Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

John Newton (1725-1807)

While there has been an exhaustive amount of scientific research done on the subject, I like to keep my metaphors simple, so I’ll put it this way: music is like scratch-n-sniff for your brain. Just as a whiff of perfume will transport you through space and time to the first place and time you smelled it — a place you’d long since forgotten — so it is with music. A few bars into a song unheard for thirty years will find you singing, along word for word, a surprised look on your face, as though someone else was in the driver’s seat of your mouth.

Music is three dimensional, in that it affects the mind, body and soul. It lifts veils from memories stored deep within the trunks of our minds and stimulates our bodies to push further; it helps us concentrate more deeply or meditate more serenely. It uplifts our soul nearly to the point of flight, and both moves us to tears and unifies us. And so, knowing what a profound effect music can have on our mind, body and soul, let’s discuss how to use that to your advantage.

You likely have a gym playlist, a work playlist and a driving playlist. But let’s go further: let’s make a divorce playlist. A divorce often feels like a death in the family, in that it is the death of a dream or a life we thought we were going to live; so let’s create a playlist — or rather, seven playlists — based on the seven stages of grief.

Stage One: Shock & Denial. Songs that will help you move through this stage will speak of loss, disbelief, denial and often a lack of emotion. You may be doing an emotional “deer in the headlights” at this point, eyes wide open, mouth slightly parted as you gaze at what’s speeding toward you. Here are some song suggestions that may help you through.

  • Denial – The Saturdays
  • Lie to Me – Red
  • God – Tori Amos
  • House of Cards – Radiohead

Stage Two: Pain & Guilt. Your anthems for stage two will speak of unbearable pain, guilt and remorse. You may consider throwing in a few that songs that deal with fear for good measure, as you may be experiencing a fair bit at this point. Remember what you are feeling is completely natural as you sing along.

  • Apologize – Timbaland featuring One Republic
  • Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda – Bryan McKnight
  • Loser – Beck
  • Chemistry – Almost Normal
  • I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow – The Soggy Bottom Boys

Stage Three: Anger & Bargaining. Look for songs that are no longer frustrated but are downright angry. These songs may be full of blame and can be sung with anger and passion. You may want to consider a road trip at this stage in the game so you can sing your guts out. You’ll have lots of emotional energy to release here. Every lyric will feel as though it is speaking directly to you. Let it out.

  • Grenade – Bruno Mars
  • I Can’t Remember to Forget You – Shakira
  • 99 Problems – Jay Z
  • I Hate U – Tank
  • F#@k You – CeeLo Green

Stage Four: Depression, Reflection & Loneliness. (Remember, by the way, that people don’t experience these stages in neat and tidy packages, or even necessarily in order. You may bounce around and not spend equal time in each.) Stage four is a worn out version of stage three: you’ve sung your heart out until you have nothing left, and you can feel it. Look for songs that are melancholy, sad, introspective and lonely. You’ll know when you don’t want to be here anymore because the songs will no longer match your mood. And that’s a good thing.

  • This Kind of Lonely – Everlast
  • Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone – Al Greene
  • Lonely – Ghostface Killah
  • Hope – Five for Fighting
  • Cry Me a River – Justin Timberlake

Stage Five: The Upward Turn. Congratulations! You’re coming out of the darkest phase! Instead of downward and inward, these songs start to look up: they celebrate both optimism and hope as they point to the future. The mood and tone are about to lift, and mournfulness will be replaced with a degree of lightness you haven’t felt in a while. You may very well waffle back and forth between stages four and five, so be sure and enjoy the sunshine, even if it only comes out briefly at first.

  • Hopeless – Dionne Farris
  • Better Days – Janet Jackson
  • Alright – Red Carpet (Eric Morillo Mix)
  • What Doesn’t Kill You – Kelly Clarkson
  • Sun After Heartbreak – Paul Van Dyk

Stage Six: Reconstruction & Working Through. At this stage, you’re looking at things more objectively. Songs that may have caused physical pain when you heard them before will not have the same affect on you. You’re nearing the acceptance phase, and it’s less about blame and anger now as you sort through what happened. You’re standing up straighter and carrying yourself differently. Your music reflects that.

  • Right to Be Wrong – Joss Stone
  • So Fresh and So Clean – Outkast
  • On a Good Day – OceanLab
  • The Future of the Future – Everything But the Girl
  • Anything Could Happen – Ellie Goulding

Stage Seven: Acceptance & Hope. At this stage, things are truly looking up. Your focus is upward and outward to the future. These are the songs that will make you feel like you can fly, the clouds are behind you and it’s a new day. You can take on the world and you feel like a different person. You’re singing this songs with your arms flung back and your chest strong. You may even dance.

  • Ain’t Nobody – Chaka Khan
  • I’m Too Sexy – Right Said Fred
  • Fly Away – Lenny Kravitz
  • Suit and Tie – Justin Timberlake ft. Jay Z
  • Happy – Pharrell

Naturally you’ll want to organize your lists as you see fit and you may want to give them clever names for your own privacy, but as you work through the different stages, having them grouped will help you sing harder and louder that much faster.

Use music to help you understand, feel and work through your emotions. Use music to get it out, get through it and get on with it.

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