Many years ago, when I first studied the blues as a musical form, my teacher, Roland Wiggins, was a brilliant, passionate hero in my life. Although Roland approached the techniques of music with a precise logician’s toolkit, at the same time, he opened us up to the spiritual paradoxes and painful poetry of this classic American form. The blues, for Roland, were anchored in an experience of captivity and oppression.
Later, my own recovery would come, and I would think about my addiction as a personal experience of captivity. Under the thumb of alcohol and other substances, what in AA’s literature might be called my “rapacious creditor.”
The blues used dissonance, even “blue notes,” that bent pitches outside the conventional 12-note form, to not only capture the difficulty of those circumstances, to rage against the wind. No, in finding their musical expression, the spirituals and blues are a finding voice, an affirmation of personal worth and value and a claim. Their spark illuminates the shadow world of hurt and brokenness, scandal and discrimination, and refuses to be silenced.
Like humor in a treatment center, the blues can be raunchy, ironic, angry, or ridiculous. But it’s also the music itself, the simple fact of the bass, the guitar, the drums, the piano, or whatever the instruments, the people themselves are banding together.
Our newsletter may have touched you, particularly if you are suffering in some way at this time of year. Many of us find these to be difficult times, as the consumer world adorns itself with glitter and lights, and Santas and menorahs are at every turn. The elevator muzak sounds like the “Whos down in Whoville,” but our hearts may very well not be ready to grow three sizes today.
What sparked me to choose this article as my own for the newsletter is my deep love of that struggle and of the way in which working in treatment honors the courageous journey we make, choosing to brave the storm, wait for the morning, and not drink or use, one day at a time. When meetings invite us to speak of “gratitude” and we are not ready, our gratitude speaks nonetheless if we simply are there, and tell our truth, that we are struggling today.
I don’t have a favorite recovery blues song – perhaps I should write one. When I do, though, it will go something like this:
Oh, my day done gone awry
I don’t know yet what to do
But baby I’ll no longer lie
I know I got to be true
You’re a light in my darkness
You’re a star in my sky
You’re the dream I hold onto
You’re my only reason why
Yeah my day done gone crazy
But I know just what to do
Instead of being lazy
I’ll come running back to you.
That you may be a loved one, the God of your understanding, the home group where you spend an hour each week and know you belong, or the clubhouse and its marathon meeting, late at night on New Years’ Eve. Perhaps we’ll catch each other in one of those moments, and together, our blues will shine.