As a combat veteran, there is a special way I go about enjoying fireworks every year with my family. It has a lot to do with grounding myself in reality and in the present. To do this, I use what I call a “grounding point”; something, anything that did not and could not have existed during my combat service. When I’m feeling uncomfortable, I reassure myself by looking at this thing.
This year my grounding point was my youngest daughter. To know her is to know happiness and joy. She has a smile for everyone. But the best part about her? She did not exist and in no way reflects my combat service. Therefore, if she is with me and I can see her, then I am grounded solidly in the present.
The fireworks this year started like any others. They were beautiful and one even looked like Saturn! How they do that is beyond me. Anyways, things were good. I had a little trouble, as always, with the flash bangs, those that go up and then just boom with a bright ball of light, but my daughter casually reached over and held my hand. A little extra “grounding”. And then, toward the end of the fireworks, someone thought it would be funny to set off some kind of firecrackers in the parking lot. Whatever these firecrackers were, they sounded exactly like automatic rifle fire. And they were coming not from the fireworks in front of me but from my right flank. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I freaked and all thought of any “grounding point” was gone.
I immediately began to assess the threat when I realized that my family was with me. What the hell were they doing here? Total confusion set it. The soldier in me wanted to move toward the threat to better assess yet the parent in me wanted to get my family out of there. How in the hell could I be both at the same time? All my life the two things had been separate. Any threats I had faced had been oceans away from my family. Two different worlds.
I looked around at the people around us only to find them happily watching the continuing fireworks show. No one else appeared threatened. As I was trying to process and understand this observation, the finale began. The continuous booms and flashing lights left me a huddled, confused mess on the blanket until it ended. I do believe we were the first ones out of the parking lot.
Once home, my daughter came in to talk to me. She told me that after those firecrackers in the parking lot, she couldn’t enjoy the rest of the show. She said that with everything going on in the world, she just felt like a target sitting out there on the grass.
So the threats aren’t oceans away anymore. They are here and her fear is real though it saddens me. No one else seemed concerned. Have I done this to her? And now I have to also wonder…how will I be able to continue to take my family to public places while the soldier wars with the parent leaving both unable to function?
And back to therapy I go…..