An amazing story about a teen, who beat the odds by joining a rock band right after a successful stay at a substance abuse rehab and now is on the road to sober stardom.
“Change is hard, although for some it may seem easy. If you’re addicted to crack, stay out of crack homes. If you’re an alcoholic, stay out of bars, and so on and so forth. But there are other things that need to change that aren’t so simple. What if you live in a house with an active addict? Or if you have a job that enables you? For example, if you are addicted to pain pills, you can’t be a pharmacist. It would be like giving a five-year-old the keys to Toys-R-Us.”
Ira Levy, 25-year Recovery Professional Executive
While Levy’s interpretation of environmental addiction triggers holds true for many individuals trying to recover from a substance abuse disorder, let me tell you a story about a young man who defied all the odds of recovery while performing saxophone in a toxic environment with a touring rock band.
The following is a story about Dean Mitchell, who chose his own path to recovery. After a number of unsuccessful stints at several teen drug rehabs, Mitchell finally found an addiction treatment center – Inspirations for Youth and Families – that he actually thought would provide the foundation he needed for a sustained recovery. After completing the program with flying colors, Dean believed for the first time that “this sober thing was going to work.”
Dean’s drama did not end there. When it was time for him to pack his bags and return home, he made an extremely risky career decision. He joined a rock band. Even though, he pledged to himself, family, friends and loved ones that he would continue going to fellowship meetings on the road and speak with his sponsor on a daily basis; he was literally putting himself in a cauldron primed for relapse.
For Dean, coming out of an adolescent rehab, he had to to take into account the popular saying: “People, Places and Things,” derived from the 12 Steps. In essence, “People, Places, and Things,” suggest that those in recovery should very definitely avoid people that they hung out with when they were drinking or drugging, the places they went to when they were using, and the things that are associated with their use. This aphorism should have been a red flag for Dean to understand exactly why he should not join a Rock Band – at least in the early-stages of recovery.
This is what Dean would be facing by joining a rock band after filling in the “People, Places, and Things,” blanks.
When it comes to people he probably does not want to hang out with members of a rock band, where drug use often occurs freely.
Think about the challenges Dean would encounter staying sober. He would be frequenting some of the worst places a person in recovery can wind up – a bar or rock concert auditorium – both are often a haven for drugs and alcohol.
As far as things are concerned choosing to join a rock band and tour around the world after recovery could be one of the fastest ways to wind up back in a drug rehab.
But, against all odds, Dean – a prodigal saxophonist – decided to join the Marcus King Band. Five years later, Mitchell plays an integral part in the band that is going places. They recently performed on CBS This Morning. Now they are on a global tour.
We sat down with Dean, at the Tortuga Musical Festival, a three-day, multi-stage music concert featuring some of the biggest names in country, rock and roots music. The Marcus King band was performing. Dean reminisced about his time at Inspirations for Youth teen rehab and his improbable five-year journey towards sobriety, despite performing in a touring Rock Band.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Denise Achee: Hi, I am here today with Dean Mitchell, who was a client of ours nearly five years ago. Dean is a sax player and has been sober for almost five years. Dean called and invited us to see him perform at the Tortuga Festival in Fort Lauderdale and we are so proud of him. So tell us. How has life been the last five years?
Dean Mitchell: It has been a crazy journey.
DA: I remember when you were telling us that you really did not need to find a job because you could just play your sax on the corner and make money. I imagine it is a lot nicer here playing on a big stage with thousands of people in front of you.
DM: I am so grateful
DA: How have you been so successful in your recovery?
DM: I have been to a decent amount of treatment centers. I am from North Carolina and I remember I got into an awful car wreck resulting from my addiction. And I convinced my mom to send me to Inspirations for Youth and Families in Fort Lauderdale because I thought it would be much nicer. You know the scenery, the beach.
And it was nicer, but when you get sober it does not matter where you are. But the program at Inspirations just did it for me. I had my first spiritual experience at Inspirations and it was kind of an eye opener. I felt then like I think I can do this.
At Inspirations, I came to this conclusion and it is still my conclusion today that I should put my recovery before everything – including music and so it is still my thing. This is just a bonus. It is just something that happens extra on top of getting to live.
“I came to this conclusion and it is still my conclusion today that I should put my recovery before everything – including music.”
Dean Mitchell, saxophonist for the Marcus King Band
DA: Isn’t it hard to be in a rock band for someone in recovery?
DM: You know that is a great question because when I was first getting clean I was super-paranoid. Am I going to be able to go to a bar and play and hang out with people who are doing what they do in the music industry? Then I moved to Asheville after Inspirations. And I got connected in the recovery scene there. I got a job working sales. Then I started going to college. While I was practicing all the time, I knew in the back of my head this was what I was going to do.
DA: So how is your career going?
DM: I have been in the music industry for two years. I was in 13 bands and going to school at the same time.
DA: How difficult is it for you to be sober on a rock band?
DM: It could be difficult to be sober anywhere depending on what my spiritual condition is. Before making my decision to join the band I ran it by a million people. I asked them: “Is it okay? Can I play in bars?” People told me to go there and have an intention. Play music, network and go home. And that is what I ended up doing. I have a purpose. It is not like I am out of place at all.
DA: How did you like Inspirations for Youth and Families Teen Rehab?
DM: I would say what separates other treatment centers from Inspirations for Youth and Families, first is that they let me do what I loved to do. It didn’t feel like I was in jail and held against my will as it was just me wanting to improve myself and be the best that I can be at Inspirations. And I felt a lot freer. They gave me the freedom to recover.
DA: Is it true that Inspirations was the only treatment center to allow you to bring and play your saxophone?
DM: The first treatment center that I went to took away my saxophone. And I lashed out. Because it was like that is what I do and that is what I am going for and I didn’t want to be anywhere where I couldn’t feel free to do what I like to do. And express myself. It is a release. You know emotions are going on in a creative way.
DA: When you played the sax at Inspirations, it was like having our very own in-house musician. What can you tell the teens at Inspirations about recovery?
DM: I would just say do the best you can do at Inspirations. That’s actually what my dad told me right before I came to Inspirations. And it always stuck with me. And what that meant to me when I got to Inspirations was to do what they tell you to do.
At Inspirations I felt a lot freer than other treatment centers. They gave me the freedom to recover.
With all the news of “Rock Stars,” entering drug rehabs or worse dying from drug overdoses, Dean’s story of recovery in an environment that is unforgiving – is not only a rarity, but downright inspirational. It is hard enough to maintain sobriety as a member of a rock band. But when you add the dynamic that Dean was in the early stages of recovery when he joined the music group is simply an astounding feat and takes a tremendous amount of self-determination.
“It could be difficult to be sober anywhere depending on what my spiritual condition is. Before making my decision to join the band I ran it by a million people,” said Dean. “I asked them: Is it okay? Can I play in bars? People told me to go there and have an intention. Play music, network and go home. And that is what I ended up doing.”