CONNECTING WITH A HIGHER POWER
Two of the best tools in my “spiritual toolkit” for connecting with the Divine Intelligence (along with working the Steps, attending meetings, talking with my sponsor, and service work in the SA fellowship) are singing and playing (or listening to) music. Music is a lifelong passion for me and an important component of my recovery.
I grew up in the American Midwest in a musical family. As a young boy and teenager, my biggest joys were singing in church choirs and playing on my father’s baby grand piano. My father was a minister and choir director who played piano and taught voice lessons. My mother enjoyed playing piano and singing with young children. My sister, the oldest of five children, played guitar and studied harp in college. She’s the one who got me started playing guitar when I was 16 years old, so that’s now over 50 years ago.
SURPRISED BY JOY
Due to the impact of growing up in a dysfunctional family which included a sexaholic father and a co-dependent mother, I had a lot of emotional issues as a teen and suffered depression which, at times, led to suicidal thoughts. What kept me going was listening to the popular music of the time (It was the mid/late 60’s, so that gives you an idea) and learning how to play a lot of those songs on guitar and have fun singing them. Years later, after beginning my journey in recovery, I came to believe that my Higher Power had kept me alive during my adolescent struggles through the power and the joy of music which made my life worth living. And speaking of Joy, the man who later became my sponsor once said to me after a meeting where I had celebrated a recovery milestone, “Congratulations on your sobriety birthday! But, where is your Joy? I don’t see it.” Which reminds me of something in the literature that states, “If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life” (AA 132).
LIVING IN THE PROBLEM
After starting to play guitar during my high school years, I began writing poetry and songs in my early 20s. Around that time, I became an active member of an international yoga community. As a member of that community, I spent many hours playing and singing devotional songs and chanting to the Divine. As part of my spiritual practices, I was celibate for four or five years which was my first experience with sexual sobriety and years before entering recovery. Later, after I left that community, I married my first wife and we had a son together. After that relationship fell apart, I began to play music in public venues (coffee houses, parties, etc.). Sadly, during that time, I was pursuing unhealthy dependency relationships with women that were lust-based and ended up in unhappy messes. One of the songs I wrote during those days is titled, “Beauty Is.” What I find most interesting about the song is that it’s about a sex addict who is “on the hunt” and through his obsession with sex and self is “headed for the void.” So, even before I found my way to the rooms of SA, I knew I had a Problem. I just didn’t have a Solution, yet.
SINGING IN SERVICE
Early in my recovery, as I was making my way through working the Steps, I had come to Steps Four and Five. When I gave what was my first ever Step Five to my sponsor at the time, I expected him to lower the boom on me and tell me I was a “bad person.” I was stunned when he suggested that I focus on playing more music and sharing it with others, along with continuing with my step work, of course. After that, I started to change my old attitude from just seeking attention and praise by playing music for others to playing music and singing for others as an act of service by carrying the message of how to live life with a greater purpose. And, I found a new way to connect with feeling and expressing joy via musical expression. After being in SA recovery for two years, I found a new spiritual community to connect with and be part of. It was a large and active group that had church services and a great choir which I joined and enjoyed singing with. What I didn’t know, at the time, was that my future wife was also a member of the choir! My Higher Power gave me a huge blessing at the right time. Eventually, I began performing solos at church services and even became a member of the house band. That was the first band I had ever performed with and the Promises were coming true for me.
LIVING IN THE SOLUTION
My sobriety and recovery have had a powerful impact on my songwriting focus and content. Two examples of that impact are my songs, “Thread of Love” and “Brand New Day.” The first one, ”Thread of Love,” is about living in the Solution which is all about seeking my connection to that Divine Love I wrote about earlier. The second song, “Brand New Day,” is my Joy song about enjoying Life, one day at a time. This tune came into being during a jam session with my nephew, James. And, finally, in the spirit of service and during my time in recovery, I wrote a birthday song titled, “Happy Sober Day to You.” I have sung this celebratory tune at the end of meetings when a fellow has acknowledged a sobriety milestone. Today is always a great day to be alive and sober! Thank you, Higher Power, for keeping me sober since Dec 28, 1998, and letting me be of use through my music.
You can find Marshal’s songs and their lyrics on our ESSAY website essay.sa.org under ‘“Get Involved” and “Recovery Songs.”