In true aspie fashion I’ve been anxious about the 4th of July because of the festivities. I am very afraid of fire and the 4th usually consists of drunk people handling fire. I’m also not a fan of loud and sudden noises and that also seems to be a big part of celebrating. During all of this worrying, I have been forgetting the true meaning of the holiday.
My dad was active in the United States Army while I was growing up and I experienced a LOT of change. Change included saying goodbye, moving to new places, learning a new culture, making new friends, and the dreaded deployments. My parents handled everything with grace which I think was the only thing that helped me through it. I also had my forever friend, my sister Ariel (who I lovingly refer to as Poozle), by my side.
My parents always made a new move sound like an exciting adventure. My parents always “bribed” us with a new comforter set for our new bedrooms and it always made moving sound a little more exciting. We got to redecorate our bedrooms! (By the time Daddy retired in 2010, we had a crap-load of blankets and comforters in our closet.) It didn’t make the change easier, it made it more bearable.
I remember when my Momma and Daddy sat Poozle and me down to inform us we were moving to New York. I was 11-years-old at the time and obsessed with Hilary Duff. When I heard “New York” I immediately thought the whole state was a giant NYC, full of celebrities, and I was determined to bring an autograph book with me everywhere I went in the big chance that I would run into Hilary Duff on the sidewalk. Tip: Fort Drum is nothing like NYC. Bring snow boots, not an autograph book.
The last time I had moved I was 8 or 9, so I was still a kid and could make friends by just liking the same toy as another kid. When we moved to New York, I was 11 and I learned the hard way that making friends as a pre-teen was not so easy. I also believe being undiagnosed autistic made everything so much harder. I remember lying in bed one night, sobbing my eyes out. My mom came into my room and asked me what was wrong and I told her “I don’t have any friends here!” My mom tried her hardest to help me make friends. She tried to involve me in youth group at church, she signed up for the local homeschool group, and she enrolled my sister and me into dance classes. I remember going to church and hiding in the bathroom stall, crying. The new environment was a lot to take in, and I was so mad at myself because I didn’t know how to make friends or control my emotions! I felt like an idiot. I think dancing was my saving grace at the time. I wasn’t good at it but it helped me to express myself and make friends. I ended up taking several dance classes!
The hardest part about living in New York was having my dad deployed in Baghdad, Iraq most the time. Whenever Daddy left for Iraq, he always took a piece of our hearts with him. I can remember this time of my life being the worst for my anxiety. I spent a lot of nights imagining what he was going through, being shot at. I imagined how he would be killed, dying all alone, without us there to be with him as he passed away. The biggest thing I worried about was my Daddy being alone. I also imagined how we would be informed of his death. A lot of nights consisted of tears and panic attacks.
I remember being mad. I was so mad that he loved his job more than he loved his family. He let his job take him away from us. We needed him.
It wasn’t until later that I realized because he loved us, he allowed his job to take him to these terrible, scary places. He loved my mom, my sister, me, and all of America, and wanted to ensure our freedom. Even if it meant his life.
This past Sunday my parents invited me to their church to a Freedom Celebration (I don’t remember the actual name) where we praised God for America and recognized all the men and women who served. There was a moment they had all the men and women who had served come up to the front of the church, presented them with medals, and had them stand on stage so that everyone could recognize them. It was a very powerful moment. In that moment, I realized the sacrifice that was given on my behalf. I felt so grateful and undeserving. I felt so proud to have my dad on that stage. He would deny it if I said it, but it feels like I’m related to a super hero.
As you celebrate 4th of July, don’t forget it’s true meaning. It is about celebrating our independence, our freedom, and the ultimate sacrifices given on our behalf. Don’t get so caught up in the fireworks and the cookouts that you forget to shake the hands of those who ensured you could celebrate in this way.
Don’t forget this is Independence Day.
***Side note: please be considerate shooting off fireworks. There are many veterans with PTSD that have flashbacks caused by these loud noises. Keep your pets locked up and help them feel safe. Also, those who struggle with autism or any form of anxiety have a particularly hard time with loud sounds as well.***