Today is the three-year marker of my life without my son David – my angel and my teacher. I feel like I’ve been living in a war-zone of debilitating sadness that overtook me when he died. But somehow, with the help of his voice urging me forward – and my incredible family, friends and associates – hope has sprung forth. Out of it I continue on the path of helping people with mental health issues through the BIRDSONG Foundation.
I throw myself into a disciplined routine daily – building the foundation one block at a time. I have come a long way through the thick shadows of black to a brighter, softer, gentler place because of the many new people who have crossed my path. I admit that I have changed – my world has changed – but I am blessed today to bear witness to the courage and talent that emanates from the incredible creative realm of those people who live in that “higher vibration.”
One of them is Gabrielle Grace Abbott, who spent some time with David at the Royal Ottawa Hospital and grew to love him through music. Her candid story and her opinions on medications are important to hear. I know now more than ever that the person who suffers from mental illness with substance use disorder has something important to say that we all must listen to – and not with judgement, but with kindness and empathy.
To honor the date of David's passing, we at BIRDSONG promise to listen intently to the many stories that we are privileged to hear. We will not judge or re-write. Maybe, with time on our side, we can imagine a society more like a village that relies on love and compassion for healing more than anything else. Perhaps then David would have stayed a bit longer. – Margaret Konopacki
“No matter where I’ve been in my journey, music has always been such a powerful force for feeling, healing, and growing.” – Gabrielle Grace Abbott
I’ve wanted to contribute to BIRDSONG for quite some time, because I knew David Martin personally and we had great empathy for each other’s struggle. I was with him during the last two months of his life.
Our greatest connection was our unwavering love of music. He would play in the stairwell or outside of the building every chance he got. Now, the story of my life unfolds without him – and my journey, like his, has been one of incredible beauty combined with indescribable suffering. But in my mind, one can’t exist without the other. Without suffering there is no real appreciation for joy.
I’ve battled substance use disorder almost all my life. My current diagnosis is Bipolar Type 1. I sometimes don’t mention that because I believe I am so much more than all that this stigma-laden label implies. There should be no shame in this admission, yet it is undeniable. This is in part because people don’t, or won’t, realize that mental health and addiction are not separate issues.
I have been hospitalized and medicated against my will three times as a result of my mental health. I was harmed and traumatized each time. I won’t deny that I was in trouble and needed help. But unfortunately, I did not find that help in the psych ward or with countless medication cocktails.
I am the second born of three children. I think I came out feeling different! This is a common feeling among those who struggle with substance use disorder. I didn’t know this until many years later, after finally entering abstinence-based recovery groups. I would hear the same thing over and over – feelings of alienation, inadequacy and worthlessness.
At the age of 14, I discovered a new world of music. I also began to dabble in drugs and alcohol. It was the first time I smoked a cigarette, got blackout drunk, tried cannabis and swallowed Percocet. I loved them all instantly and irrevocably. Despite being brought back to my dad’s house by the police that first blackout night, I couldn’t wait to do it again.
I drank as often as I could and smoked cannabis every night, feeling incredibly incomplete without it. I was always very sensitive and shy, and alcohol helped me to interact with other people and feel a false sense of confidence. I could feel comfortable in my own skin, which I never really had before. Music continued to soothe my soul and put words to all the bottled-up feelings I couldn’t express.
It didn’t last. Instead of stopping, I moved on. It began with oxycontin and graduated to heroin within a couple of years. In my late 20s and early 30s, I managed to string together brief periods of abstinence by working a program, after attending five different treatment centers, but I always relapsed. Emotional pain always led me back to using.
I had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety at different times in my life, but it was hard to separate what was caused by using drugs and what was innate. I had never stopped using long enough to figure this out, and I was self-medicating from such an early age.
People assume that my illicit drug use is responsible for my diagnosis, but I was clean each time I became manic. I believe it stems from unaddressed trauma issues and stress. Medication brought me out of mania, but I became docile and apathetic and couldn’t even find joy in the music anymore. I don’t believe in meds. They most definitely were not the pathway to healing for me.
What was the pathway? Primarily, love and compassion. Having safe and supportive, non-judgmental people in my life that I could talk too was, and still is, key. Proper nutrition is vital. Addressing past trauma and loss is necessary. Getting outside of myself and helping others is also a central piece of my healing. My spiritual beliefs sustain and regenerate me.
And of course, music. No matter where I’ve been in my journey, music has always been such a powerful force for feeling, healing, and growing. My friend David felt the same way. For him it was everything. I am so incredibly grateful to have retained the passion he and I always had for it.
Words are insufficient to express how music has shaped, guided, encouraged and healed me. That is music. That’s what it does. It is a spiritual experience for me.
Without music I would not be here to tell my story. I wish David was, to tell his.