Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 36 seconds.
A few nights ago, my new friends, Heath and Adam, asked me if I ever had the desire to sing again. When I replied with an immediate no, they asked why. I did not have an answer that evening, but their question has caused me to examine the issue seriously.
After walking off the stage in 2006, I’ve sung only three times in twelve years. At a funeral for the mother of one of my dearest friends, and at a high-society Nashville wedding for two of my close friends. I should note, I did not sing because the marriage was fashionable—it was because both the bride and the groom had helped me move, not once, but twice when I was very alone and still recovering from the loss of my old tribe. Even then, the caveat was that the groom contract a killer band who could pull off lifting the chart so that I only had to walk up at the wedding without a rehearsal and sing the song. And the last time was a very emotional song in 2016 at the final re:Create Conference—the annual global gathering of creatives I founded in 1999 that spanned seventeen years.
Only three songs in the past twelve years after a lifetime career of music starting at the age of four. I have performed a solo that earned a standing ovation from 30,000 people at a religious gathering in the Hoosier Dome. I sang for the rich and famous at the exclusive Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, performed the bass solos for Handel’s Messiah, and won numerous musical awards including Finalist for the prestigious National Association of Teachers of Singing competition, and earned a full-tuition Presidential music scholarship at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
I directed the arts programs and served as the worship leader for two of America’s largest mega-churches including one in Franklin, TN that counted Alan Jackson, Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus, Paramore, the band Red, and many more celebrities as attendees. I performed for thousands of people every week for almost twenty years, collaborating and singing with countless Grammy award winners. I recorded several albums. I have been awarded two honorary gold records by the band Third Day.
Singing was my life. So why do I no longer want to sing?
A few months ago on Facebook, I read a post by my friend and fellow musician Vicky Beeching describing a similar problem. It was comforting somehow to know I was not alone in this challenging malady.
I’ve been able to come up with three answers so far. They are by no means conclusive—but it’s all I have as of yet.
1.) Because I’m Afraid People will Hear Me Instead of Seeing Me.
My wife Gina was the catalyst for this answer as we wrestled with the question during cocktail hour last week. The dilemma of child stardom has been well-documented and since age four—as long I can remember—people know me for what I do (singing) rather than who I am.
The greatest thing about moving to Austin, TX in 2011 and knowing absolutely no one was that for the first time in my life I found friends who had no idea about my past career as a singer—and they liked me anyway. These days many of my new tribe (my community) have still never heard me sing and many of them have no idea that I am a musician. They see me for who I really am.
2) Because My Identity is so Convoluted with Singing.
My therapist helped me understand that because of multiple negative experiences with religion; I came to equate the church with God. In much the same way, I related what I DID as a singer with who I AM as a person. I became addicted to approval — an addiction that is much more insidious than porn, alcohol, or drugs because it is socially acceptable. It is the American way. If people loved my song—if I were successful at what I did—then they would like me, and I would get my high. Just as it is necessary for some people to quit drugs cold turkey to get clean, for me, it is essential to quit singing (at least for now) to cure my addiction to approval. Obviously, much more could be said about this.
3) Because Music Hurts Me Instead of Healing Me.
We are all aware of the healing properties of music. So it is confusing to realize that what brings most of the world pleasure causes me visceral pain. It is tough to explain. The very act of performing a song (and at times merely listening to music) is life-draining for me rather than life-giving. My career as a soloist was irrevocably entwined with religion, and I have come to understand that I suffer from RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome).
Here is a little background from Dr. Marilyn Winell (a specialist in Human Development and Family Studies): “With PTSD, a traumatic event is one in which a person experiences or witnesses actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. Losing one’s faith, or leaving one’s religion, is a similar event because it essentially means the death of one’s previous life—the end of reality as it was understood. It is a massive shock to the system and one that should be recognized as trauma.
Breaking out of a restrictive, mind-controlling religion is understandably a liberating experience. However, the challenges of leaving are daunting. For most people, the religious environment was a one-stop-shop for meeting all their significant needs—social support, a coherent worldview, meaning and direction in life, structured activities, and emotional/spiritual satisfaction.
Leaving the fold means multiple losses, including the loss of friends and family support at a crucial time of personal transition.
Consequently, it is a very lonely ‘stressful life event.’ For some people, depending on their personality and the details of their religious past, it may be possible just to stop participating in religious services and activities and move on with life. But for others like me, the emotional letting go is much more difficult since the beliefs are bound with deep-seated needs and fears, and usually taught at a young age.”
For me, singing (since age four) has been equated with restrictive and mind-controlling religion, and so any attempts to sing music of any genre results in debilitating anxiety, depression, grief, and anger. It is life-draining rather than life-giving.
Thinking deeply about this and writing about it has been therapeutic for me. I’m thankful for (a new and better tribe) friends who are not afraid to ask difficult questions.