Drummer Julian Dorio, Bataclan Terrorist Attack Survivor, Pens Letter to Manchester: 'You Are Not Alone'

A man lights candles after a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester, England on May 23, 2017.
AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

A man lights candles after a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester, England on May 23, 2017.

On Nov. 13, 2015, inside The Bataclan theater in Paris, Julian Dorio sat in on drums with Eagles of Death Metal when terrorists stormed the theater and killed 89 people. After news of the Manchester bombing, Dorio, drummer for The Whigs, wrote this letter to the survivors.

Dear Manchester,

I am heartbroken for you. As I watched the news of that terrible night from my home in Nashville, Tenn., 4,000 miles away, my central nervous system responded like a chemical reaction. I thought, “Not again.” Yet since that awful moment, I’m awed by the testimonies of your courage and intrepid spirit. Reflecting on my own experience in Paris, I know that no words can do justice to what you have endured, or the journey you now traverse to healing and wholeness. I can only offer what has been true for me.

I’m not going to tell you to look on the bright side, to be grateful, that it could be worse. The loss is devastating. The heart trembles like it could actually break, and that’s OK. Feel it all. I have learned to be patient with myself and to acknowledge every feeling, sensation and thought as it ebbs and flows. Sometimes I’m flooded with memories -- the wave of sound, the gunpowder hitting my nose, the helplessness -- but as I worked to resolve the trauma, they’ve receded. The events have become integrated into my “story.” My biography is no longer my biology. I increasingly live in the present, free from the tyranny of that horrific day.

This wasn’t true in the days and months following the shootings. Initially, it was as if the needle on a record was fixed in a groove so that the same music played over and over. I couldn’t move forward. I was stuck while the world moved on around me. I spoke to others but felt different and unable to experience life’s simplest pleasures. When I should have been exhilarated to spend time with my family, I replayed details of that night. Everything else seemed trivial. Some days I felt crazy and permanently damaged, as if this event would forever define my life.

Slowly, that has begun to change. Feeling thrown into this terrifying new world, I relied on my unwavering wife, friends and therapist. Each day I felt a little more of my old self. Paris is something that happened to me, but it is not me. This acknowledgement has been liberating, and helped me understand what others go through as they heal.

After a traumatic event, there’s before and there’s after. We can ask ourselves “Why?” again and again, something I’ve done during many sleepless nights. It’s futile. The real question is, “What are you going to do with the ‘after’?” We strive for healing and harmony, not in spite of the attack but because of it. We choose love. We choose understanding. We only hate hate.

I encourage you to be kind to yourself and have mercy on each other. Be your own steward and remember there’s no substitute for time. You may be surprised to find not everyone will support you. I remember fellow survivors in Paris whose employers wanted them to “snap out of it.” The severity of trauma can’t be minimized. Even if you’re without physical injury, the mind can be in critical condition -- a patient in its own intensive care unit.

Lean on one another. Not just in Manchester but around the world. Paris, Orlando, Nice -- the list grows intolerably long. Although all our experiences are unique, there is a common bond between us. You’re now a member of a club you never asked to join. If you want to be brave, if you want to be strong, seek help. Vulnerability is the gateway to mending the heart.

I know how difficult attending another concert will be, but as a musician I see no other choice. I commend Ariana Grande and her crew for so boldly recognizing that. As a unified people, the restorative power of song is the ultimate sign of resistance. Life without music is incomplete.

I hope, at the very least, I’ve conveyed that you’re surrounded by love and have all my support. You are not alone.

With love from Nashville,

Julian

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