The dreaded days of fireworks. With PTSD, fireworks are gunshots, bombs, danger–and our PTSD isn’t from war. Imagine how directly triggering fireworks may be for civilian and military war survivors.
Being outside is especially risky the days before, the day of, and the days after Independence Day because we feel more exposed to the noise. A few weeks ago, we were relaxing in the back yard on a chair when explosions went off–and did not stop. We went quickly from hyperarousal to hypoarousal, which means we went from fight/flight response to flag/collapse. Initially, we thought of guns and bombs and when the explosions didn’t stop, we gave up trying to identify the source and focused on our survival.
We retreated inside ourself as the explosions did not stop. We were aware of our family coming to our aid in the back yard. We remember being tense and curled up into a ball in the yard chair. We remember their talking to us and our inability to answer. It was like being deep inside a collapsed mine shaft and hearing the rescuers and not being able to respond because we were buried under rubble.
After what we were later told was about 10 minutes, we were able to speak, and our first words were, “It was probably a roll of 1,000 firecrackers.” Slowly, the family helped us inside. We went into our bed and tried to be still, calm, and reassure ourself we were safe.
After another 20 minutes, we were able to stand on our own and begin to slowly function.
We were then told that a neighbor saw two children running away from a roll of 1,000 firecrackers lit in the street in front of our and the neighbor’s houses. We decided the children meant no personal harm to us. Depersonalizing the event freed us from unhelpful emotions like blame and anger. It happened. It was over.
Today, Independence Day, we will be more prepared. When we are triggered, we can remind ourself: these are fireworks and they are not a threat to us.
We are perhaps too far removed from society to feel the celebration that Independence Day represents. We do not participate in society in most ways at this point in our life. We are not employed, do not attend any community or social events, do not follow news or politics. We go to therapy 5 days per week most weeks (only 1 day this week due to the holiday), go bird watching with one of our children typically 1 day per week, and go to a store (grocery or pharmacy) 2-3 times per month. We try to leave the house for walks to a park several times per week, sometimes alone and sometimes with our spouse.
To us, fireworks also trigger memories of dying. We used to view the annual fireworks display from our grandparents’ balcony across the street from the large municipal fireworks display. When we were 8 years old, our grandfather was dying of cancer and was so sedated in his recliner that even the “dud” fireworks that supply the ear-bursting BOOMS did not rouse him.
That is a sad memory. Since that day, we have not enjoyed fireworks as we did before that day.
One bright spot regarding fireworks is a display we enjoyed with our spouse in our 20s: during a fireworks display, a baby next to us–eyes wide with amazement–reached out her hand and tried to hold the fireworks exploding in the sky before her. It was a precious moment of experience for that newborn. We were glad to witness it. We still speak of it.
We wonder where that child is today–now potentially a college graduate with a career, a spouse, a family. We hope that child was kept safe from abuse and neglect. We hope that child has retained her sense of wonder and amazement at the world.
If anyone reading this has fireworks to light for Independence Day, please be a friend to those with trauma and light them all on the night of Independence Day. Don’t save them for the days after. The noise only prolongs the suffering of the trauma survivor. We understand there will be fireworks on Independence Day. We can take precautions and survive it. We wish you a safe holiday.