the most. It's pretty fucking magical when after an hour of trying to get it, you finally land a little piece of a metal song you've loved all your life. It's like entering into a secret room and Bruce Willis as alter ego Bruno is saying, "Welcome to the Party, Pal."

I do this thing where I turn on my amp really loud (but not to 11), and I stream a music video to the song I've learned to play. I may only be able to play one chord or a few notes, but it doesn't matter. When it's my turn, I'm there. I'm part of the band.

It's me almost stealing Freddie Mercury's thunder, and he's winking at me.

It's me fighting fascists with Serj from System of a Down, as I scream along to "Prison Song." It's me dressed head to toe in Euro goth costume on stage with Powerwolf proudly howling "We Drink Your Blood."

And it's me, suddenly realizing that I am singing with my whole chest and crying as I strum a few notes, "Dear Prudence, Won't you come out to play?... The sun is up, the sky is blue. It's beautiful, and so are you."

And when I'm not playing, which is frankly 99% of the song, my lifetime career of air guitar gets to shine. But I'm still there in that moment with them. With the version of me, I always knew was there. This is Kiley as I dreamed she could be. This is Kiley, free.

My life from the outside looking in appears very small to most. On paper, quantified by material things, I don't have a lot, but I have more than enough. And if I were to tell you about the constant misfortune and stress that's befallen my family, you'd think I was exaggerating more than anime. I'm quiet with strangers unless you seem like you need a friend. I don't socialize beyond phone calls, emails, texting, creative projects, and pen pals. I'm timid, because my body is constantly in fear. And, I can disappear in plain sight better than Waldo.

But the people closest to me know that it's not the whole story. The Kiley that is free is resilient. She is vivacious. She is relentlessly hopeful. She is whimsical. She is pure nonsense, and she will do anything to make her loved ones laugh. The Kiley that is free is more alive and living a bigger life in her imagination and daily life than most people can dream.

That Kiley that is free is me, and I feel her most when I play music.

So it's true. Your music saved me. Or should I say, my music saves me. Thank you to all my instruments for being vehicles to temporary freedom. Thank you for letting me live out big dreams in a little life every damn day and keeping me alive when I've almost forgotten there's still a tiny girl in there to save.

Devil horns up to more living room concerts.

More shredding.

And definitely more sliding across my kitchen floor on my knees with a guitar in hand 80's style.

Keep on rocking, my dear friends. You have so much more music to give.

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