Staying Sober During COVID-19: How Music and Recovery Unplugged Can Help

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday April 20, 2020

Staying Sober During COVID-19: How Music and Recovery Unplugged Can Help
  (Source:fizkes/Getty Images)

It's an especially challenging time to be in recovery. The coronavirus has forced much of the population indoors, segregating families, separating friends and even dividing those striving to stay sober from their 12-Step sponsors. Peer support is particularly crucial for newly clean individuals — feelings of isolation, despair and uncertainty can drive users back to the perceived comfort of their drug of choice.

Many Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Sexual Compulsive Anonymous groups are now holding virtual meetings through Zoom, Google Hangout and other platforms, and sponsors may be accessed via Facetime. But what happens when your support network can't be reached?

"Sometimes your sponsor isn't available, sometimes there's no meeting at five in the morning when you're stressing," says Paul Pellinger, co-founder and vision leader of Recovery Unplugged, a network of music-based addiction treatment centers. "So, what would be another alternative that you could use? Find a go-to song that gives you faith and motivation, that changes your mood to help get you through until your sponsor is available."

Using music as an essential element of addiction treatment isn't a new methodology. Pellinger and his team have been at it since debuting Recovery Unplugged's flagship Fort Lauderdale center in 2013. Since that time, Recovery Unplugged has opened addiction treatment locations in the D.C. metro area; Austin, Texas; Lake Worth, Florida; and, just last year, Nashville, Tennessee. According to an ongoing study by Florida's Nova Southeastern University, its protocol has resulted in outcomes four times better than the national average, and client satisfaction ratings as high as 95 percent (other rehabs net around 60 percent).

Music's curative powers are finally becoming more widely acknowledged, thanks to research proving its ability to do everything from improve memory in dementia patients to relieve both chronic and intense, short-term pain. Pellinger has discovered music can facilitate understanding between clients and therapists as well, opening up even the most emotionally shut-down addict, allowing healing to begin.

Music also reinforces the healthy thoughts and behaviors that Recovery Unplugged instills in its clients during rehab, making them easier to recall after discharge. Clients just need to plug into the songs they listened to throughout their time at the center, and they're reminded of the tools they've acquired to get and stay sober. Music makes them feel less alone, too — a critical component, especially in these days of social distancing and quarantine.

"There are a lot of artists who had concerts and shows scheduled that had to cancel them because of the virus," Pellinger says. "And they're now doing their shows from their houses and streaming them live. Artists know how unifying and powerful music is, and that's one of the reasons why they're taking the lead in continuing to perform and share with their audience, even though it's virtual."

For anyone struggling with addiction during these difficult times, Recovery Unplugged's admission staff is available by phone day or night, every day of the week (Call 855-909-8818). In the meantime, Pellinger, his colleagues and alumni offer some song recommendations that might bring relief to those suffering from anxiety during these unchartered times.

Paul Pellinger — Recovery Unplugged Co-Founder, Vision Leader
"Amazing" — Aerosmith and Richie Supa (Recovery Unplugged Director of Creative Recovery)

"The line that comes to mind from this song is 'with the blink of an eye, you finally see the light.' All we can really focus on is what we're in control over. We can social distance, we can quarantine, we can adhere to the other rules and regulations that the state, CDC and the president are employing, but that still reinforces anxiety, isolation, worry, boredom, right? When you realize that you have a choice to respond in a way that's more optimistic, more faith-based, that becomes very freeing. When you realize you have a choice, with the blink of an eye, you finally see the light."

Vicki Quintero — Recovery Unplugged Production Coordinator
The entire album "Brain Pain" by Four Year Strong
"I've interpreted a lot of the lyrics to be about dealing with mental health issues and navigating relationships, which has helped with coping. It's nice to blast this album on my stereo and not feel so alone, especially during this time of just generally not knowing what's going on, which has left me a little mentally on edge and unsure of how to maintain relationships since I'm not able to physically see my family, friends and recovery support system."

"You would swear that Four Year Strong knew quarantine was upon us based on the lyrics from 'Get Out of My Head' when you hear just how relatable they are to everything going on right now... 'I know without a doubt, if I don't get up I'll sink right through the couch, where the rotting of my brain is all I have to think about, the world just keeps on turning as I'm turning inside out.'"

Ryan O'Connor — Recovery Unplugged Alumni Manager
"Redemption Song"— Bob Marley
"This song has helped me both through the challenges of early recovery, as well as the new stressors of the coronavirus pandemic. The line 'Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery' reminds me that I can either choose to live in anxiety, fear, depression and hopelessness (over my disease or COVID-19) or, by using music, I can choose to live in the solution and get through this with hope, faith, and happiness. And all while I have a sweet tune playing in the background!"

Samantha Gorson — Recovery Unplugged Alumna
"A song that I've been listening to over and over through this pandemic mess and me losing my job, etc. is 'Underdog' by Alicia Keyes."

The chorus lyrics:
So I sing a song for the hustlers trading at the bus stop
Single mothers waiting on a check to come
Young teachers, student doctors
Sons on the frontline knowing they don't get to run
This goes out to the underdog
Keep on keeping at what you love
You'll find that someday soon enough
You will rise up, rise up...

"This is exactly how I feel. I wish I could speak to people on the front line, families who have lost their jobs and income and are struggling, those of us who are in recovery and can't get out to a 12-step meeting still doing our best to come together virtually. I wish I could do more. I'm scared for the future, but I'm hopeful we can beat this thing. America is resilient. And on a personal note, so am I. I've been through so much in my lifetime so my healthy fear of this virus doesn't top my love and gratitude for life."

Joseph Gorordo, LCDC
Recovery Unplugged Vice President of Business Development - Central Region
"This Year" — The Mountain Goats
"This song hits me right in the soul and reminds me that I've made it through every other impossible situation in my life. Why should this year be any different?"

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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.