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The Power of Positive Singing

How church music helped me—and others—beat addiction

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By Joseph Tejeda

02/21/14

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It’s no secret that music has a huge impact on the human heart and soul. We have our favorite songs, albums, and artists, that can get us through a workout, help us relax, or mend us after a break-up. Music has an effect on the mind and body that we cannot explain. It runs deep to our soul and there is no doubt that we identify with it.

Music has also been used in medicine. Doctors are prescribing music to help aid conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, depression, stroke, and anxiety. And it’s not just listening to music— researchers have found that playing music can heal the body as well.  Multiple studies have shown that calming music can lower blood pressure rates and can even lower the stress hormone cortisol just as much as anti-anxiety medications. Experts have found that music increases in the production of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and melatonin, which help to improve mood.

Music therapy has also been used in many drug rehabs, and has been shown to be successful. “Music therapy practice offers lot of possibilities in drug rehabilitation, both [in the] acute and follow-up phase of treatment. In the acute phase of treatment music therapy can significantly strengthen and support the client's adherence to treatment. In the follow-up phase of treatment music therapy's central role is in sorting out the reasons for addictive behavior and in integrating a client's levels of experience. With music therapy it is possible to treat the client comprehensively so that all levels of experience (sensorimotor, emotional and cognitive) are worked on,” a research article in Music Therapy Today reads. “Music therapy offers the chance for both individual and group sessions and the range of methods available in music therapy that can be used in drug rehabilitation is wide and versatile. It is also important to remember that music is prominent in the world of drug users, so it appears to be absolutely necessary to take music into consideration in drug rehabilitation and to process also this aspect of the addiction problem.”  

By putting something so positive and so uplifting into the brain on a consistent basis, it only helps to aid in recovery and keep addicts on a sober path.

But while music has proven to be helpful in many medical and psychologically instances, what about church music in particular? 

As a young child my family moved from the busy county of Los Angeles, to a rural town in Northern California. Growing up in a small community, my childhood quickly became full of “not a whole lot to do.” I was raised in what appeared to be a normal home that looked great on the outside but was filled with turmoil on the inside. 

Though I attended a Christian school, drugs and alcohol seemed to be everywhere. From pot, to booze, to the harder stuff, many of the people around me were turning to substances, looking for an escape, and leading a double life. 

At 15, I gave in and turned to drug and substance abuse and the outcome was a complete disaster. This resulted in a downward spiral of depression and left me with nothing good in my life but just more turmoil from which I came from.

Finally, at 20, I hit rock bottom. Having substance abuse in my family, I knew where this destructive path would lead to, and I wanted to make a change. I always played music as a kid but suddenly I found a new significance and love for it. I started going to church and started writing church music. My focus was on something greater than myself and drugs and alcohol were the last things on my mind. I felt happiness in my life that I had never experienced before. And, it only went up from there.

I ended up recording an album and becoming a church music leader. Church music helped me keep my mind off wanting to go back to substance abuse and gave me something positive to do, and I have found that I am not alone. 

In February of 2006 Larry King interviewed Gospel singer Michael W Smith on CNN’s Larry King Live. In the interview Smith said there was a time when he was, “high on marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.” The singer went on to talk about the depth of his addiction. “I felt helpless. It's like being in a pit, being in a big hole that's 15 feet tall and there's no ladder to get out.”

Later in the interview, Smith admitted he was very close to death. “I didn't know what I was doing, I snorted something that I thought was one thing and it was another.” 

Nearing an overdose and at his breaking point, Smith turned to God and decided to purse Gospel music — completely sober. Smith, who is now one of the most successful inspirational recording artists of the last two decades, said that through this outlet he lost the desire to abuse any substances and has dedicated his life to touching lives with his music. 

Another artist named Allan Scott found himself homeless and addicted to crystal meth at 19. Prior to this, he was expelled from his high school for doing drugs which he used to cope with being bullied. At 21, Scott found himself in jail for possession of narcotics.

While behind bars, Scott had an awakening of sorts. “I realized I was caught in a cycle and I couldn’t get out.” The singer said. “I’m in jail, and I realize I don’t have to live like this anymore. I began to read my Bible. I’d hear the melodies in my head, and I would just write the lyrics down.”

Following jail, Scott was ordered to a drug rehab facility where his life continued to change for the better. “I went to rehab where I had a Christian counselor. He was taking me to church every Sunday, and I remember this one Sunday being really touched and moved. I cried for about forty-five minutes after the service. That was twelve years ago. I’ve been without drugs or alcohol since then.” 

From there, Scott formed a strong desire to write music for the church. Today, Allen is completely clean and is about to release his first single produced by one of the biggest names in the Gospel music industry. His life has completely changed and today he uses church music to influence the lives of others.

So why can listening, playing or writing church music help keep you sober?

It’s Positive And Replaces Something Bad With Something Good. 

One of the things about addiction is that it affects everything and everyone around you and produces a cycle of negativity. You start losing your friends, family, and in extreme cases, your life. Not only that, it can also affect your mental health state. 

Substance abuse can lead to depression and other mental health disorders. By putting something so positive and so uplifting into the brain on a consistent basis, it only helps to aid in recovery and keep addicts on a sober path. 

In psychology, this is referred to as negative thought replacement therapy. Replacing a negative thought with a happy thought can become extremely helpful on the road to recovery, and this is something that church music has done for me and many others. 

It Focuses Your Energy Elsewhere 

When you’re on the road to recovery being able to put your energy into something other than drugs is vital for staying focused on sobriety. 

Focusing my own energy elsewhere was my strongest defense in keeping clean. Instead of hanging out with party friends, or being in dangerous places, I was focusing my energy on writing music, praying, and keeping positive company. 

It Leads You To Something Greater Than Yourself

The main reason I believe church music has helped me, as well as so many others with addiction, is it allows you to focus on a “higher power,” something greater than yourself. 

One of the reasons 12-step programs have been so successful is that idea of submitting to a higher power for help. For me, I found that “higher power” through God, the church, and community, and I can say with confidence that I am a completely different person because of it. I am free from my past, and healed from my pain. 

At the end of the day I have to say that church music has had a great impact on my life. It helped me get back on my feet and stay sober. It has changed my life for the better and is still influencing me on a daily basis.

Joseph Tejeda is a writer.

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