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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“The Talk” with my Tween: How my Teenage Pregnancy went from Tragedy to Triumph 

Once upon a time I was a pregnant teen. I didn’t know it then, but my path to self destruction had only just begun. It wasn’t until I found recovery that I came to terms with the loss and suffering I endured as a result of my poor decision making. Read about how I turned that tragedy to triumph and used it to help me explain the birds and the bees to my own daughter.

The sun was shining through the tall oak trees, the grass tickled our bare feet. My 12-year-old and I had just settled under a tree. The weather was impeccable, warm with a slight breeze to cool the balmy spring day. We were watching the little one do her second day of swim class. I was reflecting on the nerve-wracking tryout, and the many years of swim classes it took to get us here. I was feeling pretty darn proud as a mother. I was so grateful for this opportunity to teach my little 8-year-old that hard work, natural talent, and dedication pay off in opportunities like this one.

Suddenly, my perfect little mommy world stopped spinning, and what came next was a thunderstorm of emotions. My perfectly satisfied mommy moment was interrupted by my 12-year-old girl mouthing the words, “so, there’s this boy.” I was instantly spinning in a vortex of racing, panicky thoughts. This girl has never been boy crazy. As a matter of fact, she never even liked a boy singer until this year. Oh crap. This is it, this is the moment where I have to explain love and lust and everything in between. What do I say? What do I hold back? Where do I go from here?

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She went on to tell me about how there’s a boy she likes and they’ve been hanging out at school since the beginning of the school year. “He’s really cool” she tells me with confidence. Apparently the boy plays soccer and shoots guns (please don’t go all liberal on me, we’re from Texas and yes, it’s a sport) and they have “so much in common.” Then she asked it. “I was wondering if we could go out.” Ugh. My heart sank as I realized I was about to become the enemy instead of the mom friend she was looking for. “Well….” I replied. “First off, I don’t make any decisions without talking to your father first, you know that.” The look in her big ole’ round eyes told me she was almost regretting telling me. I followed up by asking her what it means to “go out.”

She was actually tickled by the question. She told me she really doesn’t even know what “going out” means, but she feels that’s what you’re supposed to do when you like a boy. I asked her what the boy thinks “going out” means. She couldn’t answer that either. I told her to him, it might mean holding hands and kissing, while to her it might mean talking and hanging out after school. She then understood the importance of defining it before committing to it. I also reminded her that her parents are crazy old combat vets, and fully capable of taking care of any boy who hurts her. I felt good about it. I felt like I handled it well. Deep down, I knew it was time.

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What I wasn’t expecting to follow-up with was the conversation about the birds and the bees. She went to a sleepover that next weekend. Her and her friends went for snow cones, and the boy was there. Then they hung out at the lake. My immediate vision was her embraced in the water in his arms, being young, in love, and carefree. I had to talk myself back to reality. She’s 12, not 16. She’s not the girl I was. She would never do that. She’s not interested in that. Is she? I realized now I had to have “the talk” and I was completely overwhelmed once again. I was overwhelmed because once upon a time I was a pregnant teenager.

It was after I tucked the little one into bed that night, and kissed her sweet innocent little cheek, that I realized I had to have the talk with my tween…like right now, it can’t wait. I knew it was time to tell her about my teenage pregnancy, and the baby I lost to miscarriage. I knew this moment was inevitable, and I knew the situation would be used for good someday (as God promised). Part of my recovery has been making peace with the past, a past that involved a teenage pregnancy my senior year in high school. My teen pregnancy was a consequence of drug and alcohol use, and bad decisions with bad guys. Ugh. I still shudder at the thought of it. It’s only by the grace of god, that girl I used to be is a foreign stranger I don’t know anymore.

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Then the words just fell out of my mouth. I told her I was pregnant in high school and that I lost the baby to miscarriage. She was shocked. She followed with all kinds of questions, “If you had the baby how old would it be now?” “Would you have joined the Army?” and followed with “Wow, you wouldn’t have had me because you wouldn’t have known dad if you still had that baby!” She figured out the consequences of my poor decision before I had to explain it. I did tell her that I made a terrible decision, that it nearly cost me my high school diploma, and it cost me my reputation and cost me a lot of friends along the way. I told her how humiliating it was to have to leave school pregnant, then go back without a baby, all the while rumors flew all over the small town.

I told her that tell her I know more than she does, not because I’m an adult, but because I have really been there. I told her she could trust me and I trust her to come to me with these feelings. I didn’t tell her I was already in alternative ed. for skipping school before I ended up pregnant. I didn’t tell her about the opioid addiction, or the ecstasy addiction that resulted from the pain of losing a child at a young age. I didn’t  tell her about being an alcoholic. All these things are left for future conversations when the time is right. My story isn’t over, it had only just begun.

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The moral of the story is this, if I hadn’t found recovery when I did, I wouldn’t have been able to use my story for good. When you’re in the middle of an inventory or amends step, God’s timing sucks. It isn’t fast enough, and it takes entirely too long. You have to remember, on the other side of that inventory and amends, the pain you endured will be used for the good of others. No matter how grisly the truth is, no matter how difficult the forgiveness process is, no matter how deep or intense the grief is, God is there, and his timing is perfect (though never convenient).

After this conversation with my daughter, I realize that instead of walking in shame and anger over my past mistakes, I walk in wisdom and freedom. I walk with a sense of wisdom and freedom that the next generation can learn from. They don’t have to make the same mistakes I made. The chains have been broken, just as God promised.

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Through sobriety and recovery, my daughter gets to witness God’s redemption from my sinful past. Recovery has also remade the little girl inside me, and she blossoms each time I share my story. How cool is that?

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Stay sober my friends.

-Rachel