My Life with PTSD (and why I probably haven’t told you)


I was about to turn 23 when this video was taken. F*ck, things have changed since then. 

My heart is pounding – not least of which because I have tachycardia that has been hammering on and off today. Physical ailments such as tachycardia are more common in people with PTSD (1). But I suspect it’s pounding simply because I’m writing this piece for you. For myself…in light of so many things…”me too,” the “free Britney” movement, I feel like it’s important for people to understand that this is not as unusual a story as it should be. Music is a beautiful thing but its beauty attracts some really awful, predatory people.

I don’t know if I was always a talented artist. There are no videos, pics, or documented memories that I know of that speak to an early talent, and I don’t remember much of my life before 15 yrs old. Memory issues is a common side effect of PTSD (2). Around that time my father, who’d been in and out of my life, came riding into it like a knight promising fame and fortune. My mother, a pragmatist, discouraged me from pursuing music professionally. Having a choice at that age of which parent to align with, I chose fame and fortune. My father had a background in music. He’d attended Berklee and performed with many famous artists; Eric Clapton and Billy Joel, to name a couple. “With his connections and my talent,” he’d say, “it was a sure thing. God ordained.” But he knew my mother would never approve. He demanded complete and utter discretion via an NDA in exchange for the fulfillment of his promises. That was the first of many contracts that I signed with my Dad.

I began a curriculum on “how to be a star.” On weekends I would record covers – whatever my Dad had prepared – to add to my “portfolio,” and my Dad would coach me on what I could expect to experience as a star; everything from crazed fans to the casting couch. It was all just “part of the business.” When I was 16, I had my first “major opportunity.” My Dad submitted me for consideration to sing a duet with one of Michigan’s many music legends, Bob Seger, at a Fourth of July concert in Maryland, and I’d made the final two. We had a week to provide professional photos and prepare for an in-person interview for which my Dad kept me out of school and spent what he professed to be his last dime on clothes and makeup for me. I did not choose the clothes for myself, and I did not like them or how caked on my makeup was, but hey…that wasn’t for me to decide. We sent the results off to Bob Seger’s team not too long before leaving for the 4 hour drive to his mansion up north.

*FLASH FORWARD*

Now before I tell you the first ending of this story, I’d like to preface it with the long-delayed second ending, which is that none of it was real. Seven years later I would have the same music attorney as Bob Seger (there’s only two circa Detroit) and he would confirm for me that none of it ever happened. The concert in Maryland and the competition were both fake. Bob Seger doesn’t live in a mansion four hours north of Detroit. My Dad never even played with Eric Clapton or Billy Joel. Most of his personal history as he relayed it to me was fake or exaggerated. He did, at least, attend Berklee College of Music for less than a semester.

*FLASH BACK*

Two hours into the drive, my Dad received a call from Bob Seger’s manager. They’d assessed the photos of me and were going in a different direction because I didn’t “look like a star” to them. That week I went on a diet, started exercising, and committed myself to God’s purpose for me with my Dad’s help.

Fame was imminent. Over the next several years I did all the things I was supposed to do “in the meantime.” I graduated from high school, attended local University, and stayed close to my father as directed. I took my schooling seriously because I truly enjoy academia, but the real work began when I got home from school and my “star training” resumed.

It was just us for the longest – my Dad and I against the world. Even his wife was not in our inner circle. She was violent, and my Dad “needed me to succeed in order to get her the help she needed.” My Dad was staking everything on my success, and I wouldn’t let him down.

There were many near misses of a similar nature to the Bob Seger incident. Several times I signed recording contracts with large companies – Disney, Sony – only for them to “fall through” for some vague reason. Each of these, I can only assume, was also fake. Before I could feel sad about one failed opportunity, the next one was knocking and required my full attention. “High risk, high reward industries were just like that,” I was told, and “wasn’t I lucky to have my father to guide me?” Many people told me I was. Well-meaning people who propagate popular fallacies such as “all parents want what’s best for their children” passively facilitate abuse (3).

The first crack in my bubble came when I realized that my Dad was not a great guitarist. He struggled with some rhythms and not infrequently played in the wrong key. My musical brain couldn’t abide and eventually drew the courage to request that we hire musicians. They never stayed long. They would be the “best people” my Dad had ever met until suddenly they weren’t and I would never see them again. I was very busy writing music, trying to keep it “commercial,” working on my body, and rehearsing a new band virtually every few weeks. I performed at dingy bars, private parties, and had lunches with “sponsors” during which I listened as I and my potential were discussed. I was taught to be a “blank canvas upon which anyone would want to write”, and for that we attracted all kinds of unsavory characters. This kind of “businessman” was not above laying a hand on my thigh or leading me around by the small of my back. To my Dad’s credit, he was not a fan of our sponsors doing this, though he often did this and more to me himself. I didn’t feel betrayed at the time by the crossing of normal father/daughter boundaries because it was all I’d known. But I did develop ways of anticipating and avoiding recurrent situations that I didn’t want to be in, and otherwise mitigating the worst of it without making it anyone else’s problem. But when I couldn’t avoid it, it was common for me to have out of body experiences wherein I saw what was happening as though from outside my body and I was numb to it. Dissociation is a common feature of PTSD that involves disruptions in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, and perception of the self and the environment (4)…I do sometimes miss being able to flip into this state where nothing can touch me. Like water off a duck’s back.

I reasoned that if my pending record deal could fix my Dad’s problems then maybe it would my “Dad problem”, too. It was always just around the corner. I grew almost entirely separated from my mom and siblings, and I had no time for friends. Later on I would learn that my Dad would discretely scare people who were getting too close to me away, or barring that would devise elaborate schemes to drive wedges between me and whomever he deemed a threat to our “success.”. Most of the time people would exit my life without so much as a goodbye. It hurt, but I’d been taught to expect this in my “star training.” Sometimes people would leave with something to say, which I was also taught to expect but was harder to reconcile with the reality within the bubble. For the last two years that I worked with my father, a couple of people made a point of warning me that maybe things were not as they seemed. I could neither wrap my head around this nor dismiss it. I needed space, but I had no resources of my own. I moved in with my sister from whom I’d been more or less estranged, and then with my Mom. I couldn’t talk to them about anything – fear of violating the NDA, fear of judgement – but I had space to think.

On January 6th, 2015 I made an appointment with a music attorney. I was 23 years old and I wanted to run my own life. I’d graduated college and been working full time for my Dad for roughly a year without the distraction of school and had the bandwidth to consider the discrepancies in my life and experiences to date. I still believed in God’s plan for me, but now I felt that somehow my Dad was holding me back. I didn’t know what my rights were. I’d signed a lot of things over the years that I didn’t understand. My Dad never explained beyond his expectations of me. He just asked for unfailing loyalty and faith. Questioning him felt ungrateful at best, blasphemous as questioning God at worst; both things I eventually did because there were too many discrepancies to ignore. The attorney listened to me talk about the little I knew and all the things I didn’t know. I hadn’t figured out much by then, but he was patient and clearly concerned.

I returned home that day to find that the alternative world in which I’d been living and which had taken my Dad seven meticulous years to build had been destroyed by his own choosing. My Dad had taken the liberty of exiting my life. Software he’d installed on my phone kept him abreast of all my comings and goings – including the attorney – and that was his cue to exit. My email was wiped. My music was gone. My Dad was gone. I returned to the attorney and he confirmed something worse than my worst fears – my Dad had several fraud cases pending against him in all manner of businesses. I was just one of them. The pain was physical. Everything ached. I couldn’t breathe. Nothing made sense. And that’s how my real life began. 

I’m exhausted and going to stop here for now. You already know this has a happy ending (yay!) I’m going to summarize what happened between then and today when I’ve had some rest. In the meantime, I’m thinking about Britney and the many artists I’ve met over the years who’ve been used and abused to varying degrees. I’m thinking about abuse in all its forms…how do we protect our own? I don’t know yet. To date, all I’ve been able to do is heal myself. Now I’ve a bit more bandwidth and I want to be part of a conversation that yields some solutions.

Update: It’s been more than a month since I posted and I have a lot of other content to share with you and 2 problems with sharing them. 1. This felt very pressing and also very scary, so I’ve procrastinated 2. My 2015 macbook air gave up the ghost at the end of May and I’m in the midst of saving money to replace it. Thank you for your patience. I wouldn’t be living the life I love without you 🎶❤️

On deck for Maggie Cocco Music:

1. My Life With PTSD (and reasons why I haven’t told you) Part II

2. Maggie Cocco Band Live Mini Set (Blues-Rock)

3. Maggie Cocco’s Science for Sociopaths Live Mini Set (Solo Piano/Voice)

4. Fan Highlight Reels

5. Art Exhibit

6. Continuing Education: Bulgarian Vocal Music

7. Vocal Master Class Fundraiser for Girls Rock Detroit

Musically yours, 

Maggie


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