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How Music Moves Us in Recovery

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

I like to think of music as the true voice of humanity. It is the expression of the world around us, the heartbeat of an entire species, existing inside and outside us all. It transcends everything we can see; connects us with everything we know and even with what we don’t. Music bypasses all language barriers and cultural bias; it is the pulse of our history, the melody of all emotion and the thing that lets us live in a moment’s highest vibration simply by feeling our way through notes and nuances.

A tapestry of tempo and tones can speak our truth when we have no words, and words strung across the chords can tell stories we never knew we needed to hear. Songs and sounds can strike rhythm to our bones, or they can stubble our skin with chills that speak to the secrets of our souls.

In short… Music is life.

Seriously… the hills are alive with the sound of this stuff… come on.

Music has the power to soothe us, to trigger an immediate expression of joy and love, or even anger and fear. From music we can tap into the energy of empathy, compassion, ambition or remembrance. Realistically there is no limit to the impact music can have, and there are endless reasons why music therapy can help people recover from physical and mental trauma, and addiction recovery.

Music and the Brain

The truth is, scientists don’t know the exact mechanism that gives music such emotional power down to an indisputable formula… yet. But they do have several ideas about how our brains and bodies respond to music, citing various studies on different kinds of music.

The Music Instinct: Science and Song was a documentary where scientists and musicians collaborate to explore the effects of music on the brain and body. One thing they discovered is that there isn’t actually one specific music area of the brain!

Music affects multiple areas of the brain at once because your brain actually interprets the music in several ways at once, using different parts of your brain.

  • One area of your brain processes the words
  • One area of your brain processes the sound of a voice
  • One area of your brain processes the sound of the instruments
  • One area of your brain processes the melody

Then in an incredible feat the brain collects the individual elements and integrates them all together. The brain itself is truly amazing, as all these different levels of interpretation happen instantly and simultaneously, so we never even realize this process is happening!

Music and the Body

Music, like all noise, is composed with vibrations of sound waves. Your ears register sound in the ear drum when they pick up the sound waves that flow through the air. Those sound waves also vibrate other parts of your body. This sound is vibrating in other parts of your body too, but your other organs are not necessarily as sensitive to sound as your eardrums, so you don’t realize what’s happening.

There are people, however, who are more sensitive to sound vibrations and can actually feel sounds resonate in various parts of their body. Dame Evelyn Glennie is the deaf percussionist who was featured in the 2012 London Olympics, who has the astonishing ability to hear by feeling the vibrations of the instruments through her feet and other parts of her body.

Are you addicted to heavy bass drops? Probably because of the vibrations!

Now all those extra speakers make sense, since the effect is especially noticeable in small, enclosed spaces like a car. In a car vibrations can be magnified, so you really feel the music.

Music and Emotional Cues

Now when you weigh in the fact music impacts multiple parts of the brain and the body, it’s easy to comprehend that certain music instigates an emotional response. We have become conditioned to feeling our way through situations with both the vibrations we feel (consciously or not) and the connections are brain makes when it hears music.

Sit and watch a preview for your favorite movie on mute and see how in touch you feel to the story… don’t worry, I’ll wait.

The reason the experience feels disconnected is because music has implanted itself in our memories and in how we make comparisons and connections. Good or bad, those emotional responses can be strong simply because of the meaning we have learned to associate with the music.

Music and Addiction Recovery

Music is often used as a therapeutic tool during recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Counselors may use music to help patients manage their physical, emotional, or cognitive problems. Music therapy for addiction may include:

  • Discussion of lyric interpretation
  • Singing along
  • Dancing
  • Writing music or lyrics

Music is a powerful instrument for creating shifts in mood and behavior. When someone in recovery is struggling, music can be used as a means to break the cycle of destructive thinking or behavior and aim the individuals emotional energy in a more constructive and healing direction.

Music can help to separate yourself from the stresses holding onto you through the day, and it can be there for you to soothe the anxiety bound up inside. In times of depression the right music can inspire a more ambitious and acquiescent outlook, honing in on the message the heart needs to hear. Just be cautious of the music you choose, because the response can always backfire.

Be it punk rock, underground hip hop or the king of pop himself, striking the right chord in recovery can mean a catalyst for catharsis.

Music is one element of the outside world that can have some influence on how we feel, and sometimes separating ourselves from the things that hurt us the most means we need to change those elements. Learning to create healthy emotional responses is one way we train ourselves to be healthier people, but for addicts it often means a lot more. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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