Proud2Bme | It’s What Keeps Me Alive: How My Dad’s Love for Music Inspired My Recovery

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It’s What Keeps Me Alive: How My Dad’s Love for Music Inspired My Recovery

By Emma Willibey--My relationship with my dad—a pre-hipster who worked in the music department at Borders around the time I was born—is linked to music. When I was immersed in my junior-high Coldplay phase, Dad teased me by calling them U2 wannabes. When I was obsessed with garage rock during my freshman year of high school, Dad changed my last name in his phone from “Martin” to “Casablancas,” after the Strokes’ lead singer. Each April, Dad and I celebrated Record Store Day by strolling around 39th Street in my hometown of Kansas City, where we would grab lunch at Blue Koi before browsing Vinyl Renaissance and Zebedee’s. We have gone to concerts, shared mixed CDs, discussed music news, and laughed at music-related memes. Dad is the only person I know who understands the depth of my attachments to certain albums and artists.

However, as my eating disorder and OCD developed, I distanced myself from music and my dad. Anorexia demanded a minimal intake of not only food, but also any source of comfort. Speaking more than necessary was indulgent, so my discussions with Dad dwindled away. Having more than one album in rotation was inattentive, so I lost my passion for discovery. By my senior year of high school, I was a shell. My mission of occupying as little space as possible had forced me to sever all connections.

My mindset shifted when I entered an inpatient program in Tulsa, Oklahoma after graduating high school. As I surrendered the maladaptive coping mechanisms on which I had relied for years, my parents stood by my side. They made the four-hour trek to Tulsa every weekend to visit me, and on weeknights we talked via FaceTime. I took these opportunities to discuss a book I brought to the hospital, Our Band Could Be Your Life, which profiles seminal indie bands of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Since Dad had already read the book, I updated him daily with my progress. As we marveled at the quirkiness of Beat Happening and laughed at the stage antics of The Replacements, Dad and I rebuilt our musical bond. This became clear during a family session in which my therapist asked my mom whether my mood had changed since entering the hospital. Mom answered that the life in me was returning, and her example spoke volumes: “We got off the phone with her the other day, and her dad said, ‘That’s the first time Emma has talked with me about music in a long time.’”

My inpatient therapist stressed the importance of finding “what stirs your soul” in recovery, and as I navigated this process, I looked to my dad. Whether he’s dancing to New Order in our living room, playing music trivia with his brother, listening to 90.9 The Bridge on his way downtown, working with Spotify in the background, or buying tickets to see Jason Isbell for the millionth time, Dad lives for music.

I followed his lead through treatment, and once my freshman year of college began, I became a DJ for the freeform radio station. Hosting a show for three semesters not only brought me closer to my dad, who helped create the playlists, but also motivated me to leave anorexia behind. I didn’t need an empty stomach to be fulfilled; I had music.

Now, I embrace the ebb and flow of everyday life instead of searching for an escape, a transition to which music has been essential. Since I allow myself free time, I can explore albums that often develop into emotional allies. I can drive through the darkened countryside listening to Jónsi’s “Go Do” and feel the spine-tingling pulse of adventure. I can spin and jump and shout to the 1975.  I can overcome bouts of sadness with the help of my favorite band, Radiohead, whether commiserating through “Let Down” and “How to Disappear Completely” or reveling in the beauty of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “Reckoner.”  For better or worse, I can live. Thank you, Dad, for showing me the way.

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