Triggered: When music takes you back to the dark times.

The news of Chester Bennington’s death hit me hard. It hit me so hard that I couldn’t write about it until now. I realize what happened inside me when I heard the news, but it didn’t come to fruition until I found myself in my doctor’s office.

Rockstars often go before their time, it really shouldn’t shock anyone anymore. But it still does. Often times, it shocks us because we connect with their music on an emotional level. Sometimes musicians are the only ones with the words or rhythms that describe the mess that’s going on our heads. This connection leads us to bond with those we never even met.

“Do you know what may have triggered your Anxiety/PTSD?” She asked, with genuine care and concern in her voice. My eyes filled with tears. I tried to fight it but it was out of my control. My heart knows what triggered me. “It’s stupid” was all I could mutter. “It’s really, really stupid” I said again. The room was now a blur, my vision was compromised by tears. I felt alone, vulnerable, and helpless. I took control again, and told the doc, “There’s this lead singer of a band. He killed himself. Since then I’ve listened to the music and it took me back to some of the darkest days of my life, and I’ve had a hard time bringing myself back. That’s why I’m here.” She turned back to her computer and began typing a prescription, but only after expressing empathy for all I’ve been through (please don’t judge, my meds are not narcotics and prescription meds are an entirely different article) .

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The news of Chester Bennington’s death hit me hard. It hit me so hard that I couldn’t write about it until now. I realize what happened inside me when I heard the news, but it didn’t come to fruition until I found myself in my doctor’s office. I was desperately seeking relief from anxiety and PTSD symptoms that were triggered by listening to the music created by Linkin Park. The music took me back to two periods of my life that I’ve worked really hard to overcome.

I listened to the first album by Linkin Park, Hybrid Theory, while I was in the midst of drug addiction. I had a miscarriage my senior year of high school. I abused the Vicodin prescribed to me to deal with the emotional pain and trauma I experienced from the miscarriage and social rejection/isolation. I listened to this album on repeat for what felt like months, while I was secretly snorting pills in my room. Listening to the music reminds me of the tingle in my spine from the Vicodin that I loved so dearly at the time. Hence, the trigger.

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The second album carried me through a portion of my deployment to Iraq. I was now in the Army as a Military Policewoman (oh the irony), and I was “outside the wire” in a war zone on constant missions with the infantry and scouts. Meteora was what I played on repeat this time. I was clean, sober of course, but struggling with the realities of war. Not only was I struggling with seeing humankind at it’s worst, I had a husband there with me experiencing the same thing. Hearing these songs after the breaking news of Chester Bennington’s suicide triggered my PTSD.

Here’s the good news though. I truly believe we are forged by the fire. The fire of these triggers will not consume me like they have consumed so many. While Chester Bennington’s suicide remains a tragedy, it’s a wake up call for those in recovery. Smooth sailing will never last. Triggers will happen and we must face them instead of turning away, which only leads to depression or relapse. Then the depression and relapse leads to suicidal ideation. See the cycle?

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Music is a powerful tool. It can heal, if you let it. It can also trigger repressed memories, situations, and emotions. The musical trigger is often a surprise. Part of a good recovery plan is dealing with those triggers as they come. I have someone in my life who could see I was struggling and encouraged me to get the help needed to get out of the dip, and keep moving forward. A good accountability partner or sponsor can help you recover from triggers too. The key, is to know thyself, and to reach out. I guarantee there’s someone there to listen, even if it’s just me.

I do believe Chester’s soul is resting in peace, and I continue to pray for his family and fans. Tragedy always has the possibility to turn to triumph, this is where hope is born. The triumph in this case is not his life decisions of course, but the impact he has had on his listeners who are in recovery. I hope his death allows those in recovery such as myself, to identify triggers and heal.

In the words of Bono, “Music can change the world because it can change people.”

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That moment I became Wendy from Peter Pan…Grief does magical things when triggered.

Everything was great. Life is great. I’m living the dream. I’m sober, and I have an amazing job, and I’m pursuing my MA in Addictions Counseling. My marriage is awesome, and my kids blow my mind every single day with their growth and perspectives on life. Yet, here I was, sitting in the driveway of my gorgeous two story suburban dream home, in a vehicle worth more than my annual income, crying my eyes out to a song about Peter Pan.

So there’s this song, called Lost Boy by Ruth B. It sent my head spinning when I heard it the other day. I was driving and fortunately I was close enough to home to pull in the driveway and listen to the lyrics. A torrential downpour of tears quickly fell from my face down onto my lap. I guess I was surprised because there was no sadness in the forecast for that day.

Everything was great. Life is great. I’m living the dream. I’m sober, and I have an amazing job, and I’m pursuing my MA in Addictions Counseling. My marriage is awesome, and my kids blow my mind every single day with their growth and perspectives on life. Yet, here I was, sitting in the driveway of my gorgeous two story suburban dream home, in a vehicle worth more than my annual income, crying my eyes out to a song about Peter Pan.

I realize now after I’ve had time to process, that I was in the midst of a grief storm. It was three years ago this month that I received the call that my father passed away, and it was 17 years ago this month that I suffered a miscarriage. I shouldn’t be surprised at all that grief would sneak up on me. But alas, every year it hits me as quick as the last. I suppose it still hits me hard because I still find myself thinking “I should be over this by now.”

The infamous tick tock the crocodile from Peter Pan comes to mind. In dealing with death you quickly learn that time is not your friend. Someone’s always taken too soon, or not soon enough. You always think you have time with someone until time is no longer an option. The past, the present, and even the future are obsolete in dealing with death; none of it even exists anymore. Time is irrelevant, but it’s everything. Time heals all wounds is bullshit. Some wounds never heal; they just change year after year. Each year perspectives change and a little more gratitude is won on the never ending battlefield that is grief.

The truth is that this father wound is the biggest heartbreak I’ve faced. It has forced me to accept a truth about humanity and addiction I’ve tried to deny my whole life. Substance use disorders not only cost precious relationships, they sometimes cost you your life. Fortunately for me, my substance use disorder has become the cornerstone of which I have built my career, in mental health and in addictions counseling.

That being said, my heart still breaks for the boy inside my father. No amount of education, licensure or expertise will cure that. Deep down in my grief, I’m not grieving the loss of him as a family, because he was anything but. He wasn’t capable of being a father because he was a lost boy. I’m grieving the life he didn’t get to live because of the lost boy inside him.

He was abused, awfully so, by his family while growing up. The cycle didn’t stop for him, so he continued it. He was abusive because it’s what he knew families did to each other. He was an alcoholic probably because he hated himself for his twisted family values. He wasn’t able to stop the cycle of addiction and it eventually helped kill him. I imagine he was quite lonely as a child.

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Then, I imagine he found his Peter Pan in the bottle.

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The alcoholic in him chose to run from responsibility. He chose not to be a father. He chose to not have contact.

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Soon enough, I became an adult and the false promises of his recovery were made. I wasn’t able to see past the illness, I was scared. I rejected him. I focused on my marriage and children instead.

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I carried on about my business till that day he died. I assumed that there was time. Knowing what I know now, I would think that the lost boy in him has found his home. I like to think Heaven is his Neverland. Perhaps his Peter Pan is Jesus, and one day I might just be his Wendy Darling.

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And there you have it. My moment of grief in the driveway turned into a fairytale story ending with me as Wendy. What I learned about grief is it comes and goes. If you try to control it, you’ll surely drown. If let go and you ride the wave, it’ll bring you to shore……but not before that turbulent rainstorm passes.