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Addiction, Suicide, and the Power of Music

Marc Delgado's "Wildwood Road" offers hope during Suicide Prevention Month.

Key points

  • Music can help clarify complex experiences and emotions associated with addiction and suicide ideation.
  • The NIH has awarded $20M to support the Sound Health initiative—research exploring how music affects chronic pain, addiction, and mental health. 
  • Marc Delgado's album "Wildwood Road," released during Suicide Prevention Month, offers listeners a hopeful narrative of surviving a dark past.
Marc Delgado/Used With Permission
Wildwood Road by Marc Delgado
Source: Marc Delgado/Used With Permission

Can music help prevent death by suicide and heal mental illness and addictions? A big ask of music, but perhaps not. Recently, NIH awarded $20M to support the Sound Health initiative—cool research that explores how music affects chronic pain, addiction, and mental health issues. During Suicide Prevention Month, we hear about these statistics and are encouraged to check on friends. What if we ask—do our home and work environments fulfill our goals, pay a fair salary, and help us feel part of the community?

Marc Delgado released Wildwood Road during Suicide Prevention Month. The record has a strong narrative of the harsh ironies of surviving a dark past that becomes a life you like, a sober life. Delgado struggled with addiction and depression until he met his wife Melanie, a painter. They began a new life and hashtag, #welikethislifebetterthanthelastone. Delgado agreed to an interview about how music impacted his recovery and his well-being.

JS: One of the things we know about making a deep and abiding effort in recovering from trauma, addiction, and depression is to learn to name and define your feelings. In Mr. Sorrow Strikes Again, are you actually personifying your addiction?

Can you be kind?

I’ll never be rid of the feelings

You always remind me of,

Your smile and your charm.

MD: Yes. I am personifying my addiction and my trouble. When I was younger and was already using drugs quite a bit and was, in fact, suicidal, I had recurring dreams in which a half man/half ram figure who wore pinstripes or was striped (it varied) would visit me in my dreams and show me things that actually ended up coming true in my life. And he would always say to me, “We are going to play a game called Sorrow. He became my constant companion. I spoke to him and would pretend/believe he was with me when I was really out there on the fringe. I would stay awake for days.

This “ability” to have metaphysical experiences, which is a fancy way of saying I was hearing and seeing sh*t, locked me into this belief that there are other dimensions and realms available to us if we are interested in them. Demons. Ghosts. Good. Evil.

As I started to get sober and write about that time … I began to question whether or not those experiences were real or just drug-induced. But it doesn’t matter if they were real … they were real to me. Mr. Sorrow was a charming and convincing companion, and I liked living like that. I enjoyed my depression and my suicidal thoughts. I liked it until I could no longer exist that way. I was dying and I was quite mad. I had to make a choice between living and dying. It takes years of therapy and, in my case, AA as well, to arrive at any kind of sanity and ability to look at those things clearly.

JS: In Fugue, the lyrics, "I’m here to stay / I see you clearly / It’s what I do now, not what I say" illustrate how actions are more important than words. Often, for people who had addictions, the hardest hurdle in healing relationships is to be believed—forgiven. How do you experience forgiveness in your life?

MD: I wrote this song for Melanie. Justin Tracy had a heavy hand in this one. I showed him the original song and he just tore it apart, and we started over from the ground up. It's interesting because it just goes to show you that I needed his help too! I need a lot of help in living life and I am surrounded by people I trust and who inspire and challenge me. I experience forgiveness directly in how I live now. The people I know. My chance to make up for who I have been.

My actions are a living amends … I remember telling the man who really helped me get sober (my sponsor), "How can I go around making amends to people!?" It seems so trite. Nobody is going to believe me! I have said sorry a thousand times before and I always go back to the way I was. And he told me … “The difference this time is you are going to do what you say. It’s called a living amends.”

That floored me. Do what you say. Don’t lie. Get outta your head. Act! I have tried to do that ever since, and it works! I call AA the "quit f*cking lying and stop getting high" program. It is amazing what happens in your life when you do those two seemingly simple things! I forgive myself by doing right by the people I love and I extend the forgiveness given to me to others. Easier said than done of course … but it’s in there, behind the scenes.

JS: In 2019, males accounted for 69.38% of suicide deaths. I admire your courage in Wildwood Road to be vulnerable in our hypermasculine culture. How have you learned to nurture relationships with the men in your life?

MD: The thing I try to do most is be myself. I want to tell people I love them. Because I do! I like to laugh. I like to joke around. I love to have conversation. I’m genuinely attracted to people who have things I don’t have or I admire or are funny or calm. Sometimes I can see or feel light or energy radiating from a person! Is that real!? I tell my male friends all the time: I love you. I tell my female friends too! Everyone that is in my life that matters. And there are a lot of people in my life today. My family and my friends. It is a rich life. It’s not lost on me how precious and fleeting it is. I wanna dig in and experience it. I wanna see what happens.

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, see the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.