Fireworks are Reminders of Bombings & Gunfire

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Kathleen O'Donnell  MSW, LGSW, social worker & Leora Hudak MSW, LICSW, psychotherapist

We look forward to the Fourth of July every year as a kickoff to summer. We anticipate bright fireworks displays to commemorate the anniversary of our country’s independence. We might also be preparing for backyard barbeques or planning where to gather with family, friends, and neighbors. This holiday commemorates some of our favorite parts of American culture.

As this holiday approaches, clinicians at the Center for Victims of Torture are also preparing for the Fourth of July holiday in a very different way. To survivors of war trauma and torture, fireworks can serve as reminders of bombings and gunfire from conflicts at home. Similar to veterans, many asylum seekers and refugees suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of their experiences. PTSD manifests in vivid memories, sleep disturbances, a feeling of being overly alert, and feeling easily jumpy or startled. Clients describe flashbacks in which they feel as if the trauma is happening all over again. In additions to fireworks, large gatherings such as parades can cause distress and trigger anxieties about chaotic demonstrations. For many refugees, big crowds may have been signs of political protest or danger back home.

Every year clients at CVT share stories about their experiences on July Fourth. One CVT client described how he stayed in his room, awake, for multiple days in a row after hearing what sounded like guns and bombs outside of his family home. Another CVT client described how she felt the war had come to the United States, and hid with her children under a table all night to avoid what she perceived to be shelling. These experiences are setbacks for these clients who are otherwise healing from the invisible wounds of their experiences.

As clinicians in CVT’s U.S.-based programs, we help clients prepare in a variety of ways. We provide education about the origins of the holiday and describe the traditions with pictures and flyers. For many of our clients, we find ourselves spending sessions leading up the holiday teaching deep breathing and relaxation exercises to manage distressing symptoms that come up in reaction to holiday celebrations.

For our community in Minnesota and beyond, we see the Fourth of July as an opportunity to care for our refugee neighbors through awareness, respect and hospitality. Here are a few suggestions from CVT on how to care for your refugee neighbors this July Fourth:

  • Be aware of refugee families in your own neighborhood
  • Try not to set off fireworks in your street or neighborhood
  • Tell your refugee neighbors if you are hosting fireworks or a parade
  • Invite your refugee neighbors to your barbeques and celebrations to learn about the holiday and American culture
  • Be kind to your refugee neighbors if they seem scared or want to stay home this holiday

We would love to know how you welcomed a new American this July Fourth! Please leave a comment on CVT’s Facebook post or tag us in a social media post letting us know what you did.

Of course, welcoming our refugee and immigrant neighbors takes place all year round. If you would like to volunteer your time to befriend or help a refugee or asylum seeker learn how to use public transportation, develop English skills, or ride a bike please visit our volunteering page.

Photo Credit: © Walter Arce | Dreamstime.com

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