How Chester Bennington Taught Me to Survive.

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On Thursday, July 20, 2017, Chester Bennington — frontman of the rock band Linkin Park — was found dead in what is currently being investigated as a completed suicide attempt. He was 41 years old.

Like a significant portion of the world around me that day, I was taken aback, confused, horrified, and utterly heartbroken. I was sitting at my desk when my co-worker broke the news, and I felt my heart drop into my stomach as my breath haltered, blindsided. I spent the rest of the afternoon fighting back the compulsion to cry out in anger and despair, and when I finally arrived home, my emotions cascaded over me in a tidal wave. While a part of me was still numb and in disbelief, the rest of me was eerily alert; after all, I have still yet to recover from the deaths of Scott Weiland and Chris Cornell. (There is another part of me that thinks I never will.)

The truth is that Linkin Park — and, specifically, Chester Bennington — was a staple of my teenagehood, and when I had learned of Chester’s death, I felt a part of myself perish alongside him. Throughout his career, Chester made his internal demons apparent in the music he created as a method of catharsis, releasing his anguish into the world for others to reach out and grasp in their hands, molding it to replicate their own experiences. His own past history of trauma, abuse, and addiction built the foundation of his lyrics, and it was through this medium where he was able to establish an intimate connection with his audience. His lyrics became a fundamental quality of what made Linkin Park so distinct in the ever-evolving realm of rock n’ roll.

My story of survival — a long-winded tale which may be reflected upon in a later essay — started with Linkin Park. When I approached teenagehood, I felt as if I had already lived one thousand lives. Classmates and teachers would remark that I was an “old soul,” which — in retrospect — probably meant, You’ve been through some shit, haven’t you? Although I had conditioned myself to remain guarded and distant, I was still vulnerable and, therefore, weak.

It was during this tumultuous time when I discovered Linkin Park. Before Linkin Park, I was disinterested in music; nothing on the contemporary hits radio stations captivated my interest because I was simply unable to relate to them. In 2003, I heard Linkin Park’s somber hit “Somewhere I Belong” and dissolved into the music, immediately connecting to its poignant lyrics and finding myself in a vacuum where Linkin Park was able to withdraw my vulnerabilities, nurture them, and allow me to feel as if I was not alone in my struggles. It was only after discovering Linkin Park that I realized how powerful of a medium music truly was. It became my healthiest coping mechanism.

Throughout the duration of my teenage years, I listened to Linkin Park almost exclusively — obsessively — to the point where my life revolved around the band, their music, and their fan community. I had suffered with intense bouts of loneliness due to clinical depression, and listening to Chester Bennington’s raspy, hell-driven voice and Mike Shinoda’s eclectic rapping made me feel intoxicated with endorphins, my own personal brand of escapism. The lyrics to hits such as “Numb,” “Breaking the Habit,” and “Crawling,” alongside lesser-known songs such as “And One,” resonated with me through to my core, personifying my subconscious thoughts and putting to paper words which I could not piece together myself. For the first time in my life, I felt understood, as if someone broken through my chamber of isolation, reassuring me in a way I’ve never experienced before, a blanket of warmth amidst a frozen winter.

It was not until recently that I realized how closely Chester’s demons played with my own, and the reason why their music resonated with me so deeply was due to Chester’s own hidden pleas for help, bubbling under the surface.

In retrospect, Linkin Park was the validating authority figure that never actually existed in my life; I looked upon Chester Bennington, Mike Shinoda, Brad Delson, Rob Bourdon, Joseph Hahn, and Dave Farrell for guidance during the bleakest times of my life, breathing in their mantras and exhaling their influence upon every motion of my existence. Chester’s willingness to share his past history of sexual assault in an effort to intimately connect with his audience brought me closure regarding my own history of abuse, and through his words, I was able to piece together my own anguish and release it in a creative manner. In addition, Chester’s openness regarding his past drug addictions tore away the stigma associated with the addictions I’ve struggled with throughout the years. Not only did I feel as if I was not alone in my struggles any longer, but I also gained an inspirational figure upon which to construct my own path to getting clean.

Listening to “Breaking the Habit” for the first time was a pivotal moment in my life as it came during a crucial time when I hovering on the edge of relapse and recovery, my mind on the borderline between suicide and sobriety. I remember being shrouded in a black storm, my insecurities echoing within its clouds, with one beacon of light breaking through the fog, beckoning me to come forth into it’s cold grip. When your demons have already curled their fingers around your arms, almost any escape seems welcoming. However, I had escaped death once in the past — what were the chances I could elude death again?

“Breaking the Habit” was playing on my stereo while these thoughts were circling my mind. I thought about Chester and his rendezvous with addiction. Suddenly, the lyrics became clear to me:

I don’t know what’s worth fighting for
Or why I have to scream
But now I have some clarity
To show you what I mean
I don’t know how I got this way
I’ll never be all right
So I’m breaking the habit tonight

I realized that if I continued down the dark path that laid ahead of me, I would ultimately end up dead. And although I believed, quite literally, that I would “never be all right,” I vowed to myself that I would end the cycle of addiction just like Chester did before me. I forced the idea into my mind that I would overcome my demons and live to tell my tale, if not to prove to myself that I was capable of doing so, but to eventually confide in Chester himself and reveal to him how he saved me from the brink of death.

Naturally, it has been difficult coming to terms that my day will never come. The hardest part about accepting someone’s death is that all of the words left unspoken can never be uttered again.

Over the past few days, I’ve experienced a lot of emotions regarding Chester’s death: sorrow, guilt, anger, hopelessness, and the overwhelming feeling that time is running out. Time is utterly fleeting, twisting around our ankles and threatening to trip us when we least expect it. After all, what sort of hope is there left for me when the one person who motivated me to face down my demons ended up losing the war against his own demons? Panic has driven up through my bowels and into my throat, and I can not shake the anxiety off of my bones. It has resurfaced after being held underwater for so long.

It is during these moments where we have to take it upon ourselves to understand that Chester would not have wanted us to blame ourselves for his death; he would have wanted us to reach into his music and grab onto his messages of unrelenting survival in the face of our woes. Through his music and lyrics, Chester Bennington ultimately prepared his fans for this very moment, teaching us how to grieve in the wake of his death.

Chester Bennington taught me how to survive, and even in death, he is teaching us all how to trudge onward — against the stigmas of mental illness, against the silence surrounding suicide, against our own internal battles. Chester Bennington has offered us a voice to illuminate the night with symphonies, and even after death, his spirit lives on inside of us, fiery, burning bright.

Rest in paradise, Chester. We love you.

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