Fireworks displays may bring back bad battlefield memories for those who experienced combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, making them anything but a fun way to celebrate our independence.
As we celebrated the Fourth of July, many of us gave thanks for the servicemen and women who have bravely fought for our freedom. Ironically, the fireworks we use to celebrate those sacrifices are something some vets try to avoid.
The bright colors against the backdrop of the night sky never fail to draw “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from children and adults alike, but for combat vets they are something to dread. Veterans, particularly those suffering from PTSD, can experience severely negative reactions to this seemingly harmless summer fun. For them, the explosive bursts in the night bring battlefield flashbacks and may send them scurrying for cover.
For the large number of servicemen and women who are veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, these loud bursts don’t represent a fun celebration. Instead they may send warning signals to their brains of impending danger. Even those suffering from mild cases of PTSD can confuse the pops of fireworks with gunfire or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). It puts them on heightened alert.
It would be one thing if our vets could just plan to avoid any public fireworks shows on Fourth of July, but the celebrations aren’t locked into that single day anymore. They’re now part of sporting events throughout the summer. Then there are neighborhood kids who, simply in search of a little fun, begin lighting off fireworks weeks in advance of the Fourth and for days or weeks afterward as well. This means there’s no way to predict or prepare for the blasts, and combat veterans across the country will find themselves flinching as their hearts race with every pop, crackle and boom. In fact, it’s often these random neighborhood bottle-rockets and M-80s that are the worst triggers, because they’re unanticipated.
While these soldiers’ brains tell them they’re not in any real danger, their bodies still go through the response. Those memories are hardwired back to real, horrible events and that feeling of being threatened comes rushing back.
It’s hard to avoid fireworks completely, but experts recommend that veterans retreat to a quiet place on the Fourth, far from public fireworks displays. They also suggest putting on headphones and listening to music. The other way to prepare is to anticipate that there will be some feelings of agitation around this time.
For those who believe they may be suffering from PTSD or trauma, it’s important to get a professional diagnosis. Those who don’t are at risk of self-medicating and can turn to drugs or alcohol to soothe their symptoms, creating what experts call co-occurring disorders, or a Dual Diagnosis: when addiction and mental health issues occur together.
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If you or someone you love needs treatment for a Dual Diagnosis, call La Paloma at the toll-free number on our homepage. Someone is there to take your call 24 hours a day and answer any questions you have about treatment, financing or insurance.