Lou’s Songs of Life: A Lenten Reflection

Louis Debruge - First Communion - First Grade at Saint John the Apostle Church
Louis Debruge – First Communion – First Grade at Saint John the Apostle

The season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday.  It culminates in a celebration of new life, Easter. Between the two, we remember the extraordinary life of a good and innocent person who endured physical abuse (“Jesus is scourged”) emotional and verbal humiliation (“Jesus is crowned with thorns”) and who was left alone to walk his path, carrying the heavy burden on which his life would end (“Jesus carries his cross.”)

Today as I prayed these Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary, I reflected on the significance of this season in Lou’s life.

On Ash Wednesday 2013, Louis was nearing the end of a 30-day stay in residential treatment at Northwest Behavioral Health Services, a clinic for adolescents suffering from addiction.  It was his second experience in rehab, but it was the first time he had asked to be admitted voluntarily.  “I need to go back, mom.  I’m losing everything I care about.  I need help.” The courage of admitting we are powerless!  It’s a gospel kind of heroism, this surrender. It’s Jesus in the Garden of Gesthsemane saying, “Let this cup pass from me, yet not my will but Thine.”  Calling on a Higher Power to light our way in the darkness, reaching out our hand to others for help, stepping into the power of vulnerability, these are not signs of weakness but of great strength.

It was there, with the support & encouragement of his therapist, Bruce Zufelt, that Lou designed and led a workshop for his peers.  It was entitled, “Using Song and Poetry to Heal From Trauma.”  This experience surely contributed to Lou’s later interest in music therapy as a possible career. He was only 15 years old, yet he was doing instinctively what is currently cutting edge trauma therapy.  (1)

Lou began by playing one of his own songs, The Game of Love.  He then shared how writing music and lyrics helped him.  “Songwriting was irreplaceable for me. It was truly magic to see the sounds and beats in my head transcribed onto paper and then turned into actual vibrations which other people could hear.  It was a three step process that could turn the ugliest of memories into the most beautiful creation.” (2)

Next, Lou asked the workshop participants to write a journal entry about a difficult memory of betrayal or loss.  He asked if some of them would share and they did. Then he played another song to help heal their hearts. Afterwards, Lou walked into Bruce’s office for our session together.  He was beaming.  He was also shaken.  He was every bit as moved as were the staff and other clients by what had just transpired.  In his humility, he had not anticipated the flood of thanks, tears and congratulations from staff and clients alike.  He hadn’t realized the healing he would find for himself as he began to open up about the pain of his past.  “I even got three marriage proposals, mom!” Later, I was told that several other clients subsequently made important disclosures in therapy about their own childhood wounds.  Louis had the natural gifts of a wounded healer.

The vision of this project, with the publication of the CD “Free As The Sun” and the companion book, “Free To Tell,” is that Louis’ voice can and will continue, posthumously, to inspire and to gently/powerfully move other young people to tell their stories, to themselves and then to others.

Utah Lou's Rebirth Ceremony (Trapped)
Lou’s “Rebirth Ceremony” sculpture-walk begins with this image of being trapped as a child, in a prison of thorny abuse (Second Nature ~ EVOKE Wilderness Therapy, with Dr. Matt Hoag, PhD. Santa Clara, Utah ~ April 2013)

Several days later, it was Bruce who had the difficult task of giving Lou the news.  This time, he would not be coming directly home from rehab as he had expected.  Instead, a trained transport guide would be accompanying him on a flight from Portland to Utah. There, in the desert, he would be spending eight weeks in a program of adolescent wilderness therapy with twelve other young men who were battling inner demons.  “Hmmmm,” said a dear friend of mine when she learned about what lay ahead on Lou’s path, “Forty days in the desert during Lent and into the Easter season?  Sounds to me like God might have something in store for Louie.”

May his memory be a blessing and may we each walk into new life in some way this year.

(1) See “Why Your Story Matters: the healing power of personal narrative” by Deborah Serani Psy.D. LInk:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-takes-depression/201401/why-your-story-matters

(2) “Melodies and Me” (essay) by Louis Debruge, Writing 121 at Clackamas Community College, included in the book Free To Tell:  Lou’s Writings Shine a Light on Child Abuse and Addiction (to be published March 2016) 

2005 students at the Music School
2005 students ~ the Music School (West Linn, OR)
Note:  Video performance of Lou’s song, “Crucified” recorded in Portland, Oregon by Max Shearer on November 27, 2012.  Recital for the Music School, Inc.  Lou (age 15) on lead guitar and vocals; Shea Mackinnon (14) on vocals and djembe; Jerome Couture, Lou’s music teacher on bass. (December 2012, Lou entered residential, dual-diagnosis therapy for the first time but did not begin to disclose the full extent of his childhood abuse until after his release in January 2013.)