(By Allison Perkins) When Matt Coolidge fought with the Marines in Kuwait during the Gulf War, his friends were killed, IEDs exploded around him, images of death and destruction were burned into his mind. But that was 20 years ago and PTSD was rarely recognized and certainly not treated.
When doctors did not know what to do for him, music saved him. Coolidge was crammed in a foxhole, thinking about a service he had just attended for several fallen Marines, when the lyrics struck. As he sat, the song formed in his mind, and the stress of combat retreated, even if just for a moment.
Today, that song, “When Brothers Fall,” has become an anthem at funerals for military members and civil servants around the world. Coolidge’s grandfather, a World War II corpsman, has spent thousands of hours and dollars distributing 10,000 copies of the song to military families in six countries.
For Coolidge, it marked the beginning of his own battle with PTSD. After returning from the war, Coolidge was having daily night terrors, sleep walking, issues with claustrophobia and extreme anxiety attacks. His wife called the VA crisis hotline when she feared his life was in danger.
Doctors prescribed heavy medication to keep the demons at bay. “The medication makes you numb,” he said. “I felt like a walking zombie.” After three years of using medications that brought his songwriting to a halt, Coolidge had enough.
Coolidge began a wellness regimen of alternative therapies such as meditation and less medication. And, slowly, Coolidge regained control of his life.
Then, the music returned. “It started pouring back in and the feeling was back. I was laughing and crying again,” Coolidge said. “It was like being back in the old days before all that commotion in my life. There was that excitement again.”
Now, Coolidge is following his passion and writing music. He carries a tape recorder everywhere he goes. He recites lyrics, he hums the tune. When he returns home, he puts the song together. To date, he has written over 400 songs with many more in progress.
Coolidge also learned that he doesn’t want to be someone he is not, just to sell the records. So he writes honest music, about people he knows and the life he lives. “A big part of the recovery is accepting what it is you have to live with and living with it,” he said.
In that simple statement, he has found a way to live the life he wants.