An icon, pillar and legend of the Montreal underground, Alex Robshaw has been captivating audiences since 2006 with her enthralling, powerful live performances. Through her innovative vision, her refreshing take on alternative rock and her unique mastery of the lyrical art, she has brought forth projects at the forefront of the 21st-century creative revolution -such as her latest album, Original Game, released as a deck of cards.
Alex Robshaw is currently working on her 3rd full-length album. As an active player in the current movement reclaiming the value of musicians, she has created and hosts the Light Underground podcast and space. She is a contributor for Anti-Social Media dot ca ; a nationwide initiative also dedicated to giving artists their worth and power back. In devotion to reinstating the sacred existence of all, Alex is also a holistic healer and facilitates yoga rituals in Montréal, QC.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would those three words be?
Creative. Woman. Musician.
How would those who love and respect you describe you?
Passionate. Wild. Spiritual.
What helps you feel safe and grounded in your body?
My yoga practice and my music. Also, walking in nature and being near water. My chart is mostly made of water signs, so I need water nearby to feel balanced.
I am not educated on the Zodiac signs and the significance behind them. Can you speak more about that?
I am a sun and rising Scorpio with a Cancer moon, and most of my other placements are fire and water. I don’t have a lot of earth, which is why yoga helps me a lot with grounding.
How does water support you?
It cools me down on an internal constitutional level (mental and emotional) as well as physically cooling me down, when I am in a body of water in nature. It is also soothing to my system when I am simply looking at a body of water.
What happens in the times when water is not accessible or not part of the picture and the internal fire is burning?
I lose my shit. It is my life’s work to be able to remain centered and cool. I do allow myself to go through the bursts of fiery intensity, but the more I work on balance, I find the better I feel about myself and life in general.
Are there any positives that you have experienced in allowing the fire to spread uncontained or without cooling? Have you found anything in that place of pure burning?
There have been some positives. It is actually how we came to meet. Prior to embarking on the yoga teacher training that we did together, I was in a place of being quite literally burned out. I decided that I didn’t want the next decade of my life to be how the previous one had been. I began to think about where I was going and how I could do something new. I realized I didn’t want to work in jobs that were out of alignment with who I am. I chose to completely shut the door on customer service jobs, which is what I had been doing previously. I ended up burning and leaving behind quite a lot that was no longer serving me, and changing my life.
What is trauma to you?
I think of trauma as those things that happen to us that are too much to deal with in the moment, which makes it so that the trauma affects the body, the mind, the soul, the aura and every other layer of our being. The French word séquelles comes to mind. It’s like when we get a burn and the scar remains. The imprints of trauma linger in the body, mind and heart.
How has trauma contributed to impacting your own body, mind and heart?
I can think of the two most traumatic things that happened to me when I was a kid. My parents got divorced when I was four years old and I was also ridiculously and violently bullied as a child. These are two things that I have had to work with for many years. The impact on me was huge, and rippled into so many ways in my life.
At age 18 I started a 14-year long therapy process, and though I’m not seeing my therapist on a regular basis anymore, the work remains ongoing. Trauma is never something that fully goes away, in my experience, but it can be brought to a more manageable place.
What do you imagine happened internally on all of those levels (body-mind-heart) for that four-year-old version of you when she went through the trauma that she went through?
I know she definitely felt abandoned by her father, but I don’t hold memories of what else was going on at that time. My father left the day after my fourth birthday and my earliest memories are of just me and my mom.
I have awareness that the wound of the abandonment of the father has been buried deep within me. I worked with that wound a lot throughout my therapy process. My relationship with my father is not great to this day; there is still pain and still pieces within me that need to be worked with. My father is from Mauritius so I have Mauritian ancestry from him. It pains me to know that there is a whole other culture within me that I never had the opportunity to touch upon. I want to be able to reclaim that culture. I want to go to Mauritius and get to know the culture and the language, but the second I think of my father in the picture it becomes less joyful. I want to do this trip on my own.
I can also share with you that when I was 15 years old I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. By the end of my 14-year therapy process, when I sat down with my therapist at our last session, the first thing I said was, “I think BPD is bullshit. I don’t think it’s real.” That therapist had supported me in coming to accept all parts of myself to the point that I wasn’t identifying with a disorder anymore.
When I was a kid I was hyper-aware. I saw all the shit in this world and I saw how it seemed like people weren’t doing anything about it at the time. I think that times are changing now and can see that there is a shift in consciousness. Back then though, the reality caused immense hurt and disappointment. I felt cheated. I became very nihilistic as a teen. I attempted suicide at one point. Back then, that was the only thing I could think of that would alleviate the suffering. It took me going through a whole therapy process as well as my own research and spiritual seeking to bring everything together and begin to understand that there was nothing wrong with me. My “problem” was seeing all the bullshit in society and wanting it to change and then doctors were telling me I was too much and that I was mentally ill, in response to that.
Thank you for sharing this Alex. We need this understanding as part of the mental health conversation.
I was kept at the Douglas for 24-hours (a mental institution here in Montreal). I remember sitting there and telling the worker, “If my problem is coming to terms with society, I need to be in society. It’s not gonna help me to be kept here. I need to be out there, to figure out how to live out there.” I kept repeating this statement until he accepted to let me go, and gave me an appointment for one month later.
So you knew your truth even at that young age, but you weren’t validated. You could sense what was needed was a coming to terms with reality. What wasn’t needed was being forced into a system that had something to gain from labelling and diagnosing and prescribing.
Yes. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say this. There is still so much stigma surrounding mental health. Thank you for giving me the space to speak about this. I am finding that some people are responsive when I speak about this now, but it still seems that a lot more people respond with misunderstanding and disagreement than with understanding and acknowledgement.
What else stands out to you from your multi-year therapy process?
That the most important thing you can do with your life is to learn to master yourself. I think we are in a society that wants us to believe that material accomplishments are where our value is derived, but I really don’t believe in that. If a multi-millionaire feels like shit all the time and has toxic relationships, then they haven’t really made it. I know now that the most important thing is to work on ourselves.
How might we come to master the self?
I think the first step is to look at yourself. We must be willing to put a mirror in front of ourselves and realize that the work starts within. We must acknowledge who we are, what we have done and what we are doing, and own it all fully without excuses. From there we can shift to a place of understanding why we have done what we’ve done. This is where a therapist can be a helpful ally. With understanding we can come to make peace with all that we are and all that we’ve done as well as all that has happened to us. Once we have these tools, there is the step of integration or applying our understanding to our lives. This is where we get to the mastery level. Once we have understood and accepted, we are able to conquer and hopefully maintain integration. At that point we are able to be all of our experience and also to remain whole and solid regardless. I don’t think there is ever a point where we fully stop this process. I think we need to remember to master ourselves daily.
Tell me more about the integration piece.
We can get to a place where we are willing to accept our experience, but if we are not going to a place of real change or transformation within ourselves – willingly stepping out of the shadow or the ego and even allowing that to be burned down a little bit in order to be able to rise – then we will stay in a victim stage in which we are acknowledging all the wrong stuff. We might even go to the step of seeking a healer, but eventually in the process we have to realize the healer has done their work and it is up to us to take it forward. If we don’t want to do the work or do those extra steps that we will not get to that place of alchemy. The integration involves choosing to say “I am moving forward. I am open to evolution.” I find many people prefer to stay comfortable in their limitations than to do the work to evolve.
That ego or shadow that you speak of can often be so loud and so convincing. Much louder and more powerful than the whispers of truth or light at times. How might we deal with the ego so that we may continue on the path?
I have been doing Kundalini yoga for the last five months which involves mantra chanting and I have found that quite powerful. I think I have found my home there. It is a remarkable tool and practice to settle myself more solidly, day by day, into that place of truth. That’s the latest practice I’ve been taking on, but there’s a myriad of tools out there in the form of practices, daily activities and lifestyles to embrace to help us stay balanced. I think that ultimately, it comes down to discipline though. We can come to understand what the ego is and we can come to understand that it too needs openness, love and tenderness. I am still on a journey of aiming to understand what the ego is. Is it that wounded inner child? Is it the shadow self? Is it all of that? Somewhere down the line I believe it is about taming that voice within us that is trying to keep us small. The more that we can understand the importance of sticking to the goal of becoming the best version of ourselves, the easier it will be to get to the places that are aligned with our path (e.g., Kundalini yoga practice) versus listening to the voice that tells you to sit at home, do nothing about it or pretend nothing’s wrong, and stay stuck.
Ultimately, the ego is part of the human. I think of the image of Shiva with a snake as an adornment around the neck representing the ego. I think of Saraswati with a peacock in the image. The peacock is there as the ego but is also part of the decoration of the whole image. It is really about allowing ourselves to be all that we are.
How has suffering allowed you to align with your highest creative self?
It is ultimately what caused me to be the creative force that I am. It is through my music and my art that I have been able to release the past suffering. Everything from the images I put out there to the lyrics to the music to the entire way I present myself as an artist is related to this. I have always aimed to be a voice of truth and to express reality as I experienced it but also in an idiosyncratic way so that those who were relating to my art could see themselves through it as well, and maybe in turn it could contribute to their healing or at least help them feel that they are not alone in what they are going through.
How you are describing your offering of art sounds not that different than the role your therapist played in your own healing.
Wow. I never thought of it like that.
What would you like to offer to the four-year-old you?
I want her to feel included, welcome, respected, cherished and ultimately loved. I don’t want her to feel that she doesn’t belong, because she does.