Sunday, May 10, 2015

Music Heals

“Hello.  My name is Jennifer and I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.”

I’ve been clean and sober for 24 years but my sobriety doesn’t erase my past or change that essential part of who I am.  In fact, it’s a guiding principle in my life and has affected the majority of my decisions.

You might be wondering, after reading these first four sentences, what in tarnation this has to do with music in the Chippewa Valley?   I beg your indulgence and ask that you continue to read.  This blog is important to me.

One of the decisions I made in recovery from addiction and after my release from prison was my choice of professions.  I am a licensed mental health therapist specializing in addictions.  Most people know me as “Jennifer Hazen,” a name I originally took on Facebook to avoid “dual relationships” with my clients.  The name Jennifer Hazen took on a life of its own and now I accept it as much as I do my legal name.

So let me start this blog again:
“Hello.  My name is Jennifer Coyne and I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. I also sing in some bands and I’m writing to ask you for your help.”

I work at a small, community-based, non-profit counseling center in Menomonie, Wisconsin called Arbor Place.  Arbor Place is known, primarily, for its residential drug treatment center but we also offer outpatient mental health services, and we are moving into an integrated model treating both addictions and mental health in our residential program. 

Arbor Place sits on the corner of 21st Street and 3rd Avenue, behind Mayo/Red Cedar Hospital. It’s been there for over 35 years.  It is an old house and tens of thousands of addicts and alcoholics have walked through its doors.  It’s old.  Run-down.  The linoleum is battered.  There are white trails in the carpeting marking foot-traffic.  It has 5 bathrooms for 16 residents.  It’s stifling hot in the summer and in the winter, in some areas of the house, you can see your breath.  There have been attempts at renovation, but in reality the building is just tired and, frankly, is limited in size relative to need.

I started my career at Arbor and worked there for almost 6 years until moving forward in 2008.  In November of 2013 I got a call from the director, Jill Gamez, offering me a job.  In all honesty, I had no intention of accepting the offer, but I thought I’d meet with her and hear her out.  When I got there she showed me the plans for a new building. I was riveted.  Like my clients, I’d spent my career in battered, tired offices with faded carpet and stained industrial furniture.  The idea of working in an aesthetically pleasing environment was a new concept.  And providing our clients a place equipped with luxuries like bathrooms, temperature-controlled rooms, an exercise room, an art room, a garden and comfortable furniture was revolutionary.  And doing this all while doubling our capacity and keeping the costs of treatment affordable is unheard of.  You see, Arbor Place is the area’s most inexpensive treatment center.  Let me give you an example: Hazelden, an illustrious treatment center in Minnesota, is approximately $28,000 for a 28-day stay.  Closer to home the costs range from $10,000 to $17,000.  Arbor Place is approximately $6000.  And Jill’s vision is to keep our costs affordable, despite the new building.   I accepted the job and started back at Arbor in January of 2014.  You see I, too, have a vision for our new center: The infusion of music into treatment.

I avoided music for almost 13 years.  I’d decided music was a “trigger.”  I believed that music brought flashbacks of my drug-using.  That changed one day when, in my undergraduate program, after a long day of work my then 13-year-old-son, Toby, invited me into his room to listen to some music. Frankly, I didn’t want to do it.  I was tired. I had no interest in his teeny-bopper music.  Still, wanting to be a good mother and be involved in his enthusiasms, I did.  He played me Big N Rich and System Of A Down. 

I was electrified.

In that moment I understood it wasn’t all music that evoked memories of my drug-using past, just certain songs and genres.  I dove into music, saddened by its absence from my life and desperate to make up for lost time.

I believe music is important.  It is important for our quality of life and important for the quality of our mental health. It walks as partner with us through our fears, joys, heartaches and triumphs, echoing, reflecting and comforting us in our life’s journey. It alters our perspective, lifts us up in times of need and, quite literally, changes the way our synapses fire. Music is valuable and must be a psychological need, since we’ve been making music since the dawn of time.

Unfortunately, too many musicians succumb to the myth of “sex and drugs and rock and roll” as a path to creativity and happiness.  And we lose talented musicians all the time.  I’m not just talking about Jimmy Morrison or Amy Winehouse.  I’m talking about people close to home, close to our families and to us.  Many of them are out there as I write, slowing killing themselves with their sweet, deadly poison. We know who they are. We see them. We regretfully shake our heads. Perhaps we’ll turn to our friend saying something like, “S/he’s got so much talent, too bad….”

Many people come to treatment with nothing.  No money, no clothes, nowhere to live.  They’ve burned their bridges and have no one to turn to for support.  They’ve pawned their TVs, their phones, their microwaves and their guitars.  I want Arbor Place to be prepared for that.  Certainly many will—and do—come to Arbor with their instruments, but I want one of the intake questions to be, “Do you play an instrument?  If so, you are welcome to bring it in and if you don’t have one, we’ve got one you can use.”

I’ve already developed my own music therapy group, now used at two area treatment centers, but I want more.  I want to make our new Arbor Place the place our local musicians can go when they’ve had too much.  When they wake up and say, “I can’t do this anymore.  It’s killing me.  I have to stop.” I want them to know that Arbor Place is where they can come to get clean and sober and reacquaint themselves with their craft--their passion--without drugs and alcohol.
As an addict I did terrible things and went to terrible places.  I understand how addiction steals our very essence: it steals our morals, our integrity, our passion, our creativity, our honesty—it steals everything that is good, right and real.  And, as a recovering addict, I know that there’s always hope.  We can restore and remake ourselves in recovery.  I know, because I did it and I’ve seen countless others who have also done it.

Now here’s where I’m busting myself out.  Fronting myself off. I’ve worked hard at keeping my professional life separate from my private life.  The boundaries have been blurring over the past year and that’s OK, because I’m merging Jennifer Hazen and Jennifer Coyne, starting with this blog, in the interest of my passions: Music and helping people recovering from addiction.

And here’s where you come in:

I’ve initiated a GoFundMe Campaign to buy musical equipment for the new building.  I would like a PA system, microphones, amps, a bass, guitars—electric and acoustic--drums and other percussion instruments.  I want to start daily drum circles and weekly recovery jams (read about the efficacy of drum circles in recovery >here<).  I would like to, eventually, have some basic recording equipment and, perhaps in years to come, put out some Arbor Place recovery CDs.  I want music available to all our clients in whatever form suits them best.  My goal is $6000 by July 11th.  We will also be accepting donations of musical equipment and MP3 players, all of which will stay in-house, for use by current clients.

July 11th is the date of our grand opening celebration.  It is open to everyone and there will be live music from noon to 5:00.   

The Eclectic Barn Boys with Randy Sinz, Gregg Wheeler and Johnny Lynch will be playing from 12-1:30

Jenny and the Lost Boys with Jennifer Hazen, Jim Phillips, David Jones and John LeBrun will be playing from 1:30-3:00

Jenny and the Jets will host an open jam for anyone who wants to get up on stage from 3:00-5:00.

And there's a rumor that local singer-songwriter, Yata, will make a special appearance.

Please donate money to my cause by clicking >here<.  It’s a good cause and your money—and your trust—will be used wisely and to an honorable purpose.  If you want to donate equipment you can email me at and I can arrange pick up times.

And please, please, please come to our opening celebration on July 11th.  I’ll be posting more about it on this blog and on Facebook.

Thank you so much for reading.

Jennifer Hazen Coyne.

You can read more about the power of music to help heal addiction:
Healing Power Of Music--BBC
Music As Drug
Who Needs Drugs When You've Got Music? NPR