Travis is one of the most patriotic guys you’ll ever meet, and one of the toughest. His neighborhood celebrates Independence Day with gusto, and you’d assume Travis would be a big part of their barbecues, softball games, and other activities.

Actually, he dreads them. In the days leading up to the holiday, Travis struggles with anxiety and drinks more than he should. When the evening of the 4th arrives, he sits in the den with the blinds drawn and cranks up the volume on his TV. He’s not alone. Jay, who lives two streets over, often cries uncontrollably on the 4th. Mr. Milton, the friendly old guy who seems to mow his lawn every day, is nowhere to be seen. Several other guys in the neighborhood react in different ways, but none of them knows about what the others are going through. They do share something, though: they’ve all seen combat. Every one of them has proudly worn a uniform for the United States and loves his country deeply. And every one of them fears the 4th of July.

Their neighbors see fireworks streaking across the sky and bursting above, think of the Star-Spangled Banner, and pride fills their heart. Fireworks make Mr. Milton think of the tracers that streaked inches over his head on a frozen hill near Chosin. Travis thinks of the IEDs he saw and heard as his APC rolled toward Tikrit. Jay remembers his buddies who didn’t survive the Tet attacks on Khe Sanh. He still feels guilty that he’s the one who made it home.

We all try to erase the demons of our past, but they have a way of popping up when we least expect them, reminding us of times and events that terrified, shamed, or humiliated us. For my fellow vets, it may be those moments when we were convinced death was imminent or when we watched a guy we had joked with seconds earlier writhing in pain. For other people, it may be reminders of physical or sexual abuse from someone we loved, an attack by a complete stranger, a tragic accident or loss, or any number of things. We steel ourselves and try to shake it off, praying that the feelings don’t return … but they always do.

PTSD, what’s known as post-traumatic stress disorder, is well-known but often misunderstood. It affects many people who don’t realize they have it. They don’t always understand why they react the way they do to situations, or to certain sounds and smells, so they assume there’s just something wrong with them. They fight private battles with their demons or try to blot them out with alcohol and drugs, neither of which really helps.

The good news is that you don’t have to let your past define your future. There are effective ways to take control of those demons, so they’ll stop taking control of you. Therapy is never easy, but it’s better than letting things from your past interfere with happiness and fulfillment. If you or someone you love is struggling with feelings from the past, reach out to our team of professionals. We’ve helped many men and women understand what’s happening and learn practical, proven ways to move forward. There’s no need to be a prisoner of your past. Contact us today.

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