Jahn, previously a client in PRIDE Site Residential and currently enrolled in Project Contact Outpatient at the Center for Recovery and Wellness (CRW), shares about how music lessons with Mariano (Visiting Musician) helped strengthen his recovery process.
How did you first get involved with doing Music Lessons with Mariano Wainzstein?
I’ve been fortunate enough out of my 59 years to make a living as a musician probably over 20 of those years, where that was exclusively what I did. Also, throughout the rest of my life, music was a large part of my income. I did a million other things for a living as well, like many musicians I know. I was fortunate enough from a very young age to start playing in nightclubs in New York City when I was 14 to 15 years old, including CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City. I was involved in bands such as the Ghosts and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. When I was about 18 I formed a band called the Nightcaps. We got signed to Warner Brothers and we went around opening for millions of other bands over the next few years, most notable of which was probably a tour of England, Scotland and Wales that we did with U2. We played with a lot of other bands, we played with the Ramones and the Clash and, and also bands from other eras because we were a soul influenced band. We played with Sam and Dave, Solomon Burke, and Archie bell and the Drills, and bands too numerous to come to the fore of my brain at the moment. I made a living as a musician for many years, also doing soundtrack music and things like that. My most recent album was made in about 2013.
After long periods of going through sobriety and maintaining sobriety for many years as a working musician in a band called Sugar Time and doing other things, I found myself slipping back. Come late 2019 I started to realize that I was not enjoying where I was and felt I needed to make a change in my life. In January of 2020, I put myself into residential rehabilitation. I sat with a counselor and said I’m not going to make any improvements with a 28-day program, I had been sober for years with AA, I needed a kind of a head start and to reorganize my life a little bit. I checked into Mount Sinai Hospital, and from there I went to St. Christopher’s. It had been about six months of treatment and after that, they were going to let me go. But I said, no, I really feel like I still have more to learn, I still have more to work towards.
I was presented with a bunch of options as far as places to go, and I ended up going to CRW at Educational Alliance. I enrolled in the Pride Site Residential program. I lived there from June of 2020 until December of 2020, when they helped me find a new place to live that I could afford. They helped me get out on my own again, they really supported me in every endeavor, they still do. As a member of the Project Contact Outpatient program, they are still advising me now on making the next steps in my housing and vocational training, studying for a certified alcoholism and substance abuse counselors certificate coming up in the next few months. And that’s all due to the assistance of CRW.
I’m a musician, but I also write poetry, prose, essays, and I was writing a memoir. While I was there, I became involved with a creative writing group. And that led to me joining a film club, and then a book club. And all of which just sustained me, led me back to an early love of writing poetry, which I had long neglected in favor of songwriting. And as a result of that time, I think the people who were working with me recognized that I wanted to be part of any artistic endeavors that were available, and they recommended me to Mariano.
When I met Mariano, my initial wish was to learn to play keyboards. I’ve been a working musician for like 45 years, so I understood how things worked. But I wanted him to teach me how to play piano. What he taught me was so much more than that.
We started talking and realized what we had in common as musicians. I was learning the things he was teaching me and going, “Oh, okay, this is that chord, this is that chord.” But to some degree it was all stuff I kind of knew by instinct. What he did with me is what we musicians called ear training, where we started playing, he would play a series of chords and go, “What’s this chord called?” And I would say, “Oh, that’s a diminished ninth.” And we would go back and forth like that. He started exposing me to opening up my head in a way that I had not previously considered.
He took me from one place out into another, where all the sudden, the things he was exposing me to were ideas about how I thought about music. They were concepts rather than strict, rote learning how to play. One of the first things he did was say, he wanted to take a song that I had written and recorded, and teach me how to play it, which I had never done. I knew how to play it on guitar where I wrote it, I knew how to sing it, I knew what all the notes were, but he wanted to be able to show me on the keyboard what I was doing. And that changed everything for me.
As a musician, it brought me into a whole different world. This was invaluable to me as somebody who writes music, because it gave me a new competence in the language I had already. He showed me how I already knew things I didn’t think I knew. He expanded my brain and musical thought; he took my language of musical thought and he opened up new worlds of possibility to me. I think that’s the best way I can describe what he brought to my musical life.
How do you view music and creative activities in terms of their utility to someone in recovery?
Excellent question, and I’ve thought about this for a while. What changed for me in the face of recovery was that I have this very firm belief now, and I’ve learned from trial and error, that just not drinking or just not taking your drug of choice, whatever it may be, is not enough. Nature abhors a vacuum. If you’re just not doing something, something else will fill it. I got sober for the first time in the early 2000s and I was sober for six years or more. And the first thing that happened in the first year or two was my weight ballooned because I had nothing in the place of alcohol, so I ate. I’ve watched other people who have quit drinking gain sexual compulsions; I’ve watched other people find out that they had gambling problems that they didn’t necessarily know they had when they were trying to stop drinking, or doing that whatever their drug of choice was. There’s that old saying about trying not to think about an elephant. Spend a day and your whole job is trying not to think about an elephant, you’re going to think about an elephant 20 times a day.
What I learned was that I had to put something else in place, and I had to have a reason to go forward. I realized that I had all of this artistic work that I wanted to do, I had all this work that remained in front of me. About 25 pages of some poetry I’ve written ended up in a medical publishing journal about the use of creative writing in treatment of substance abuse disorders. And seeing it made me go, oh yeah. I could see it printed out on the page and it made me realize that I have things I want to do; I have music I want to express, I have lyrics I still want to write, I have a memoir I would very much like to complete. I have all of these artistic endeavors in front of me and maybe even ones I’m not aware of yet. My only visual acuity when it comes to artistic endeavors has been in photography, but now I’m like, why don’t I get an easel and some paints and see what happens. I am to fill that time that I spent chasing oblivion and that time I spent recovering from the sheer folly of that chase. Behind me, there’s something that pushes me forward and it’s the desire for self-expression. Now it’s morphed, it’s not about anyone hearing or knowing it anymore, it’s about me doing the work.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
Mariano opened up avenues of musical thought that I had not yet known existed within myself. And besides that, he’s a sweetheart. A man of gentle and kind spirit, you know, which is such a rarity. I immediately loved that he was the kind of guy you could give a hug and a kiss to. He’s that guy. You can hug him and you can kiss him and you’re just like, “This is my brother.” I could not have asked for a better encounter. It was far more than I expected would be brought out of me artistically when I checked into CRW.