Are you a jazz fan?
To be honest, that is kind of a tricky question to answer. After all, jazz is a word that can be applied to quite a number of styles of music. There’s big band jazz. There’s bebop. There’s fusion. Spend some time listening to jazz on the radio and you will likely encounter these styles and quite a few more. You might really love some styles and really dislike others.
For the purposes of our discussion here, let’s think of jazz as a collaborative form of music grounded in the blues that features a sense of “swing” and blends written music with improvisation—that is, music created on the spot by an individual musician.
This definition might not be fully satisfying to the musicologists among our readers, but we hope they will give us a little leeway here. We would, however, be remiss if we did not note that jazz grows out of the Black experience in America—and, as famed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has argued, jazz is a metaphor for democracy.
We also think that jazz can serve as a metaphor for the experience of recovery from a substance use disorder.
We’ll use a quote from Marsalis to set things up.
The Key Components of Jazz are Applicable to Recovery
Jazz requires creativity, communication and community. Through improvising we learn to value our own creativity; through swing we coordinate our communication with others; and through the blues we learn to find and celebrate ‘meaning’ in the tragic and absurd parts of life that afflict every community.
We’re going to look at Marsalis’ three requirements for jazz in reverse order to see how they apply to your recovery journey. Let’s start with community.
It can seem like recovery is a solo endeavor. After all, you are the person who has to stay sober. No one can stay sober for you. But having a community of support is akin to the jazz musician who is part of a band or other ensemble. The other members of the group can’t play that individual’s instrument for them, but they offer essential support and a sense of community that is essential to the music.
Marsalis points to the “tragic and absurd parts of life” as things that can be grappled with together in a community. Just as the 12-bar blues are a foundational part of jazz, the 12-Step program can be a foundational part of recovery because it is a community of understanding and support.
Communication is as important to sobriety as it is to jazz. Letting others know what you need and when you are struggling is essential—and staying in communication with a therapist can be equally vital if a co-occurring mental health disorder like anxiety, depression, or a disorder grounded in trauma is in play. Keeping your internal communication with yourself focused on goals, successes, and a positive outlook is also a good strategy for protecting your sobriety.
Next comes creativity. In jazz, perhaps the most creative act is the improvised solo—that moment when a musician creates music right there on the spot. The musician is in the moment, expressing what they want to express. At the same time, that creative moment is happening within the bounds of the established form the musicians are sharing.
It can be helpful to think of your recovery in the same way. It is, after all, your recovery, and shaping it to your personal needs is a process that can be both creative and helpful. There are many things you can do and strategies you can employ to support your ongoing sobriety, but finding the right combination for you is a personal endeavor.
You might find that the top three ways you can support your sobriety are to take up an engaging hobby, to volunteer for a cause that is important to you, and to practice mindfulness. Or you might find that a combination of improving your diet, creating a sleep schedule (and sticking to it), and keeping a journal is effective for you. And just like improvised solos, your strategies can change or be remixed over time. As long as you are improvising within the form of “ongoing sobriety,” you are taking advantage of your own creativity.
Before You Can Improvise, You Have to Practice the Fundamentals
In jazz and in recovery, it is not a good idea to try to start with improvisation. Instead, you have to get the fundamentals right so that you can build off of them in creative ways.
In the case of recovery, that means getting sober via medically supervised detoxification, fully engaging with a rehabilitation approach grounded in group and individual therapy and taking advantage of the resources and support available to you via a continuum of care.
At French Creek Recovery Center, near Meadville, PA, we can provide those fundamentals so that you have what you need to begin your recovery journey with confidence. You can count on us to provide compassion, expertise, and all that jazz.