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Vernon musician breaks free from PTSD chains

Williams will be performing live at the Longhorn Pub for St. Paddy’s Day
Jonathan Williams will be performing in his first show in decades this week, at the Longhorn Pub for the St. Paddy’s Day Party. (Lianne Viau Photo)

In 2021, Jonathan Williams walked out of his RCMP precinct, ready to explode.

On the outside, the Constable from the Armstrong detachment seemed to have his life together, but in the inside, he was ready to capitulate from years of PTSD as a police officer.

He didn’t know it at the time, but just two years later, Williams’ rekindling of a love for music would save himself. And as the now 49-year-old gets set for his first live show on Friday, March 17 at the Longhorn Pub, the long and winding road back to a musician life was something he never could have fathomed happening just a couple of years ago.

Growing up, Williams’ life was music. In his early teen years, he was captivated by old school rock and roll artists and began performing in bars around Victoria at just 16.

Eventually, he grew his musical talent from electric guitar, to vocal work, as his bands began to pick up steam in and around Vancouver Island.

“We became a house band for a couple of local spots, then opened up for Kim Mitchell, Colin James, Trooper and Dr. Hook,” Williams told the Vernon Morning Star.

Williams threw himself head first into the music scene, remarking that he couldn’t get busy enough.

Then, he met his wife, who at the time, wanted the rock and roll lifestyle as much as him.

“She wanted to sing and I thought well, she’s prettier than I am. So yeah, let’s get her to sing. So, we formed a band called Iris.”

The fervidity of the music scene continued into the early 2000’s, as the duo began recording in studio with Vince Ditrich, the drummer and manager of Spirit of the West.

But, as quickly as the musical life seemed to begin, it stopped in 2008 when his wife told him, “I’m done.”

“I was stunned, this was the dream and we were getting ready to be (signed) with Sony Records, but she wanted a family so I had to put the dream on hold.”

“I had spent my entire life (since I was 16) in music, so it was tough the first couple of years to just completely stop that.”

The hard break of the musician life led Williams to become a police officer, mainly as a means of supporting his growing family.

Williams, his two kids and wife, then began more than a decade of traversing the province at different RCMP precincts. First Burnaby, then Powell River and the tiny Alexis Creek.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but my work as a police officer needed to be as tactful, meaningful and exciting as what I let go.”

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As his RCMP career continued to Armstrong in 2017, the emotional and mental toll of policing began to slowly seep into Wiliams’ veins.

“The tsunami of stress was looming. I didn’t realize it then but it was just a collection of years of stress and dealing with stuff where my normal became different. The amount of focus that you need when you are working is this hyper vigilance to just stay alive and so that’s how I began to see the world.”

The stacking of anxiety and trauma bubbled over in 2021, when he took a brief mental health leave. But, upon returning, the wave of PTSD began to engulf him. To add on, his was going through issues in his family, which Williams remarked was “the only thing I had really going for me.”

That was when everything fell apart.

“I would be working, be given a file and I would take off and do it, but I could feel inside me that I was going to throw up and that I was going to burst out crying. I couldn’t control it anymore.”

Williams recalled leaving his workplace early, driving his police car to a secluded culdesac, sliding his chair down and just letting all the tears flow.

“This is terrible, I can’t be like this,” Williams said. “I am in a police car and I am uncontrollably sobbing. This was when I realized I needed to get help.”

At therapy, Williams was asked what hobbies brought him joy. Still in a haze of dark thoughts, he remarked that nothing did.

“The therapist then asked, what did I enjoy doing as a kid, and so I said that I did play music.”

So, after encouragement from the therapist, he picked back up the guitar.

“It was like ‘boom!’ It was amazing how something unlocked. I had completely shut down inside as there was too much pain. Playing music was a glimmer of light.”

Now on a medical leave from his policing work, Williams then began to turn back to music.

“It was the outlet where I could actually talk safely.”

After writing and releasing the song: One Of Those Days, Williams was encouraged to share the messages of his music.

“Friends told me that I needed to share that with people, because I am not the only one that is dealing with stuff.”

Slowly, through music, Williams is beginning to feel like himself again, and is throwing himself into writing and producing songs.

“I realized that I was serving and doing stuff for everybody else all these years,” he remarked. “Now, I found myself and who I am.

“I have been on quite the journey, I went to a five week therapeutic program in Ohio last year, for people that are dealing with PTSD and depression. That was helpful. It peeled off a couple of the layers of protectiveness.”

Now, Williams’ schedule is chock-full of shows, as he joined up with the band NFA, who was in need of a guitar player.

“They gave me a list of all of the shows that they had and I couldn’t believe it. At least 15 gigs this year.”

Williams’ first show with NFA will be St. Patrick’s Day, the first time in more than a decade that he will be performing again for a live audience.

But, Williams is now, finally, comfortable with himself, and can’t wait to rock out.

“If I didn’t hold steady and get the help that I needed, I wouldn’t be on this other side.”

You can follow Williams on Instagram and Facebook.

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Bowen Assman

About the Author: Bowen Assman

I joined The Morning Star team in January 2023 as a reporter. Before that, I spent 10 months covering sports in Kelowna.
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