by Jam Alker
Addiction will sever connections to everything the addict loves, and that was certainly true in my case. I lost my connection to music during my years out there, so I don’t know what made me decide to bring my guitar with me when I finally went into treatment.
I didn’t know, but I think my counselor at Rosecrance, Nannatte Heshelman, had an inkling of what that guitar might do for me. Going into treatment, I was overwhelmed with shame. I knew Nannatte recognized this shame and that she understood the horrors of the disease of addiction. For the first time, I did not feel judged.
When I walked into her office, I was carrying my guitar. I hadn’t started writing yet, but Nannatte knew I’d been fiddling around with it in my downtime. What she asked me at that first meeting changed the entire trajectory of my recovery: “How would you like to do some of your treatment work through songwriting?”
As I said, I think she already knew the answer. I could write a paragraph in a workbook in response to a question about my triggers or the consequences of my behavior. However, I’d have a deeper, more thoughtful experience if I turned those feelings into song. In writing a song about them, I wouldn’t simply contemplate my triggers, but I’d feel them again in a safe space, and that would help me process those feelings.
Nannatte understood how powerful music would be in my recovery before I did.
That was the biggest gift I got from my time at Rosecrance: the ability to use music not just to express my most intimate fears, explore my ugliest behaviors, expose my deepest regrets, but also to connect with my peers. Whenever I shared my songs with them, opening myself up in such a vulnerable way, they would share their own dark moments and times of surrender and/or strength.
Sharing these moments bonded us as if we were brothers. We gave each other strength, support and wisdom, always encouraging one another to dig deeper into the causes and conditions of our addictions. For me, this bond was such a source of inspiration and strength in our early recovery. I got a glimpse of what it means when they say that we do not recover alone.
The day after I left Rosecrance, committed to doing 90 in 90, I walked into my first meeting in the outside world.
The first person to greet me was Jimmy B. Jimmy B. had the long, braided ponytail of an 80s rockstar, the leather vest of a hooligan biker, and the hard eyes of a prize fighter—not the first person I might look to for a warm welcome. But being fresh out of treatment, I was willing to take help where I could get it.
In my nervousness, the first words that tumbled from my mouth were not Hello, how are you, but “I feel crazy.” There was a beat of silence, during which my mind spun into infinite spirals of fear: What the hell did I just say? Is this guy is gonna tell me to just go home? But instead of a sneer, Jimmy B. offered me a smile—and a cup of coffee. “We’re all here,” he said to me, pointing a finger at his head, “because we’re not all there.”
And so I took a breath and found my seat, and I soon discovered that Jimmy was right. As I listened to the stories from my new fellows, I learned that as addicts, they’d all succumbed to the same madness as me. In these rooms, they supported each other through that madness, lending each other the same support I found at Rosecrance.
If it weren’t for my brothers and sisters in recovery, I don’t know if I’d be standing here today, strong in the knowledge that I can make positive contributions to the world. Both Rosecrance and the fellowship helped save my life, and continue to be a source of inspiration and guidance. To my mind, we are soldiers fighting the in the same battalion, sharing our victories, mourning those who have fallen, yet never, ever giving up. We are freedom fighters, joining forces to keep each other safe and to help those still in shackles.
For me, recovery is the precarious balance between surrendering to my disease and fighting for my recovery. When it comes to drugs, I am powerless—I cannot use drugs with any moderation; I will always succumb to them. But what I can do is, every day, every minute, fight for my recovery. And I cannot fight this fight without my brothers and sisters in arms; our weapons are our experience, our strength, and our hope.
This ongoing battle is what inspired my song “A Call to Arms.” On September 14, in honor of recovery month, I released the video for this song on Facebook and YouTube. This date also marks one month before my 2nd annual benefit concert for Chicago’s Recovery House, a place that helped save my life.
As a person in recovery, I have found it my duty to share my story in hopes that it will inspire others to raise their hands for help. If there’s anything I’ve learned in this fight, it’s that we do not, we cannot recover alone. And so I try to give to others what was so freely given to me: inspiration, strength, love, and hope.
I’ll fight this proud fight until my dying breath.
Jam Alker will be featured at a Rosecrance event in Chicago in early 2018. Stay tuned for more details and information.