Editorials

One More Light: Living Without Chester Bennington

As Linkin Park's frontman since 1996, Chester's voice became a voice for many who may not have been able to express or convey their own inner turmoil through words, or who felt too ashamed to do so.

Content Warning: sexual assault, suicide, death

One week has passed since news of Chester Bennington‘s untimely death sent shockwaves through the internet, devastating fans all over the world. I’d say that what’s stunned us most is the manner in which he left this world—all too familiar, but never expected, and always jarring.  As Linkin Park‘s frontman since 1996, Chester’s voice became a voice for many who may not have been able to express or convey their own inner turmoil through words, or who felt too ashamed to do so.

I first learned of Chester’s suicide via Twitter, and instantly panicked. I cried for a good hour, then on-and-off throughout the rest of the day. And a few times more this week. I initially didn’t realize how many people felt the same way I did—I almost felt embarrassed over how upset I was, how hard it was hitting me. I hadn’t kept up with Linkin Park’s work very much in the last several years, and I hadn’t been a die-hard fan in over a decade. In some odd way, I felt that I’d betrayed someone. But after the news circulated, I saw an outpour of Tweets and Facebook comments echoing my thoughts and sentiments exactly. Many childhood fans resurfaced to mention the ways in which Linkin Park and Chester helped to define their younger years, whether as children or angst-filled teenagers.

Linkin Park was my first favorite band as a child, as their lyrics strongly resonated with me and my emotional experience. For many fans like myself, Linkin Park’s music served as a coping mechanism for the frightening thoughts that come with having mental illness. I’ve struggled with major depressive disorder, OCD, severe anxiety, and so on, from the age of four. Being that young, speaking to psychologists who couldn’t understand why I was so “dark,” I definitely felt alienated and ashamed for even having the thoughts and feelings that I did. I was first introduced to Linkin Park through my cousins and brother. As the sole girl in a group of boys, it was apparently strange for me to want to listen to the music they did, but I used to steal my brother’s Walkman and Meteora CD when he wasn’t around. Forgetting to return it to the appropriate slot in his CD case, we’d get into arguments over it. If I remember correctly, my favorite song at the time was “Easier To Run,” because it sounded a bit softer (and more sorrowful, which is my preference), and of course because of the lyrics. In my opinion, Chester traveled with words where most wouldn’t dare to. He unapologetically wore his heart on his sleeve, something that we’re generally advised not to do. My parents noticed the same about me as a child—I was always getting hurt and picked on because I “wore my heart on my sleeve.” I reacted, I didn’t conceal my vulnerability. I’ve always struggled with managing that vulnerability and still do, but with age I’ve learned that it’s not so much of a negative trait. It’s an honest way to live. The risks are there, but I think the real issue lies within other people exploiting, preying on, and taking advantage of what’s considered weakness. Chester’s lyrics spoke to victimhood, to being victimized, to asking why. There was a brutal, painful honesty in his vulnerability and fear. Hearing certain songs for the first time produced some sort of visceral reaction in me, catharsis within entrapment.

Multiple comments on Linkin Park’s recent Facebook statuses are from longtime fans who spoke of their struggles with mental illness and suicide attempts, emphasizing that Chester’s lyrics served as their saving grace through that personal hell. Young people shared they may not have been alive today if it weren’t for a band and their music. Relating to that on a personal level, especially within the past couple of years, news of Chester’s death was a huge blow. At the risk of sounding too dramatic, it actually feels as if my childhood (or a large part of it) has died. All of the memories associated with listening to Hybrid Theory and Meteora now associated with a heartbreaking ending. For some reason I was surprised to be told the same thing by a few friends who also grew up listening to Linkin Park. One friend of mine likened Chester’s legacy to that of Kurt Cobain‘s, for a younger generation. When someone’s voice and words instill hope in you, ease feelings of isolation and desperation, serve as a pillar of strength, maybe we begin to perceive them as invincible. Maybe if they’ve helped rescue us from self-destruction, we don’t believe that they can end up self-destructing in the same way.

It’s no secret that Chester was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, which led to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. He’d been open about his struggles in past interviews, and wasn’t ashamed to speak on his experiences, adding that he was taking responsibility and seeking help, not romanticizing the lifestyle. He was pro-recovery. One could say that it seemed as though he “had a handle on it.” But we never really know what a person is going through, what they’re thinking. Trauma, especially trauma that comes from rape or childhood sexual abuse, is an abysmal hell that no one should go through and live with. The demons you thought you were evading can come back, possibly even stronger than before.

In an interview making the rounds online from earlier this year, Chester candidly discusses depression and what seemed like a turning point, moving forward and getting better.

Some are calling it a cry for help. Sometimes we do feel we’re moving forward only to be pulled back. I usually wouldn’t be able to say I could relate to a straight white male, but at the end of the day, no one is exempt from trauma, regardless of privilege, wealth, and fame. What do you do when someone who helped save you ends their own life? Where does hope go? Alarmingly, it really does seem that despite all of the suicide prevention hotlines and popular posts on social media about reaching out to people and not ignoring the signs, people don’t say or do much until it’s too late. Until someone is already gone. Maybe that’s pessimistic, but the unthinkable continues to happen.  I wonder how many people feel deeply affected and unstable after learning about Chester’s death and the nature of it—I can only hope that any extra support that may be needed is available to those struggling to cope.

Along with so many others, I’m still reeling from Chester’s death as if he were a friend of mine, and I don’t think I’ll ever fully process it. To be frank, I’ve felt particularly triggered (yes, the word that’s been turned into a meme) and more unsafe with myself since news of his death surfaced. It’s not uncommon for people to feel more suicidal after someone ends their own life, famous or not— in fact, Chester’s death lands two months after his close friend, Audioslave’s Chris Cornell, ended his life the same way. I’m only speaking for myself, but with millions of fans across the globe, I doubt I’m the only one. This is troubling. Needless to say, Chester isn’t at fault, and he wouldn’t want anyone to suffer.

I disagree with those who label suicide as “selfish.” The only thing I can say for now is that we’re alone no matter how many people are around us, but simultaneously, the unity of Linkin Park’s fanbase (and pretty much everyone else) has demonstrated that we really are not alone. I don’t believe that Chester would want his legacy to be defined by tragedy, as much as his death is completely tragic and undeserved. What feels like the end of an era, a now-darkened nostalgia, is something that I hope will at least help shed more light on childhood sexual abuse and the long-term trauma associated with being violated in such a way. The stigma needs to end, victims must be able to feel safe speaking out, and absolutely must be taken seriously. I think that we should all remember to check in with the strong ones, the ones with the loudest voices, the ones who help us out when we’re struggling to find our own voices, our own empowerment.

Now that Chester’s no longer with us, the title of Linkin Park’s latest album One More Light feels even more meaningful and eerily appropriate, almost like a parting gift. This ending will always feel surreal and difficult to come to terms with, but I’d like to thank Chester for everything he’s done, everything he’s said, and for speaking the unspeakable.

 

Victims of childhood sexual abuse should not suffer in silence. If you are struggling, please reach out.

UK-based resources can be found here. US resources are available at Childhelp and RAINN.

Image not owned by Saint Audio.

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