I finally did it! After eleven long years, I finally attended a fireworks display with my kids! Guess what?! I survived not only the fireworks, but navigating the crowds with three little ones…by myself!
All in all, I actually enjoyed myself! The girls were able to play on the bouncy houses, get their face painted, and even stood in line for patriotically over-priced snow cones! The girls were able to get those twisted balloon things that end up being made into all kinds of things (one had an alien that rode on her shoulders, one had a sword, and one had a flower). Granted, none of the balloon characters made it home, but they were free, so I wasn’t terribly heart broken (especially since I’m allergic to the stupid things).
I had originally decided to attend because my teen invited me. I figured with her there, I’d be able to get through the fireworks. Well, she went AWOL with her friends and I only saw her once the entire evening. Thankfully, my best friend and her family showed up just minutes before the show started. Between her and Chauncey, they got me through. I purposely sat far enough away that I couldn’t hear them launching, and I enjoyed all but the absolutely largest shells. Those were the ones that I could feel the repercussion of their explosion in my chest and that would trigger me, but as I said, my service dog Chauncey (who did amazingly well with the fireworks) and my best friend saw me through.
I definitely think we will do it again next year. Perhaps I will be able to convince a couple of my fellow veterans to attend with me. Just showing up was a huge step for me and I hope I can share that with others next year.
Moral of this story: don’t be afraid to face your fears…you may be pleasantly surprised at the results. If they aren’t what you expected them to be, you will at least know that you tried. Perform an after action and see if there is anything you could do differently next time to improve the outcome!
So, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I haven’t posted in a few weeks. There is a very good reason for that which was mentioned in previous posts. I just finished spending three weeks training with my new service dog, Chauncey. He is a pure breed Golden Retriever and he has already begun changing my life.
Before I left, I couldn’t even get through the grocery store without panicking and forget talking to someone, simply asking a sales associate a question had me stuttering and stammering until I was barely understandable. I can honestly report that I have not stuttered once since being partnered with Chauncey.
It truly is amazing how much your life can change in three short weeks. I can now face the world without fearing that I will melt into a puddle of sobbing nerves. I no longer fear taking my children out in public, going to the drug store, running errands, or simply existing outside of my house without my husband. I had never really considered myself a ‘dog person’, but Chauncey has changed that forever.
One event that happened while in Florida really sticks out as the moment I realized that Chauncey is truly mine. We had a visit from 15 wonderful women from the Daughters of the American Revolution. Chauncey was a complete ham with these women. He went from person to person trying to get them to pet him, play with him, rub his belly, etc. Every few minutes he would come over and lean against me for a moment before going back to being the center of attention. Todd, K9s Director of Operations, mentioned how different Chauncey is when he’s wearing his vest. Considering I had never seen that instant change due to the fact that we always rode in the van to get to a destination where he needed his vest, I decided to grab his vest for a demonstration. The instant I said “time to work” he was a completely different dog. Chauncey sat stoically and regally at my side. I was the sole focus of his attention as he simply leaned gently against my legs to let me know I was safe. After a few moments I took his vest off and he immediately returned to being a complete ham!
Since returning home, we have been on several outings. The chaos of learning a new home with so many children, a dog and cat is immediately erased as soon as I put his vest on. Chauncey is in his zone and everything is right in his world. He is going to be a completely spoiled member of the family and my best friend. I’ve been giving him a break from training (beyond the basics) so he can get used to being here and know this is his home. Unfortunately, when his vest is off, he is already trying to test boundaries; however, as soon as I say “time to work” the testing ends and he is focused on me.
In the coming days, I hope to write about my experiences at K9s, the wonderful people I met, and the things I learned…both about Chauncey as well as myself. I’d like to be able to give those who are waiting for their school dates a glimpse of what to expect, though I know nothing I could write would begin to touch on the individual growth that each warrior will experience through this process.
I would like to take a moment to thank everyone at K9s for Warriors as well as Veterans Airlift Command. Without either of these great organizations, I would not be where I am today…firmly on the road to recovery!
Most people weather life’s changes with little more than some slightly elevated stress levels. For someone with PTSD, however, even the smallest of life changes can make them feel like their life has been turned upside down.
Right now, I am three days from a major life change. In three short days, I will get on an airplane and fly to Florida where I will meet my service dog for the first time. His name is Chaunsey, the beautiful golden retriever in this picture. We will train together to learn what it means to be a team. I will learn what his ‘alerting’ behaviors are, and he will learn how to perform tasks that mitigate my disabilities. This is a huge step. This will be the longest I have been away from my family in, well… ever. I have never been away for even a night without at least my husband, if not my kids. This is something totally new to me. I will be hundreds of miles away from my support system and that thought scares me to death. The ONE thing that is keeping me from canceling the entire thing is this single simple fact…I will be gaining a new tool to add to my support system. A tool that will allow me to do something as simple as going to the grocery store alone, or taking my children to the park without having to worry about freaking out (though I will admit, most of the time they keep me pretty grounded to the present).
I also know that my life will continue to change once I’m home. No longer will I be able to hide away in my bed when depression is rearing its head because Chaunsey will need exercise and potty breaks. He will need to be fed and brushed, but most of all he will need attention. His needs will require me to come out of myself and engage in the world around me instead of hiding in my computer and isolating myself away from the world.
There are so many things that Chaunsey and I will do together that they would be impossible to list them here. But there is something I would like to share. If you, or a loved one, think you would benefit from a service dog, and you are a post-9/11 veteran, I encourage you to check out K9s for Warriors. Without their generosity, I would not be getting ready to enter this new chapter in my life. They are a non-profit group based in Florida that provides these dogs to post 9/11 veterans at no charge. Also, if you think you may need help with transportation to and from Florida (its a three weeks of training, lodging is provided), I encourage you to check out Veterans Airlift Command. These generous pilots volunteer their time to fly veterans and their families all over the country.
I will do my best to update everyone about our progress over the next three weeks. As I have said earlier, I am terrified right now…but I am also hopeful. I feel as if the light at the end of the tunnel is finally turning on and the darkest hours of my PTSD may soon be behind me. I know this isn’t a cure. I know there will still be bad days or weeks, but, I know with Chaunsey, I will have a life long battle buddy that will be with me 24/7. Everywhere that I go, he will go. When I have a bad day, he will be there. He will bring me out of the flashbacks, interrupt the panic attacks and help me with mobility. I will be his forever human. Neither of us will ever be alone again, we will be battle buddies, we will be a team.