An Unexpected Savior

african drums

She had been silently sitting in my living room for almost a year. Little did I know that that old drum, cracked and covered with dust would become my tool for transformation and rebirth.

When I arrived in Austin with my husband and newborn baby,  I was excited for a fresh start with my little family in a brand new city. Unfortunately, by the time my son approached a year old, it became evident that I was in a toxic relationship and could no longer deny the depressing reality that the abusive situation was becoming worse by the day.  From there, it took another year of my then-husband’s increasingly volatile behavior and a physical assault for me to fully accept that my life was in danger.

The Call of the Drum

Almost 2 years earlier, I had made the decision to attend my first ever djembe class with a group of complete strangers because I missed making music with others.  I believed a creative outlet could help heal my weary soul. I’d always been drawn to hand drums and world music and fondly remembered participating in drum circles on the beach during african djembe drumhappier times.  I knew that taking this opportunity to do something meaningful for myself was important.  This was undeniable as the ‘strangers’ from drum class quickly transformed into my support system, although they still didn’t know anything about the pain I was enduring at home.  Drumming had become an incredibly enjoyable and therapeutic release for me during these difficult times and so once a week, no matter what, that old djembe and I made our way to drum class.  Some days were harder than others. Some weeks I had to fight my way out of the house. Some nights, I brought my son with me, terrified at the thought of leaving him in an unstable environment alone with his father. This new found circle of rhythm evolved into a welcome escape, gifting me with instant peace as we laughed and learned our way through the complex polyrhythmic patterns that create the musical landscape of West African drumming.  I continuously found myself lost in the rhythm and deeply connected to my drum.  She was always there when I needed her.  I began to crave the feel of the well worn drum skin beneath my hands and found myself creating more time to play, an activity my young son and I could even do together!

young child playing drum

The Power to Heal

My teacher was kind, patient and firm.  She quickly acknowledged my aptitude and openly encouraged my playing.  In the circle, in addition to drumming, I loved listening to the stories the women shared – anecdotes of wisdom from lives well lived. I was the ‘baby’ of the group and I knew I was learning so much from these women who had struggled and survived.   After my divorce, the transition to co-parenting with my ex was challenging and terrifying.  I drummed more.  My life became a series of difficult decisions through uncharted terrain that often left me feeling like I was only making mistakes.  I sought refuge in the rhythms.  As my love for drumming grew,  so did my confidence.  Our group began performing at festivals and farmers markets, at weddings and church events, private parties and prisons.  My connection to the rhythms deepened, soothing my anxious mind as I lay my head and heart to rest each night.  I began to feel proud and empowered when I saw my son smiling up at me from the crowd during our performances, realizing that my passion and commitment to drumming was actually helping me be the strong mother he needed.

Passion to Purpose

Twelve years later, as I reflect on this traumatic and transformational time in my life, I continue to be moved by the profound impact of that little djembe.   The drum led me upward toward my purpose,  along a path of love, support, and encouragement. I continue to educate myself and learn more and more about the research behind the incredibly real, healing power of rhythm. smiling people with drums I’ve trained with skilled leaders and witnessed first-hand the tremendous positive effect that drumming can have on our health – from moving past trauma to recovering from addiction, and emerging from isolation and pain.  As my rhythmic journey unfolds I am filled with gratitude for that djembe.


In Joyful Rhythm,


  1. David Montalvo on July 9, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    Beautiful story Suzy! Thanks for sharing. Hugs and blessings to you!

    • Suzy Soulshine on July 9, 2019 at 9:34 pm

      Hi David! Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to read my story. I hope to drum with you real soon!

  2. sabrina asch on July 9, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing this heart rendering and vulnerable story. Your bravery, fortitude and commitment to seek healing in such a positive way is deeply admirable. I look forward drumming with you someday!

    • soulshine on July 9, 2019 at 9:37 pm

      It will be the one of the greatest days of my life! Your support means so much to me, thank you.

  3. Sunita Stone on July 9, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. I like learning about how you overcame your challenges. I think it’s beautiful how you are continuing to create community in a way that transcends any division. Not an easy task in this current social climate. You are beautiful inside and out!

  4. soulshine on July 9, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Oh Sunita, thank you for reading it! I am so grateful to have connected with you through our local drumming community. Watching it continue to grow fuels my spirit!

  5. Catherine on July 10, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    The few times I’ve been able to participate in your community drum circles, I felt such warm welcoming connection from you. Thank you for sharing your story here and your uplifting work with so many. I look forward to next time!

    • soulshine on July 10, 2019 at 11:35 pm

      Hi there Catherine! Thank you for the feedback and I’m so glad to hear that your experiences with the Soulshine circle have been positive ones. Please come say hi the next time you come out to play with us!

  6. Linda Blansit on July 11, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    Suzy, you’re so right. Our stories are important. I have been proud to be in your circle since the first day I Drummer with you. This story is profound and powerful and brings me goosebumps. I am so proud to call you my friend and my drum teacher. Your patience with me has been instrumental in my ability to keep trying. I see that you have had that same patience with your self and your life as you got through those trials. ❤️

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