Drumming Out Addiction

By Scott Binder 06/28/15

I’ve learned that sometimes the most effective tool for healing is doing simple activities we did for fun growing up. For me, that was drumming.

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During the course of my recovery, I’ve learned that sometimes the most effective tool for healing is doing simple activities we did for fun growing up. For example, being out in nature, going for walks, coloring. I'll focus on the one I loved most—drumming.

Ever since I’d been a kid, I’ve been drawn to drumming. As young boys, my older brother and I had banged on Mom’s pots and pans so much she ended up getting us a drum set so we wouldn’t ruin her cookware. However, drumming was not reserved only for those of us who loved something that drove the neighbors nuts. As it turns out, drumming is an extraordinarily therapeutic tool for sober folks like you and me.

Although I ended up putting down the drumsticks about a year or so after I had started playing, my love for percussion remained. When I got sober in 2000, I started to think about things I could do for fun. The last couple years of me using had been devoid of fun, but knowing the importance in creating joy in sobriety, I decided it was time to start that process. 

It didn’t take long for me to remember how much fun drumming could be. As I dug into playing percussion, not only did I reconnect with my passion for it, but I discovered its immense healing powers. As I started to experience the medicinal powers of drumming, I wondered what kind of science backed what I was feeling. 

Over the years I’ve come across many articles that illustrate the positive effects drumming has on addiction. Instead of providing you with a slew of examples, I chose a quote from an article by Dr. Michael Winkelman that I believe sums it up perfectly: “Drumming enhances recovery through inducing relaxation and enhancing theta-wave production and brain-wave synchronization. Drumming produces pleasurable experiences, enhanced awareness of preconscious dynamics, release of emotional trauma, and reintegration of self. Drumming alleviates self-centeredness, isolation, and alienation, creating a sense of connectedness with self and others.”

Below are the three methods I’ve discovered over the years that have been a source of healing, inspiration, and fun for me. Of course, I'm not saying that there are only three benefits to drumming; this is simply what I have discovered so far. 

1. Drumming for inner peace and enjoyment—You can play drums both for fun and therapeutic purposes. As Dr. Winkelman said, drumming enhances pleasurable experiences and helps us connect with ourselves and others. The simple act of drumming is literally food for the soul. Whether you play by yourself or in a drum circle with others, it’s an amazing activity that’ll help you enjoy life more deeply. Drumming is a great release and stress reliever. And because most of us have been carrying a lot of trauma, drumming is an effective way to help us release it. 

2. Rock Star Drummer—Do you have the desire to tour around the world playing drums in a band? If this is your goal, I say, why not? Maybe you have a desire to play drums at a high level but not to the level of the superstar drummer. Or maybe you just want to play in a local band or a group that plays at local coffeeshops around town? No matter which end of the spectrum you’re on, I think all of them are great pursuits. I believe it’s important for us to create fulfillment in our lives, and cultivating your skills as a percussionist in these ways can be a great way to do this.

3. Shamanic Journey—This might be my favorite. Certainly, it is again lately. Shamans have been using this technique for centuries, and it remains a powerful tool for helping people solve problems in their lives today. Have you ever participated in a guided meditation? A shamanic journey is similar, except with this method, it’s the sounds and vibrations of the drum that guide you. One technique of the journey is to think of a question you have about something in your life that you’d like to gain clarity about. Once the journey starts, you ask for your power animal's advice about the question. The main component of this technique is connecting with your power animal/animals and asking for advice. In shamanism, power animals are our guides in animal form; allies who can help us navigate through life. One can turn to these wise oracles for advice and counsel on any issues or questions that one has. Power animals are teachers who can help you learn both about the natural and spirit world. I also like to think of power animals as being a direct connection to our intuition and higher power. The more I connect with my power animals, the more my choices are in alignment with my authentic self. 

If you are interested in shamanic journeys, there are two basic ways to get involved. One is by being a participant guided by the drum. The other is by participating as the facilitator of the experience by playing the drum. If you’d like to facilitate the experience, I recommend you learn from someone who knows what they are doing so they can teach you how to facilitate for a group of people. 

The drum is a powerful tool, and I’ve come to believe that literally everyone in the world has the ability to be a drummer if they’d like to be. Whether you are playing for fun or using the drum to help you continue to work on yourself, drumming can truly be a life-transforming tool for you. If you decide to dig into the world of shamanic drumming, I believe you’ll discover a side of yourself that you’ve been trying to unlock for quite some time. The insights we gain by going on shamanic journeys help explore our authentic desires, leading us down paths of healing and joy. Playing drums for sheer enjoyment can also be an effective augmentation in recovery, because at the end of the day, being sober ought to be fun. And playing drums is fun. If you don’t want to play drums, even if you just listen to them, the vibrations can be healing and relaxing depending on the style of drumming you are listening to.

On top of the benefits you’ll obtain on the mental, spiritual, and physical level, drumming is also a great way to cultivate community. Whether you participate in drum circles, or learn how to drum on a kit, or attend shamanic drum journeys, the drum has the power to bring people together and help heal us as we walk along the road of recovery. 

Scott Binder is the author of Make Some Noise. He last wrote about thinking big and achieving your goals and how his cancer is a gift. Follow Scott’s life, and path of healing cancer on Instagram.

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