Independence Day and other patriotic holidays are a blast! Party time! For many. But for others, this “blast” propels them right back into the heat of battle.
Physically and emotionally. How ironic and gut-wrenching that the very soldiers who sacrificed so we could celebrate our freedom are the ones who suffer most on this day.
So what can we do to help those who may be veterans, or may have Post-Traumatic Stress from other traumas? And what can those who struggle with PTSD do to successfully make it through? We cannot delete the day on the calendar, nor should we deny ourselves the privilege of celebrating these events with gratitude (and fun!).
First and foremost we need to realize that we cannot fix it. Although there are many resources to help PTSD (see www.LoveOurVets.org), it will always be there at some level. Rather, as friends, family and loved ones, it is our privilege to care and support in any way we can.
Some of the typical signs of PTSD might include flashbacks, avoidance, numbing, putting up walls, withdrawing, hyper-vigilance, irritability, easily startled, memory blocks, sudden bursts of anger or other emotions, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, fear, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other additive behaviors, difficulty holding a job, relationship problems, and suicidal thoughts.
It is important to do all we can to learn more about PTSD, and how it affects those we care about as well as all those around them. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect anyone, resulting from any severe life-threatening trauma. At that moment, the whole person gets locked into emergency mode – fight or flight survival – which will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Physically, emotionally and mentally. 24/7 they live as if the impending crisis, or a violent attack, could reoccur at any moment, overwhelming their ability to cope. When something triggers them, they have no reserve with which to handle it in a healthy way as others might.
Bottom line? The person needs to feel safe and be safe.
As the wife of a veteran who has struggled with PTSD for over four decades, I share what I and many others are learning personally in LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD. The good news is that many are learning and growing successfully in spite of the PTSD.
Here are some tips to help people feel safe and be safe on this upcoming holiday:
• Surround yourself with good people, perhaps other veterans or family you know and enjoy.
• Pet lovers – stay close to your furry friends. They don’t like fireworks either!
• Treat your body with good comforts such as a soothing massage, your favorite music, closeness with the one you love, and great food.
• Many find it helpful to leave town, or go somewhere quiet.
• Others turn on loud white noise, watch a good movie, or crank up music to drown out the sounds of the fireworks. (And maybe a good pair of earplugs at bedtime.)
• Stay sheltered indoors, far away from loud explosions and lights in the sky, and do not even drive that day if you can help it.
• And for the loved ones, you may want to just sit quietly with them, listen when they need to talk, and always respect their space when they need to be alone.
• As you do what you can to help them, NEVER stop living yourself, but do what YOU need and want.
Finally, I encourage ALL of us to stop and THANK anyone we know who has served and sacrificed for our freedom, the reason we can celebrate, with or without fireworks.
WELBY O’BRIEN holds a Master’s Degree in counseling from Portland State University and a teaching degree from Biola University. She is the author of “Formerly a Wife” and “Good-Bye for Now,” as well as a contributing author for both “Shepherding Women in Pain” and “Chicken Soup for the Soul (Divorce and Recovery).” Her book “LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD” has become a welcomed tool by military chaplains and VA counselors nationwide, and is helping many veterans and others affected by PTSD and their loved ones. www.LoveOurVets.org