It's just before lunchtime at the Treehouse Addiction Campus in Scurry and Rodney Harrison is at it again.
As the director of the music program at the facility, where his group of musicians is always in flux with clients moving in and out as they enter the campus and begin their road to recovery, Harrison is used to seeing new faces in the music room. But there’s a special guest with guitar in hand in there today: Daphne Willis, a Sony songwriter, a successful artist with tens of thousands of monthly listeners on Spotify alone, and perhaps most importantly, a fellow journeyman on the road to recovery.
Daphne visited the Treehouse campus on March 29 as a part of her first “Recovery Tour” on what she hopes will be many more. Having been in recovery herself for three years, she understands the therapeutic release that music can be for those in the midst of detox or those just beginning their own recovery stories. And so, for a few minutes before she heads off to eat lunch and prepare for her afternoon show, she jams in Treehouse music room with guitar in hand as Harrison’s current crop of musicians join her in singing a stirring rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujiah” before launching into a couple of her own songs from Freaks Like Me, the album that she wrote during the first few months of her own recovery.
“Dopamine” is a crowd favorite; she obliges the audience for an encore performance of it before stepping away for questions and open dialog with Treehouse clients following her performance a little later in the day, but in this more intimate setting her ballad “Somebody’s Someone” which she wrote about her own estranged relationship with her brother hits home even stronger.
“That is a freaking powerful song,” one client says through tears as Willis wraps up the run-through.
“I don’t know if she understands how much of a difference she’s making by being here,” another client tells me as I’m in the midst of being ushered into one of the Treehouse’s many shuttles to be taken across the campus to the campus’s administration building to speak with Willis herself. But when I ask her, Willis says that the time spent
here means just as much to her as it does to the clients who have no trouble singing along with her as if they’ve heard her songs dozens of times already.
“I was playing it really cool in there,” Willis says, “But the truth is I was really emotionally touched. I know exactly how they feel and I know how a song like that can just be everything for you and change your life. I don’t know what I would have done if some of my idols would have been with me and just hung out with me during my process. And I’m so grateful that I’m able to have that experience with people because it’s moving for me, too. It was hard for me not to cry and I’m tearing up now because it was such an emotional experience. Even when I’m not here, to be able to be with somebody emotionally because of something that I’ve written is so weird to me. It still doesn’t even feel real.”
This isn’t Willis’ first trip out to the Treehouse; she spent some time on the campus and performed two years ago when she was invited out by Addiction Campuses, the Nashville-based organization the houses the Treehouse along with three other campuses across the country. And although Willis has had her music featured in country-wide ad campaigns and shows like Grey’s Anatomy, coming out and performing for campuses like the Treehouse is an even greater milestone for her.
“My mission is to destigmatize mental health and addiction recovery,” Willis says. “The message basically is to shine a light on addiction recovery and mental health and try and bring some fun and entertainment and happiness to these issues that are often very isolating and lonely to deal with. I’ve known that because I’ve been there and I know how strong and powerful it can be to just have something that lifts you up and can open your eyes a little bit to the more positive aspects of these illnesses.”
Willis hopes that by spreading her message not only to those in recovery, but also those who have friends and family members going through the healing process, she can help erase the stigma associated with mental health issues and addiction issues and illustrate that at the core of every human is the need for vulnerability and healing.
“Recovery is a lot about discovery and self-discovery, and that can apply to anybody,” Willis says. “Everybody has an addiction of some sort whether its sex, caffeine, gambling… it could be anything. We’re all kind of in the same boat when it comes to figuring out who we are as humans.”