March 14, 2019

Healing through song — and a trip to the Grammys

For Drew McMains, putting a soundtrack to his struggle with substance abuse gave the 17-year-old understanding, hope, and clearer vision for his future.

Drew McMains smiling with one hand forming the ASL sign meaning "I love you"

It wasn't until Drew McMains climbed aboard the plane to Los Angeles that it sank in: He really was headed to the Grammy Awards.

Drew, 17, a Kaiser Permanente member, along with David Bond, won the tickets to the awards through the MusiCares Teens Make Music Contest for their song "Lost." The contest challenges 14- to 18-year-olds to create an original song that celebrates life without alcohol or drugs.

Drew not only attended the Grammys, he also had a chance to peek behind the scenes.

"I was watching the rehearsals, and I had this feeling of inadequacy. It made me want to strive to be better," Drew said.

Drew wrote the song as part of his treatment at Kaiser Permanente's partner Bridgeway Recovery Services in Salem, Oregon. Sonny Saltalamachia, supervisor of Bridgeway's adolescent program, incorporates music into group therapy.

Drew and David collaborated on the song “Lost.” Drew said one section of the lyrics sums up his struggle with substance use: "My life's so confusing 'cuz all these drugs I was using/ My health and brain I've abused/ I hate on people 'cuz it's so amusing/ Not thinking about all the love I am losing."

Bridgeway received grants a little more than a year ago to purchase audio and video recording equipment, said Saltalamachia, a musician himself.

"We wanted to tap into a creative aspect," he said. "To get kids to journal is difficult, but in this context, they want to do it."

Drew McMains and his songwriting partner, David Bond, on the red carpet at the 2019 Grammy Awards
Drew McMains and his songwriting partner, David Bond, on the red carpet at the 2019 Grammy Awards.

Digging to the root

Cassie Pierce, Drew's mother, said the approach helped her son dig to the root of his substance use.

"It can be hard for boys to get down to the touchy-feely things," Pierce said. "There is a stigma that if you use drugs, you're a bad person or make bad choices. But there's a reason why people turn to drugs. Usually there's something missing. There's a hole. Drugs keep you from having to face the pain."

And music helped Drew confront it.

"For me, writing lyrics about the things I've been through helps me let it go," Drew said, "like opening a jar of pressurized air and letting it all out."