Many people turn to music when they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, as a way to calm, get in touch with, or celebrate what is going on in their lives. With all the emotional turmoil that can be part of the recovery process, creative activity can often be a really important way to express and work through what your recovery means to you in a particular moment.
An innovative program that recently partnered with Gloucester, Massachusetts’ recovery-emphasizing Angel Program is seeking to use music’s power as a center of the recovery process. Based in Florida, Recovery Unplugged combines 12-step recovery with music therapy to pursue holistic healing for its creative addicts.
Recovery Unplugged’s staff include M.S.W. therapist Laura Southgate, and Richie Supa, a musician and songwriter 27 years sober himself, and most noted for songs he wrote for Aerosmith. Together, these two directors use what they call “musical medicine,” finding ways to use the playing and enjoying music as a way to open deep conversations about the recovery process. Richie explains that he views music as a way to “tap into their emotions when we see them visibly moved by a song,” using the way music makes someone feel like an entry point into the recovery process.
Many rehab centers concentrate on education about sobriety and warning people about relapse triggers. By engaging with music as a such a central part of the program, Recovery Unplugged allows people to be met where they are, so that the real transformation, at the soul-level can take place.
To that end, people in the Recovery Unplugged program live out a routine of drum therapy, forming bands, and performing for each other in open mics. These activities are not restricted to professional or highly proficient musicians but led in such a way to invite participation from everyone. You do not have to consider yourself a “musician” to get the exciting benefits from these fun therapeutic programs.
Each graduate of the program has the opportunity to write a song about their recovery experiences, and record it in the center’s recording studio. This song acts as a powerful “recovery trigger” they can listen to at any time to remind themselves of the importance of personal transformation. Far from a diversion or simple “entertainment,” these musical activities open up space where people encounter themselves and each other and safely and honestly begin the process of transformation.
This attention to specialized, individualized care applies to other areas of Recovery Unplugged work. By offering outpatient services, extended residential care, and transitional living they find ways to stay in touch, and continue to help the individual get the care and support they need to continue down the path to a life of vibrant sober living.
Celebrating its two-year anniversary on December 8, 2015, Recovery Unplugged revealed an internal study showing its results. 406 people with substance dependency issues underwent its innovative treatment program, and of those, 59.1%, or 240 have remained sober. For short-term rehab centers, this shows a remarkable success rate.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that almost 91% of people treated for substance dependency issues will relapse at least once. A short-term retreat-style moment of sobriety can be an important first step, but needs to be accompanied by long-term work in support groups or counseling, and turned into a holistic “one day at a time” decision to live a transformed life.
In Richie Supa’s words, “provides an emotional connection to the soul” and “breaks down defenses and facilities, motivates, and inspires real life change.” By rooting so much of the recovery process in music-making, something powerfully emotional and fun becomes connected to an individual’s sobriety, so that real change is taking place.