Healing Through Harmony: How One Man's Mission Is SAVING Veterans

By Jennifer Wentworth | Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:00 AM
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In a circle of military veterans, David St. Romaine's guitar strings vibrated with the raw emotion of each individual's story.

St. Romaine, a seasoned performer who has graced stages across the United States for over two decades, traded his microphone for a mission of healing nearly five years ago.

He founded Songs of Survivors, a nonprofit organization that uses the power of music to help veterans navigate the labyrinth of life's challenges. According to American Military News, the organization recently conducted songwriting workshops in Monroe, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge, offering a unique form of therapy to those who have served their country.

"This work has really impacted my life. It’s really changed my life," St. Romaine shared with the group of veterans during a gathering on May 16. The meeting took place in the former home of Louisiana Gov. Jimmie Davis, a stone's throw away from the current Governor's Mansion in downtown Baton Rouge. Approximately 15 veterans from various parts of the state participated in the daylong workshop, using music as a tool to confront and conquer the demons that often accompany military service.

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Many of the veterans attending the workshop were on a journey of recovery, grappling with the aftermath of intense battles against drug and alcohol addiction. Some were wrestling with post-traumatic stress disorder, while others were burdened by physical injuries sustained during their service. Their stories were a tapestry of personal trials, from childhood traumas to experiences in the military and the challenges faced after discharge. Despite the hardships, these veterans found a path to healing through treatment.

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Wayne Jackson, a veteran who fought addiction for over 40 years, shared his story of liberation. After multiple detox and recovery programs, it was a 12-step program at the Townsend rehab center in Covington that allowed him to finally reveal a childhood trauma. This process of personal inventory, which he described as "cleaning your closet," freed him from a lifetime of anxiety. Now, Jackson is committed to helping other veterans once he completes his treatment program.

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"I finally let all that out through the counseling where I’m at and I’ve put that trauma aside," Jackson said. "I’m doing everything I can to improve myself and not go back to where I was. I’m looking forward in life; I’m not looking behind me."

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Using these heartfelt testimonies as inspiration, the Songs of Survivors team, including St. Romaine and a group of professional songwriters, worked with the veterans to weave a musical narrative of faith, redemption, and the discovery of modern-day angels. Susan Mustafa, a co-author of a New York Times bestseller, was part of the team, carefully listening and refining the lyrics in real time.

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The workshop culminated in a recorded rendition of the group's collective experiences. Travis Frost, a naval veteran and musician, found the workshop to be a source of inspiration. "The fact that it was pieced as part of everybody’s story is what made it bigger than anything else. It’s not about one person; it wasn’t one person’s creative mind. It was collaborative," he said.

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Amy Vranic, a licensed professional counselor specializing in treating veterans, believes that the camaraderie and creative process fostered by the workshop can serve as a long-term therapeutic tool. "Events like this and using music or any type of artistic expression can be extremely therapeutic because it’s a traditional, yet nontraditional outlet," Vranic said. "Instead of just sitting in an office and saying, ‘Hey, this is what I’m going through,’ this is an actual way to get the story told. And letting it be their own story, not someone else’s."

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For St. Romaine, the workshops are a form of therapy as well. After years of striving for stardom in the entertainment industry, he found himself battling depression and addiction. His path to redemption and sobriety began when he started using his music to help young girls who had been sex trafficked. This experience led him to establish Songs of Survivors in 2019, after being introduced to a pilot program that used music to help military veterans.

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Over the past five years, St. Romaine has conducted workshops across the state, helping hundreds of veterans find solace in music. He believes in the transformative power of music, describing it as the "most underestimated tool we have at our disposal." The workshops not only provide a creative outlet but also serve as a platform for treatment. "I just want to be able to make some type of impact in veterans’ lives in a unique way they’ve never had before," he said. "We had at least one veteran that said they’ve never said this in front of anybody before. And that's what we strive for is to bring that space for vulnerability. Just to give them that platform to express these stories in their lives."

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