- Associated Press - Saturday, December 24, 2016

CHESTERTON, Ind. (AP) - The struggles, hopes and triumphs of those recovering from addiction are poured out on a stage every Thursday night in a garage turned into a recording studio behind the offices of Frontline Foundations.

Frontline’s music recovery program is offered in addition to its counseling services to provide its clients and former clients an opportunity to create and perform music as a component to the recovery process.

Mike Plebanski, a case manager at Frontline, a musician himself, understands the basic human need of self-expression and the relationship between music and spirituality. The weekly sessions, which draw about 10 to 15 clients, meld Bible study and a discussion about all types of music, which leads to the unique collaboration of all aspects of creating music in a variety of genres.

The clients perform as the Salt Exchange, a reference to the biblical passage calling people the salt of the Earth.

Their efforts have resulted in the production of two albums of original music; a third is underway.

Having a voice

“I poured everything into it just because I feel it’s such a great outlet - especially for recovery,” Plebanski said. “People are looking for that outlet. There’s that angst, there’s this internal pull, and especially early on in that recovery people have to have a voice. People have to be able to say what they need to say and feel comfortable. That was my biggest thing, was really creating an environment that everybody feels welcome. Everybody’s music, no matter where it comes from, whether it’s hip hop, punk, acoustic, grunge, blues, whatever it is, we bring it all together, we all have our say in it. It’s a beautiful thing to see it come together.”

While most of the participants are musicians, or have some musical background, it’s not a prerequisite. The only requirement is that everyone participate.

Plebanski said the discussion and musical collaboration give the clients an important and positive place to be. It keeps them plugged into a community, it helps them avoid some of the negative influences in their lives and the music helps facilitate a transformation in their lives.

Plebanski said counselors learn the importance of treating the mind, body and soul, but many treatments offered address only the body and the mind.

“But when you mention the word soul, people are like, ‘Whoa, we don’t talk about soul.’ Whether it’s taboo or they don’t want to get involved in it or they don’t believe. It’s just a crucial part of not only recovery but life. It’s that spirit, your purpose, your meaning, what gets you up in the morning . who are you? And music is our way of expressing that.

“A lot of times in addiction people have suppressed so much for so long that when they do put the substance down and they do start getting their mind back, they start getting their body back, their soul is either depleted, they pushed it all down, there’s nothing in there or it’s overflowing. It needs a voice. It needs a way to express itself.”

Honesty

Jesse Bailey, 22, a guitarist from Valparaiso, said he had faced consequences for his addiction in the past, but other programs didn’t have an effect on him.

Community service “never changed my heart,” he said.

He said the weekly discussions allowed him to be honest with himself and reflect on his life.

And the creative process allowed music to be a part of his transformation.

Bailey said he grew up in a family of gospel singers, and he’s been creating music for years.

The music he creates sounds vastly different than the traditional gospel music his family performed.

“I wanted to venture off into a more honest genre,” he said.

‘A different kind of gospel’

“It’s a different kind of gospel for us,” said drummer and guitarist Morgan Szczygielski, 22, of Valparaiso.

Music connects her faith with her recovery.

“I feel like when people think of gospel in church and stuff like that and you think of this giant, organized religion where everybody comes together and it feels as though you have to be a certain way. For me, personally, I’m Christian, nondenominational, but this group, it gives you faith, almost. I know faith comes from within, but it really helps reach into your soul, and just it speaks through music. It’s amazing.”

Szczygielski said her recovery is a slow process, but it started with a wake-up call when her addiction took her close to death.

“I hit rock bottom,” she said.

“That’s a real, real thing.”

“For me . I was self-cannibalizing - I don’t know the word for it . self-loathing I guess. It was to a point of I couldn’t work, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I was very close to dying before - that was my rock bottom, was knowing that it was real. You’re in the hospital and you’re laying there and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m alive, OK.’ That was my personal rock bottom.”

She credits her mother and fiancé for helping her in recovery and said the music collaboration is key to changing her life.

“We collaborate so well,” Szczygielski said. “We all pick something and we play and it just comes out as this beautiful thing that works. And I don’t know how, it just does. It’s like a diary that we’re singing.”

‘Where spirituality and music meet’

Vocalist Joell Bailey, 25, of Valparaiso, said he was court-ordered to attend Frontline Foundations.

Along with his brother Jesse, he too grew up touring with his gospel-singing family where they performed in churches around the country.

He said his grandfather would tell him and his brother they would be the sixth generation of performers.

But Joell Bailey said he hasn’t shared the music he’s helped create at Frontline with his family - at least not yet.

When he was a child, he said he saw firsthand the effect music had on people and their faith.

“It is definitely cool to see what effect it has on people - religion, that is, just that it could move someone to tears, or to do something wild that they would normally never do. It’s a pretty amazing thing. I think music is just like that, too. That’s where spirituality and music meet - is that they can both have those effects on people, whether it be to feel a certain emotion, or see things a certain way.”

‘God’s response’

Michael Rodich, 21, of Chesterton, has tried writing all kinds of music and has written poetry from a young age.

He grew up in church and played guitar and sang with a praise band.

“But I lost a lot of respect for the religious side of church,” he said. “I was tired of listening to others’ ideas of what my faith should look like.”

He completed the court-ordered portion of his program at Frontline, but has continued attending the music recovery program.

“I ended up finishing what was required for me by the courts and I stayed here just because I fell in love with the people here. Being around here keeps my head on straight. It gives me a place to be instead of out using or causing a ruckus or acting out or drinking or whatever I would be doing if I wasn’t here.”

He said performing at Frontline helps him deal with his anger and his relationship with God.

“I spent a lot of time almost angry with God in my writing, but once it’s there and it’s on the paper and I say it to the microphone, it’s like he hears me and the reaction on other people’s faces when they hear the music that I make, it’s almost like God’s response to me.”

‘Finding light’

Guitarist Alex McGowan, 21, of Valparaiso, also was court-ordered to attend Frontline, but found the positive atmosphere radically changed his life and the music he creates.

From the time he was 8 years old, he started writing poetry, a gift he shared with his grandmother, as a way to express himself.

“I’ve always been that kid that was rapping in the lunchroom. And everybody’s like kinda looking down on that and throwing negativity and shade on that type of behavior. And this is honestly the first time that I’ve experienced someone other than me finding light in what I do and trying to bring positivity to it, and it’s really inspiring. They gave me the opportunity to perform - that was incredible. It’s really just a chance to reach out and definitely being surrounded by positivity.”

McGowan said representatives from the United Way of Porter County visited with Frontline clients to learn more about addiction recovery and to hear their suggestions for improving services in the community.

“The fact that they were giving us sort of a voice and an influence in our community, we’re just, well, delinquents, as the community would name us, was kind of powerful they would trust us with that type of information or even value our opinion. That’s pretty cool. This is the most comfortable situation I’ve been forced into. I didn’t expect to stay here.”

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Source: The (Northwest Indiana) Times, https://bit.ly/2gYgUvg

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Information from: The Times, https://www.nwitimes.com

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