But there are those who live with us in our society who are re-traumatized by these explosions
It is not only our veterans, but also first responders and civilians who were traumatized sometime in their lives, still reliving those traumas when these explosions go off.
Our history and indeed our most recent events, have brought this to our very doorsteps in our country. The terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon and in Atlanta involved many civilians as well as first responders. They experience flashbacks from triggers in their environment, reexperiencing that which they experienced the day of the trauma.
Okay, a little explanation is in order.
A flashback is a reaction that a trauma victim may experience when exposed to a stimulus similar in nature to something remembered from the original trauma.
The stimulus is the triggering event or that detected by the senses. So, for example, if a person experienced a trauma that involved a loud explosion, another loud explosion many years later could set off the flashback events. If they were involved in a fire, the smell of smoke may trigger a flashback. For a nurse, the sights and smells of a trauma may trigger a flashback.
So, this all seems like common sense, and, no doubt, many of us have experienced these sensations. It was no big deal. We had a startle reaction, jumped a little, then laughed it off as us being silly or tease each other about how scared we looked. We resume normal life again not seemingly affected by it all. We go home, go to sleep and sleep normally through the night. Our lives seemed unphased by the whole incident.
But what if we didn't quite bounce back so easily?
What if we maintain vigilance ready, braced for the next trigger? What if we avoided all activities that may trigger us again because those triggers are so nightmarish? What if we self isolated for fear we’d, with our 5 senses, be immersed once again in those flashbacks. If I barricade myself in my safe house, I’ll be shielded from those nightmares. That’s something we can do to keep those horrible visions away.
But what if those visions follow you into your bed and your head. You can’t get those explosions, those screams, those “code blue” screams for help out of your head. They follow you into your dreams that are now nightmares of scenes you are stuck in, repeating, and repeating over and over, never resolved but always reminding you, you could have done better, you could have done something, anything to save them. All because you attended a 4th of July fireworks display.
So, maybe, removing themselves from the display, from the scene that everyone is enjoying would be the prudent thing to do. A lot, rather than ruin the holiday for friends and family, will attend but excuse themselves to try to find a safer, quieter place. Try to understand and let them go. Its not strange, they are not strange. They are just trying to find a safe harbor to ride out the storm they are going through.
I, unfortunately, didn't take my own advice.
I was diagnosed with PTSD from an incident as a police officer in 2009. Recently a friend invited me to join other friends on his patio boat on Lake Mohawk in Sparta, NJ for the 4th of July, to see the fireworks from the lake. It was a real bucket list moment for me, something I always dreamed of doing. Not a really good idea. Nowhere to flee and I could not ask them to turn around. Swimming back crossed my mind; it was that strong.
As we celebrate this special day, please understand that some are not as independent as others, independent of the trauma that may be burdening them. They may just want independence.
About the Author, Robert Cubby
Bob is a graduate of Montclair State College with a BA in Psychology; a retired Jersey City Police Officer where he served 38 years attaining the rank of captain. Since retirement Bob has been volunteering in various mental health organizations and facilitates a support group for veterans and first responders diagnosed with PTSD. Bob is a Reiki 2 practitioner interning at TTOHC for 100 hours at the Reiki clinic.