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New Beginnings at Recovery Unplugged

by Lauren Emily Whalen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday June 13, 2022

New Beginnings at Recovery Unplugged
  (Source:Recovery Unplugged)

Before Recovery Unplugged, CJ Salazar was three different people.

"One side was a person I showed my family, which was a husk of who I really was," recalls the now-sober Texas native and alum of the recovery center. "[T]he other one was the party friend who could handle themselves and outdo everyone at the party, and lastly [there was] the night owl, who allowed men to lure me into dark corners to try and catch a high I lost years prior."

Last year, Salazar's sister offered him a place to live—and saw he needed help. Salazar hadn't been to rehab, but his insurance matched with Recovery Unplugged. The experience changed him for good, thanks to the national organization's music-focused treatment for those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and its welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community.

"I want to say life led me to Recovery Unplugged," Salazar says. "But thinking about it now, my higher power led me to RU."

The Struggles of Addiction

Raised in a strict Christian household, Salazar started using drugs, mainly methamphetamines, at 13 years old, before coming out to his parents at 14. "My mom was not very keen [on] the idea of her firstborn being gay," he says. Uncomfortable around family, Salazar "fled to others and mainly substances for so-called love and affection I thought I couldn't get at home," he says.

What followed was a decade of drug use. Though he lived close to his mother and siblings as an adult, he barely got in touch. Salazar's weight dropped to 90 pounds, and he was constantly paranoid. "I lost myself and who I wanted to be in life," he says.

When Salazar was 23, a one-night stand pointed a gun at his head. "I ran inside my apartment crying and promising myself I would never touch a drug again in my life," Salazar remembers. Twenty-four hours later, Salazar was using again. Soon after, his sister intervened and Salazar was on his way to Recovery Unplugged's Austin, Texas, location.

(Source: Recovery Unplugged)

The Way Through

Salazar's first step at RU was its Partial Hospitalization Program, where he stayed for 30 days before transitioning into sober housing. Salazar then participated in the facility's Intensive Outpatient Program, going back three days a week to learn how to deal with real-world situations "with a clear and open mind," Salazar says.

Through it all, Salazar found healing through his love of music. Recovery Unplugged stands out by integrating music into every stage of treatment. According to its website, the organization "offer[s] all levels of care, including medical detoxification, medication-assisted treatment and comprehensive behavioral rehab, to address the full spectrum of substance use disorder while using music to influence [patients'] mood, energy, and engagement with treatment."

Salazar attests to the power of these specialized treatments, including "Pump Up," in which patients started their day by dancing to music. "It was a way for us to openly express ourselves without judgment," he says. "Pump Up gave me confidence in myself and reminded me none of us knew what we were doing, but as long as we danced, let go, and lived in the moment, that's all that mattered."

In Salazar's Music Therapy group, a member would play a song that evoked emotion or memory, then explain why they chose it before other group members talked about their experiences hearing it. For Salazar, this exercise was restorative. "Having a group acknowledge ... what music can do for the brain and the chemicals it releases when hearing sounds that evoke joy and happiness even through moments of despair validated what I always felt," he says. "The group taught me that music would give me the courage to say, 'Hey, I need help.'"

Salazar's favorite experience at Recovery Unplugged was Open Mic Night: a weekly performance where audience members can only give positive feedback. Salazar suffered from stage fright until Open Mic Night gave him the courage to perform his own work. "I learned I had a knack for poetry ... of letting my feelings go through pen and paper," he says. "I still have those poems I wrote. I read them every now and then to remind myself ... no matter what I am strong, and I deserve good things in life."

(Source: Recovery Unplugged)

Welcome, LGBTQ

Before Recovery Unplugged, Salazar says, "I was never allowed such a safe space to ... pour out not only what I felt about my addiction, but [also] my sexuality." Salazar knows firsthand the struggle of growing up in a homophobic environment and the unhealthy coping mechanisms many undertake. He says, "For a lot of LGBTQ+ youth, insecurity, fear of rejection and lack of being able to be self-expressive are the forces that drive to ... finding comfort in mind altering substances, because life is filled with judgment."

Thanks to welcoming staff at Recovery Unplugged, Salazar felt validated, which greatly aided in his recovery. "Everyone I came in contact with, from the counselors, therapists and techs were open minded, they were honest with us, and ... were willing to help us," he says. Though he's no longer a patient, he attends alumni meetings and often calls Recovery Unplugged, he says, "to see if there's any way I can help." Now a year sober, Salazar is deeply grateful to the organization who "uplifted a little gay kid from South Texas who lost himself.

"Recovery Unplugged ... creates a sense of belonging to a community that LGBTQ+ [people] don't normally get from society," he says. "And that's something that is indescribable."

If you need help, please contact Recovery Unplugged at 855-621-4247 or visit visit the Recovery Unplugged website.

Lauren Emily Whalen is a writer, performer and aerialist living in Chicago. Her third YA novel "TAKE HER DOWN," a queer retelling of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," will be released by Bold Strokes Books in March and is now available for preorder. Learn more at laurenemilywrites.com.

Lauren Emily Whalen is a writer, performer and aerialist living in Chicago. She's the author of four books for young adults. Learn more at laurenemilywrites.com.