The Music Matters: How Recovery Unplugged Saves Lives

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 17, 2018

The Music Matters: How Recovery Unplugged Saves Lives
  (Source:Recovery Unplugged)

Kourtney Stefanu remembers the moment well. The 28-year-old gay kid who came into her office at Recovery Unplugged had been using opioids for more than a decade. His long run of stints in various rehabs had left him jaded and nearly without hope.

But then she played his favorite song, "Changes," by Tupac Shakur, on her computer. His whole demeanor shifted.

"He just sat there saying, 'Oh my God I love this song!' At that moment he was able to identify with me," notes Stefanu, a case manager at Recovery Unplugged's new Lake Worth, Florida, location. "Even if I weren't part of the LGBTQ community he'd have been able to relate to me because I was playing this song. In that moment he was home, he was in the right place, he was safe."

Music As Medicine
(Source: Getty Images)

Music As Medicine

A bold step forward in addiction treatment, Recovery Unplugged harnesses the power of music to help clients through every step of the healing process, from the pre-assessment phase of their intake, when they're asked to name the song that most inspires them, to post-care.

According to Stefanu, "Recovery Unplugged uses music as the catalyst to get clients to participate in therapy, as opposed to a therapist sitting in a group room, hoping that they'll open up. Music engages clients from an emotional standpoint and starts the process."

As treatment continues, clients explore and express their deepest emotions through writing, performing or simply listening to music under the guidance of Director of Recovery Richie Supa, who has penned songs for everyone from Pink to Bon Jovi. Occasionally, rock royalty like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith drops by to provide encouragement. Walls come down, connections are built and sobriety becomes not just a lost dream, but the promise of a new life.

Recovery Unplugged doesn't stop there. After discharge, clients are invited to come to weekly meetings; an alumni department reaches out to them, also facilitating special events. In addition, Recovery Unplugged Encore locations in Austin, Texas, and Annandale, Virginia, provide long-term outpatient therapy. There is also an inpatient center in Austin, as well as in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Recovery Unplugged's flagship center, which opened in 2013. By the end of the year, a new site in Nashville will open.

<bold>Not a Moment Too Soon</bold>
(Source: Getty Images)

Not a Moment Too Soon

This innovative therapeutic paradigm couldn't have come too quickly for the queer community.

While there has been little research into substance abuse in the LGBTQ population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report "that when compared with the general population, gay and bisexual men, lesbian and transgender individuals are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, have higher rates of substance abuse, not withhold from alcohol and drug use, and continue heavy drinking into later life."

If addiction can kill, music can save. "I remember the day I came out," recalls Stefanu, who has struggled with substance abuse herself. "I was getting married to a guy and I broke off the engagement. My family wasn't happy with me... it felt like everything was falling apart. But I was driving to a recovery-based event, and "Secrets," by One Republic came on the radio. It was talking about "I'm putting all my secrets away this time," and it made me feel like was going to be okay. My secret's out, you know, and I'm going to be okay."

From hostile family members to workplace discrimination, violent intolerance and more, members of the LGBTQ community often face an overwhelming set of stressors that cause individuals to seek escape in drugs and alcohol. Recovery Unplugged has developed programs specifically for queer clients seeking sobriety that are rooted in the ability of music to disarm unhelpful defenses and rebuild self-acceptance.

It works, says Stefanu, who watched that broken, despairing 28-year-old stick it out through a 45-day stay, leaving Recovery Unplugged feeling strong, eyes set on the future, hope renewed. As with every client, he was discharged with an MP3 player stocked with the songs he listened to during treatment. "He left with his family," Stefanu says, "and listened to the MP3 player the whole way home. Recovery Unplugged has a way of healing through music different than anything else I've seen. People open up. It's like their heart is singing."

Sponsored content.

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.

How Music Medicine Heals

This story is part of our special report titled How Music Medicine Heals. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

Comments on Facebook