PTSD Spirituality: Until Twilight’s Last Gleaming

The Independence Day weekend is now behind us (Thank God, literally).   Fireworks often serve as PTSD triggers for those who have survived various forms of trauma.  This is true for military veterans, but also for survivors of non-military PTSD trauma.

PTSD Does Not Care How We Got Traumatized

For survivors of non-PTSD trauma such as sexual assaults or clergy abuse, the “big bang” of fireworks can also serve as a vehicle of re-traumatization.  It is wise to remember that PTSD and sensitivity to noise and startle triggers happens to all of us.

PTSD does not care how we were traumatized: but once inflicted, PTSD endeavors to corrode our soul, our relationships, and sense of self-worth.

These non-military individuals with PTSD actually have a harder time than most veterans.  Why? Because American society chooses to be even less understanding of non-military trauma survivors and their respective PTSD triggers than they are of veterans’ situations.

Society delivers us all an extra dose of shame and fear when it voices its lack of understanding and compassion for trauma survivors.  It makes our suffering and particular PTSD triggers even worse.

We are degraded when people suggest that the quality or quantity of our suffering is somehow not worthy enough to justify our PTSD.  This attitude rubs salt into already painful wounds.

The rejection of our worthiness to suffer adds extra layers of shame and fear to our lives.  This plays into the PTSD-Identity’s desire to further alienate us and separate us from healthy relationships and activities which may encourage self-worth.

Sometimes Sequestration Can Be A Good Thing!

One good thing about the 4th of July festivities was the absence of military aircraft wasting precious resources as they inflicted noise and house-shaking vibrations on veterans, other PTSD survivors, and their pets.

The Congress has caused a “sequestration” due to its inability to do more than just say “No” (I am guessing that it’s easier saying “No,” than just saying “Screw the people who lack private means to survive and thrive).  One of the unforeseen results of the fiscal sequester is that the military has had to cancel many of its air shows.  Imagine that, the military being forced to choose between putting on airshows and buying medical supplies for wounded troops.

Canceling the airshows saved a lot of people from experiencing unnecessary PTSD in the name of Plastic Patriotism.

Wounding Our Therapy Companions

Animals, including pets, are traumatized by the inexplicable (to them) screaming noises of jet engines and rattling of doors and windows.  We know that pets provide much needed trust and companionship to PTSD survivors.  These animals enable us to better heal and begin to restore and maintain positive relationships.

Terrorizing therapeutic pets with fireworks and house-level fly overs of jet aircraft deprive these animals of being able to help us heal.  Regardless of their healing abilities, why willingly terrorize animals?

The noise of fireworks and aircraft kicks in our hyper-alertness.  We cannot rest.  We constantly patrol our place to make sure nothing bad is coming in for us.  Our hyper-alertness creates extra fear and anxiety that then spreads to the rest of the household.  For some of us, the additional dose of stress and PTSD triggers pushes us over the edge and we our overwhelmed by negative PTSD behaviors.  These behaviors produce more fear and shame.  It’s a bad spiral.  PTSD sucks.

So, there is at least one good result from the fiscal sequester: Less traumatization of PTSD survivors, their loved ones, and their pets.

While this year’s fireworks were difficult for me both to get through and to recover from, the lack of the added airshow ruckus contributed to my not going down to the basement and drinking myself into sensory-deprivation.

I did not have to isolate myself and get drunk in order to numb myself from the holiday’s PTSD triggering festivities.

It’s been quite a while since PTSD compelled me to anesthetize myself with alcohol so as to neither feel the present nor vividly remember the past.  That said, 2013 has had new challenges for me, including those which have made it ever more difficult to write and to be what is commonly considered a productive individual.   Recent good news is the latest MRI shows no brain tumors. Hooray for our side!  No brain tumors and no airshows, things could be a lot worse.

Setbacks Need Not Define the Future

Some readers of the PTSD Spirituality website will have had better holiday experiences than the ones I described above.  Good!

Yet, many will have had much worse holidays.  They may have been devastated by the noise and peoples’ expectations they go to fireworks displays or come to the beer party, etc.  Their own symptoms may have been activated by the holiday happenings and they may have committed regretful behaviors.

If we got pushed backwards, got overwhelmed by our PTSD triggers, we need not abandon hope. 

A bad lapse may be something we need to apologize for (maybe even seek some professional help for), but we do not have to allow it to re-define who we are.  We do not have to surrender to the poisonous thought that we will never get better or that we have no self-worth.

There is always hope for healing.  Part of this website’s title includes the word “spirituality.”  For any Christians in the room it is always helpful to remember that Jesus says he is coming to help the sick and not the healthy.  It is fair to interpret that as both spiritual sickness as well as physical sickness.

God cares for each of us.  We each have enormous value – if only because we are created in the “image and likeness” of God.

If our PTSD triggers knocked us down, then we can get back up.  That felt a bit trite as I wrote it, but it remains true.  No matter how badly we may have been mauled, we can still choose, to have the intent, to turn our face to God and live.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Thank you Dr. Z.
    Your insights help tremendously.

  2. William Kurz says:

    What a fantastic exchange from both you, Dr. Z., and all your respondents! I am thrilled to see it.

  3. My PTSD inducing trauma happened on the 5th of July 12 years ago. The event ~ and the trauma ~ will always be linked to the 4th of July festivities. If I were to go to a fireworks display (which I would not) the crowds would also be a trigger. This is a tough time of year. Thank you for recognizing that. And God bless you.

    • Thank you, Rev. Beth. Your own work with Bady is a bright light on how we can all aid one another in healing. I am glad for you that the fifth of July is now behind you. Many of us have certain dates which represent a jagged rock in our own personal rivers. As we learn how to navigate past it we achieve more healing, the rock often remains still there in the water, but it no longer has to damage us each year the way it used to do. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  4. Very helpful, Dr. Z.

    Thanks for supporting those whose PTSD is not war-related, too.
    While our loved ones expect us to enjoy and accompany them to fireworks, loving truthfulness can trigger their compassion and understanding. I no longer enjoy the physiology of being scared. I couldn’t stop thinking of the “shock and awe” opening of the Iraq war.

    • Whenever the latest round of war-supporters (who usually never served themselves) got all goo goo eyed (and remember, I did use “goo goo” in a sentence!) about “Shock-n-Awe” I remind them that it didn’t work so well for the Japanese at Pearl Harbor either. Japanese war planners expected a stunned America to sue for peace within 6 months of Pearl Harbor due to Japanese military invincibility. I remember a certain former occupant of the Office of Vice President (who had avoided service in Vietnam) saying Iraq would be over in no time and we’d all have cheap oil b/c of it….not that I am bitter about chicken-hawks sending other people’s children to fight in their wars.
      That all said, your mention of “loving truthfulness” is the way to go. It strikes me as a form of speaking truth to power that blends well with turning the other cheek. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  5. thanks Dr. Z, for the gentle reminders.

  6. As one of those who cringe, startle, and become anxious at the sounds of fireworks, I appreciate very much your insights and wisdom. For me, it is more about the fireworks set off in the neighborhood, 30 ft from my window, or shot toward my house, that cause my hyper-vigilence and sensitivity and terrorize my four-legged companions. The smell of the fireworks sets off another set of reactions.

    I have also received 4th of July/fireworks calls from veterans who just need to hear a friendly voice reminding them that they are safe in the here and now.

    I can take care of myself when the parks have their fireworks displays. I just wish that they were only in parks and not in my neighbor’s yard. I’m fairly certain that they have no clue of this result of their actions. They disregard the law against fireworks, so I tend to think they really don’t much care how what they do affects others.

    • When dealing with people who just don’t and won’t understand, sometimes the most effective remedy is to not engage them. This does not make the problem vanish. Indeed, the problem and the PTSD triggers continue, but having people laugh at our discomfort and pain and ratchet up the noise only makes us worse off. People like this are the ones who make the doctrine of Purgatory so attractive. I, and I am sure others, are grateful for your fielding the needs of veterans and offering them a healing reassuring voice. You helped people stay alive. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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