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Outpatient recovery is rife with both opportunities and challenges. Whether you are stepping down from inpatient treatment or completing your recovery goals on an entirety outpatient basis, you can use music as a tool. Music therapy is one holistic approach to substance use disorder (SUD) with an extremely diverse set of benefits and applications. Music therapy for SUD recovery has activities that are safe enough to practice anywhere. Give some of these ideas a try. You may find you have been relying on music for much more than you realized all along.

Create Mixes for Others in Outpatient Recovery

We can use our time in outpatient recovery to learn to express ourselves and gratitude towards others. Making a mixtape used to be a rather intimate act. These days, more folks will go for playlists or CDs. The benefit of a tangible item is you can theme and gift it to the recipient. Designing a set list around another person‘s preferences can be a challenge for those of us with particular tastes. However, learning to meet others on their own terms is a vital recovery skill. 

The only way to become less selfish is to practice selfless behavior. Exchanging playlists with others helps us get to know our friends and encourages healthy, sober interactions. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your creation, that is fine. But it’s probably a good idea to process your motivations around why. Your choice of songs may be much more revealing about the relationship at a second glance. It is okay to use music alone for self-expression, provided we harm nobody else. Consider it the equivalent of writing a letter you never intend to send.

Learn a Simple Instrument

Outpatient recovery offers an excellent opportunity to learn new practical coping skills. Even if you have never played an instrument in your life, there is something simple enough for you to begin experimenting with. Anyone can operate a simple percussive, such as shaker eggs, maracas, or the classic triangle. Set aside any expectations of sounding great immediately. Just try to nail making a consistent sound. Next, try playing along to the radio. If you can keep a beat, fantastic! You’re on your way to moving up to a xylophone or recorder. If you sound off, that’s fine too. 

Learning not to judge ourselves is a process, but it’s achievable. You will make mistakes learning anything. Shake it off, laugh, and try dancing for a bit. At worst, you will dominate your local silly dancing competition and take pride in putting Elaine from Seinfeld to shame. Learning to take our ineffectiveness in stride or not allowing failure at a task to determine our self-worth also takes time. Music is a safe venue for practice.

For those who already play, consider expanding your repertoire or returning to regular habits during outpatient recovery. If your instrument has historically been a source of comfort, don’t beat yourself up if playing fell by the wayside during a using period. Your work isn’t lost, but it’s never too soon to get back into practice. If you are feeling adventurous or creative, consider experimenting with other instruments, singing, or developing your songwriting or production skills. 

Whether you play for fun or leisure, these are all areas musicians can mine for entertainment therapeutically. Some find it helpful to put themselves on a regimen. An example of this might be setting the goal of ten minutes of scales and learning one new song daily. Adjust to your level of skill, comfort, and time availability.

Use Playlists to Regulate Difficult Emotions

Outpatient recovery is rife with challenges. One can truly never have too many positive coping mechanisms. Many of us learn in treatment that our dependence on chemicals is often based on a desire to change the way we feel. Music is an infinitely safer way to accomplish this goal than our former substances of choice. Indeed, entire music-based substance use interventions exist based on the premise of filling previous unhealthy habits and unmet needs with music.

Understanding, processing, and managing emotions are critical developmental skills for successful outpatient recovery. Start with a list. Go with the negative emotions you find most triggering or difficult. Next, begin a playlist for each category. If anxiety is your first trigger, try coming up with five to ten songs that you already know to help calm you down. 

Emotions like anger may require more expressive songs. Feel free to play with the order of your selections and observe how playing different categories in different order affects your internal state. This is a project that can be tinkered with indefinitely. Start with three basics, but don’t be surprised if you soon develop a desire to fill in your emotional rainbow. 

One list of intentional feel-good music can prove critical in times of need. The styles may seem all over the place, but that’s okay. If you aren’t sure where to begin or don’t listen to much, consider some of these artists and bands  in recovery:

  • The Beach Boys: A childhood staple for many of us, we love surfing and surf music at West Coast Recovery Centers. Chief songwriter Brian Wilson is a dual diagnosis client and inspiration worldwide.
  • Eminem: This rapper in recovery is blunt about both his former problem and solutions.
  • Natalie Cole: If jazz is more your speed, it doesn’t get more “Unforgettable” than Natalie’s version of the song with her father, Nat King Cole. Like Chet Baker and many other jazz greats, the Coles struggled with heroin. Their many classics celebrate joy and spirituality.

Music therapy is just one of many promising and safe holistic options for addressing chemical dependency and its common concurrent psychiatric symptoms. Drinking and narcotics can indeed be handled on an outpatient basis. Outpatient recovery presents challenges that are difficult to address alone. When you partner with West Coast Recovery Centers, you will have access to an abundance of therapeutic and practical resources. We specialize in providing clinical support, many modality options, appropriate social structure, and accountability as you carve out your life after substance use. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we prioritize treating you as the unique individual you are. Call our compassionate care team to learn more at (760) 492-6509.

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