This post was originally published on September 1, 2014.
“When you’re in early recovery, every other song sounds like a recovery song.” So said my friend Jamie, a recovering heroin addict, just before his band ripped into a totally rocking and joy-filled cover of World Party’s “Put The Message In The Box” at an NA party a few years ago, and he was right. It’s kinda like when you’re falling in love (or getting over a breakup) and even the sappiest piece of crap on the radio sounds like it was written for you and the object of your desire. There’s just something in the song that connects with how you’re feeling, and it speaks to you in a really personal, meaningful and—yup—spiritual way. In terms of songs that sound like they’re about recovery, even if there are no mentions of being shattered or thinly disguised references to drugs, even if the artist isn’t an addict or alcoholic, you think you know exactly the intended recovery meaning anyway. Here are five songs that I believe qualify for this:
1) Change – Tracy Chapman
There ain’t no bigger change than when we first decide to put down the toys, so Tracy Chapman’s “Change” kicks off my list. This ethereally beautiful, mostly acoustic song is a series of questions that asks what it would get for you to take a different path than active addiction, with lines like “How bad, how good does it need to get? How many losses, how much regret?” and “If everything you think you know makes your life unbearable, would you change?” This song has the power to make me feel good whether I’m riding high or the shit fairy is camping out in my frontal lobe. While a Google search turns up no evidence that Chapman is an addict or alcoholic, half her catalogue sounds like it was written by one.
2) Feels So Different – Sinead O’Connor
How can this not be a recovery song? It starts out with her reciting the Serenity Prayer, for Christ sakes. It’s also hauntingly beautiful and powerful and helps me remember how totally fucking lucky I am to be clean and sober—and how I got that way. My life “seems so different” because it is. O’Connor is another one who’s not known to be in recovery but is reportedly bipolar, which might explain some of the heartfelt desperation in her voice.
3) You Get What You Give – New Radicals
Not all my choices are slow and touching. “You Get What You Give” is not only my personal favorite upbeat recovery song but also reminds me that there probably is no better way to sum up how to get the most bang for your buck out of a 12-step program (or life in general). I should crank this every time I don’t feel like picking up someone who drives me crazy to take them to a meeting. Or if I just want to feel good.
4) Times Like These – The Foo Fighters
There’s a much more rocking rendition of this song, but this quasi-acoustic version does a better job at conveying what recovery feels like when you want to run back to the comfort of the booze and drugs, but realize by not caving in that you can get through any of the shit.
5) I Can See Clearly Now – Jimmy Cliff
I know it’s an oldie, but sometimes you can’t beat a classic like this. Really, who cares if it probably has nothing to do with addiction? The message is timeless for anybody going through anything and particularly if that anything is early recovery. “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone”? “Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for”? Not to sound like someone I once would have judged harshly but if we’re talking about recovery, it’s going to be a bright sun shiny day indeed.