Recovery Unplugged's Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday December 6, 2019

Recovery Unplugged's Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays
  (Source:Kerkez/Getty Images)

You don't have to be in recovery to have a tough time during the holiday season. Along with big meals, plenty of office and social gatherings and high-pressure travel, the holidays also mean family get-togethers. The pressure is on to create the perfect picture of love and contentment, but instead, deep-seated dysfunction can rise to the surface.

While anyone can be triggered by the hurt and anger that may result, queer people, so often mistreated or isolated from their families, are especially at risk.

For members of the LGBTQ community trying to stay sober, the stress is even more significant and can result in a relapse. Fortunately, there are coping tools to get through one of the most stressful times of the year. And according to Recovery Unplugged, one of the nation's leading network of substance and alcohol treatment centers, music can play a huge part.

According to Paul Pellinger, Recovery Unplugged's Co-Founder and Vision Leader, the best way to keep toxicity low is by keeping gratitude high. "I don't remember much from 30 years ago when I first got clean myself," he says. "But I remember learning 'a grateful addict will never use.' There is always somebody worse off; there is always something you can be grateful for. And when you have that attitude of gratitude, it makes everything manageable by putting things in proper perspective."

Pellinger, who helped launch the first Recovery Unplugged location six years ago in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says it's crucial for those in recovery to be grateful every single day, not just during the holidays. That's a tall order, but it is possible with the help of music, which Recovery Unplugged utilizes to help break down the emotional walls that invariably surround addicts.

Music, according to Pellinger, also makes everyone hearing it a little happier.

"If I'm in a bad mood, all I have to do it put on is 'Three Little Birds' by Bob Marley," he says. "Before I incorporated music into our treatment methods, nobody was really using it in this way. I remember early on a couple of therapists came to me and said, 'Paul, I don't know if you realize this, but when we incorporate the music in our group and individual sessions, it improves our mood, too, which makes us more effective.' So, the music helps the staff as well our clients be more energized, more solution-oriented, more compassionate and more grateful."

Pellinger understands familial dysfunction and how it can lead to substance abuse. And he doesn't mind self-disclosing, so others can understand how music can heal.

Pellinger's father (inset), and with his sister and recording legend Dion.
Pellinger's father (inset), and with his sister and recording legend Dion.  (Source: Courtesy of Paul Pellinger)

"My father, from my teenage years to my early 20s, called me a piece of shit a lot," Pellinger says. "It really damaged my self-esteem. Now, most treatment centers will teach you how to have more empathy for others, to put yourself in their position. That's important, but I can't consistently depend on my own head to go, 'Well, you know, my father grew up in the streets of Brooklyn, his father used to beat him...' No one can consistently do that."

But according to Pellinger, in addition to shifting moods, music can help shift perspective. "For example," he says, "if I ever started to resent how my father treated me, I could listen to 'Runaround Sue' by Dion and the Belmonts. It's one of my dad's favorite songs — I used to watch him and my mom dance to it together. And boom, just listening to that song helps me have more empathy for him and disarms my anger."

"You know, it's strange," Pellinger adds. "Dion looks exactly like my father. He's actually visited Recovery Unplugged a few times... I think he has 54 years sober."

Dion isn't the only famous musician with connections to Recovery Unplugged; legendary singer-songwriter Richie Supa serves as Director of Creative Recovery, while Aerosmith's lead singer Steven Tyler has visited and is also consistently tapped into Recovery Unplugged's efforts. With that kind of star power on display, it might not be a surprise to learn Recovery Unplugged has garnered a 95 percent approval rating from clients, a statistic unheard of in drug and alcohol treatment.

But it's not the drop-ins from rock royalty that accounts for patients' satisfaction. According to survey after survey, it's the nearly 400 employees who work day in and day out at Recovery Unplugged centers across the country. Together, they are responsible for more than 2,000 sober clients and one million total days clean Recovery Unplugged can now boast.

Along with his health and the health of his kids, Pellinger says he's most thankful for Recover Unplugged's staff and the music that helps them help addicts.

"Just like negativity is contagious, so is gratitude," he says. "Music is very unifying. If you think about people at a concert... they're gay, straight, black, white, Christian, Jewish. It doesn't matter. So, gratitude is contagious, but the music unifies that perception, which is why we have outcomes four times better than the national average. Music has so many assets. It just has to be harnessed correctly."

Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction? Visit Recovery Unplugged.

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