When Fireworks Set You Off

I am one of many who struggle with the loud pops and bangs of the Fourth of July. I am not a veteran, but I have been through a domestic war.

The other day my kid was excited to have a new friend over. They were happily playing a hide-and-seek-type game when the child suddenly, out of nowhere, let out a piercing scream. My kids, knowing what loud noises do to me, immediately looked at me to see if I was OK. I wasn’t, but I did manage to very calmly let the child know that we can’t have screaming in this house before I excused myself to my room. I was hyperventilating and my blood pressure was through the roof. I texted the kid’s mom with a half-legitimate excuse for picking her kid up early. What I didn’t tell her was that I have complex PTSD.

I wish my body didn’t freak out like this. I wish my kids didn’t have to look at me with concern whenever I’m surprised by loud noises. I wish I didn’t need to think ahead about having a strategy to survive basic events around holidays. But I do. This is one more thing that I’ve come to accept about the reality of abuse. It shows up in all sorts of inconvenient ways.

As we approach the Fourth of July, memes about being respectful of veterans are surfacing in my social media feeds. I think it’s wonderful that more people are becoming more aware of the long-terms effects of those who have lived through combat. Friends are posting about keeping pets inside, and taking care of their stressed out dogs. What I don’t think many realize is that there are lots of people like me who also struggle.  But what would a meme for me look like? Watch out for your middle-aged mom friend white-knuckling her corn-on-the cob because she experienced complex trauma as a child and wishes she didn’t say yes to your invitation to the BBQ, but is tired of letting her family down because she can’t hold up in loud social situations? Awkward.

Too often, it feels like there’s too much to unpack for me to explain complex trauma to people. It’s not a light conversation, and I often don’t feel I know people well enough to unload what’s really going on with me. Even with people I am comfortable around, I don’t often explain myself. I think it’s just assumed I am quirky and don’t like crowds. But I do like real, authentic, human connection. I just wish it were easier.

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