A key component to a successful recovery is connectedness to yourself and those around you. That's why most drug recovery programs are built around two premises: spirituality and community. Although confronting feelings can be scary, it's an essential part of understanding why one is drawn to drugs in the first place. At the root of most addiction is suffering. Instead of escaping these feelings, recovery teaches us to wrangle them, feel them and work through them until we eventually are masters of our emotions. This may not come easily to everyone and, in the world of addiction, months or years of drug use can pile on loads of other complicated emotions making it that much harder to sit alone with ourselves. Enter, music.
Imagine, if you will, being at a concert. It can be any band, music genre, location and time. As you enter the music venue, what do you see? Aside from possible seating and (maybe) extreme lighting, the absolute ingredient for a concert is an audience. People swarm the venue until they're assorted like sardines in a tin can and yet they're smiling. Much like rehab, everyone at a concert is there for the same reason. It's not just the sounds that are appealing; it's the sense of community and the boldness to vocalize feelings through song and dance. If there's anything to be learned from a concert, it's that music can cultivate healing.
Wesley “Wes” Geer, professional musician and founder of addiction recovery organization Rock to Recovery, promotes this very ideal to recovering addicts across the United States. He and fellow pro musician colleagues help individuals overcome addiction disorders by guiding them through customized songwriting processes. Their goal is for the recovering addict to walk away being more connected to themselves and others, feeling more confident and experiencing a drug-free high. So, does it work? Geer swears that 99.9 percent of the time it does and has the real-life testaments to prove it.
In particular, he recalls a music session with an ex-heroin addict:
"I handed him a little pink shaker that looked like a baby rattle and I looked at him and said, 'Just give this thing a try; stay open to it.’ We showed him percussion, how he could make a little beat, where the starts and the stops were, and he started coming alive. As the song progressed, he started asking, ‘Wait, wait, so we do that three times? And then we do this at this part...' Then he started jumping around—he was so excited. At the end he goes, 'That was amazing, I don’t even feel dope sick right now! I feel so stoked and alive.’ He left happy and elated, and was high-fiving everybody. His dope sickness went away and he was excited about his recovery. That is the power of writing a song together. We sang and played the song together and it changed his whole vibration. We witness things like that all the time."
Separation from familiar environments and friends often makes residential programs difficult. Music can motivate individuals to endure isolation, loneliness and other unpleasant feelings they may experience in long-term treatment. Geer said it best: "[Music] gives hope...it really tears down the walls and helps people feel totally connected.”
Rock to Recovery's website is filled with testimonials of how their program made rehab more bearable. One client writes:
“I wanted to leave treatment, but told myself, 'If I can just make it to Rock to Recovery I'll be ok.'"
Recovering addicts must also position themselves on the frontlines of spiritual, emotional and mental battles. It takes courage to face feelings, to relive them and express them freely. Music can be a medium that helps someone confront their issues. It can also be an outlet to release damaging emotions that have been suppressed. As another client puts simply:
"Rock to Recovery lets me get the emotions out I've struggled with my whole life."
There's no denying the challenges that await addicts who climb the mountain to recovery. The good news is that mountain is surmountable, and even satisfying, when we’re lent a hand from a powerful creative healing process.
Music, especially creating music, holds power to usher a person into a state of complete healing from addiction. However, Geer makes sure to give credit where it's due—to those who are recovering and who make the music in the first place.
"A lot of people struggling with addiction don’t feel like they accomplished anything. However, through the process, they learn self-esteem and self-accomplishment. A lot of times we remind people, ‘That song never existed and now this song exists.'"
No matter their past or what they may feel intermittently, participants in Geer's songwriting sessions usually walk away with a new lease on life. Just as recovery is a time of taking responsibility for one's past negative actions, it's equally important that recovering addicts take responsibility for their victories. And what better way to celebrate personal wins than with a song?