In 2017 Dillinger experienced a bus crash in Poland which injured 13 people. Ben was lying next to his pregnant wife and mercifully avoided injury. What have you learned from the accident?
So, a few days prior to the bus accident, I had hit a pretty good clearing, a good breakthrough where the panic and anxieties, the feelings of being dissociated, didn’t have as big of a hold on me. I was actually enjoying the shows, the way I used to before everything got too heavy.
I remember before one show, a show or two before the accident, I smoked some weed with Liam beforehand and it hit me so hard that I didn’t think I was even going to be able to tie my shoes to go onstage. If you get high at all, then you know that if you get too high there’s really no way out but through, so I just figured ‘Fuck it. Here we go.’ I didn’t expect to even remember the words. It was completely overwhelming just to see people in the room, and then suddenly it was just fun and free and I kinda performed without caring about the words, just spit them out as if they were nothing, and that felt good, just to vibe with the positive energy of the people in the room. So I figured from here on out I’m not gonna be so internal -- I’m just gonna have fun with this, I need to view these shows as celebrations, not catharsis, not feeling guilty of fraud if I don’t connect to the emotions of the song every night. That night felt like a big breakthrough, like the rest of the tour was gonna be fine.
I woke up in the bus and felt that we were stopped. I was the only one awake. I felt cars going past us. I got up and went to the bathroom, saw that we were on the side of the road. I didn’t notice that we were on the actual road. I didn’t see the driver, and figured it was being handled. Maybe a flat tire. I was a little worried, but that kinda shit happens. Went back to bed. Got an overwhelming feeling of something being wrong. Couldn’t sleep. Cars kept coming by too close, so close that the bus would shake. I wrote about it quickly in the notepad of my phone, because I write all of the time. I was writing a ton on that tour, more than ever. Writing and taking pictures, because creativity helps me. Anxiety and depression has a way of making you need that outlet more, if that’s one of your coping mechanisms. I wrote 100,000 words on that album’s tour cycle, took thousands of pictures. So I wrote about it, I wrote about worrying about being ripped apart, and doing that helped me to stop worrying about it actually happening. I took a sleeping pill called doxylamine.
The next thing that happened was me waking up less than an hour later to the sound and sensation that I can only describe as being hit by a missile. I instantly had a searing pain in my leg. I thought I broke my femur. I tore a quadricep. And then it was sort of a slow motion blur. I was the first person to stand up, in the bunk area at least. Ben and Jen were in the back. People were yelling and there was still a lot of accident-related sound. Then it was just a blur of stretchers and medics and people speaking Polish on the bus and ambulances and a helicopter. News vans. Being on the sleeping pill obviously didn’t help because I was sort of in a waking dream state anyway. Then there’s a visual of being outside in the freezing cold with Liam and a ton of police and medics, not wanting to leave the bus because we didn’t want our stuff to get stolen. Random people were beginning to circle.
I remember being in a cab later that day, Liam and I, and they had the radio on, but also a TV on mute in the dashboard that displayed video news headlines. Suddenly we were looking at footage and a headline ‘Dillinger Escape Plan In Bus Accident’, in Polish obviously, and at the same time the Dirty Dancing song I Had the Time of My Life started playing in the cab. Liam and I just looked at each other and started laughing and crying at the same time. It was as symbolic of literally everything as a moment could be.
Did the bus accident lead to any insights or conclusions that have a bearing on the present day?
That accident made all of the existing panic disorder and hypochondria completely worse. It was like a match got thrown on a gasoline field. That night I couldn’t deal, I drank maybe the most I had drank in years – I drank every single drop from the hotel minibar, straight out of the little bottles.
We went home and my panic attacks and hypochondria were just reaching an almost unlivable point. It wasn’t just a daily worry or struggle or sensation. It was the complete behind-the-scenes main thing happening in my life. It might not make sense, if I don’t go into another thing that nobody knows, that I didn’t know I was avoiding all this time, which was a truck accident that happened the day before my ninth birthday.
I was hit by a truck, in the face by the front grill, and was knocked unconscious for the greater part of a full 24-hour day. I came to for a split second in the ambulance, told my mother to tell people I loved them if I died. I have a vague memory of that which has been confirmed, and then I woke up on my birthday, the next day, and sat up and threw up blood and had no idea why I was there or what happened. I ended up just being happy to be off school for a couple of weeks. I never thought twice about it. I went my whole life never thinking about it.
A handful of years ago, I had some experiences involving losing consciousness, or extreme dissociation, de-realization – some of which were those overdoses that I told you about, that kicked the fucking door down to whatever mental room I had put that accident in. When you’re a kid, you aren’t able to handle trauma like that too easily, so you compartmentalize it. I was storing it up. When I had these other things happen, it triggered this massive amount of panic in me related to police, ambulances, something bad happening. I would feel so sure that something awful happened that involved injury that I would literally ask people around me.
I would wake up out of bed into it. Everything just began to feel like a dream at all times, with a looming dread sensation in the background for no reason. I began to think of the truck accident a lot. For the first time in 25 years or so. And then it started to come together. That a link had been formed. You put that together with having little control over your environment growing up, your surroundings, and you develop these freakish control mechanisms, safe zones within yourself. I had built of a lot of walls to protect myself. Intimacy walls, physical shells. I spent a lot of time getting past those things, through therapy etc, in 2013-2014. And then a lot of things aggressively re-aggravated them, the bus accident being a really direct and major one. I ended up being prescribed twice-a-day Xanax, which should be illegal to give to people on anything other than an emergency need basis, and got back in therapy.
Soon after that, Cornell killing himself while we were on tour with Soundgarden was the fucking final tipping point. The combo of that happening, and knowing that he was a person that dealt with mental health issues, and addictions, the subtext of that, the bleak outlook for the future… if even he couldn’t make it… It just completely shut me down. I had a complete meltdown of hope. I was as raw by that point as a person could feel.
By the time we got to Download Fest I was having mini-withdrawals from the Xanax constantly, which basically feels like sheer terror. I was having massive panic attacks in between doses. They were outpowering the Xanax. I would stay in bed a lot of the time, unable to go far, out of fear of one happening, just writing and listening to music or meditation apps in headphones. My system felt as fragile as I’ve ever felt in life, all of the time. Before we went onstage at Download I had to have three Xanax just to get me out of a big attack. I had an incredible amount of energy at that show and it was one of my favorites of the tour, and that was on three Xanax, that’s how dysregulated and loose and fast my central nervous system was running. I ended up choosing to taper off of them on tour, which was a delicate process and filled with horrifying ups and downs.
You ask if there are insights, conclusions, things I’ve learned, from the accident. Obviously and clearly. Nothing I can give bulletpoints of. I’m telling you all this depth because the answers to your questions aren’t simple. It’s been very disorienting to go through all of this completely behind the scenes. I’m only talking about this all now so that I don’t feel so disconnected. So the public me doesn’t feel so disconnected with the reality of the last handful of years. It gives context to a lot of the content of the releases, and maybe it can help some people who struggle with certain things to not feel alone. It all feels really far away from me at the moment, because I haven’t felt any of that this year, thankfully. Like I said, I’m in a good stretch right now. Otherwise, the accident gave me the typical takeaways. Don’t take time and people and health and life for granted.