Photo via the Winchester Police Department's Facebook page.
Photo via the Winchester Police Department's Facebook page.
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Editor’s note: On July 5, the Winchester Police Department reported on their Facebook page that the department responded to over 20 incidents of illegal fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend. Chris Rabago, who is a frequent contributor to The Winsted Phoenix, lives in the Highland Lake area with his husband Branwen. In this piece, Rabago writes about both his and his husband’s experiences over this past Fourth of July.

Every Independence Day is the same: parties and fireworks for many.
But as for me living on Highland Lake with my Husband Branwen, who suffers from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), things are much different.
Every July 4th takes a lot of planning and time off from our busy lives.
Planning for Independence Day starts with scouring the web for the legal displays so that we can stay away from that area. This can take weeks to figure out.
Then the illegal displays that are common on Highland Lake come into play. When will they start? When will they end? What areas will see the most? We typically leave the house at 4 p.m. when the first few go off.
However, this Independence Day was different. With many restrictions on COVID lifted I knew it was going to be a madhouse.
Four in the afternoon rolls around and Highland Lake is starting to sound like a warzone. Grabbing our supplies we head for the car with the sounds of fireworks in every direction. Branwen’s CPTSD symptoms of panic start to begin and we haven’t even left the driveway. Getting out of our neighborhood is always one of the worst parts of the night. Everything is so close and so loud
As we start our planned route we stick to the highways. This is our usual routine because the fireworks typically are not close to the highways. If they are, they are not as loud as driving slowly on secondary roads. This year was much different and I knew that it was going to be. Even before the sun went down every city and town along the highways were filled with the display of illegal fireworks. Torrington is the worst that we see that night.
As we drove the displays got closer and closer to the highways. Branwen went from talking in a panic to nothing at all. This wasn’t good because I knew that he was starting to dissociate.
Calling his name and grounding techniques will not work this year. We pass through small towns and large cities all while he goes in and out of a combination of panic attacks and dissociative episodes depending on what he hears and sees.
However, there’s nothing that I can do. There’s not a thing I can do to stop it but keep driving until we hopefully find an area where we will be able to escape the horrendous bangs and booms.
Continuing our drive, nothing that the doctors have taught me to help him is working. The grounding techniques such as music, touch, smell, and calling his name. Not a single thing is working.
I begin to panic as I have the notion that a full-blown CPTSD is about to occur. Driving into the town of Woodbury at around 11 p.m. the air is finally quiet. We pull over into a parking lot and I begin to try grounding techniques. After about 30 minutes they start to work and he begins to come out of the attacks he was suffering from.
It seems like all is over and we make our way back home. Finally arriving back at around 12:30 a.m.
I am exhausted from driving and he is exhausted from eight full hours of panic attacks and dissociation. At the end of the night, we logged over 500 miles of driving, crossing the states that we typically cross on Independence Day.
This year was very different. There was nothing that I could do to get him away from the devastating explosions. From the hills to the towns and cities the air was filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of the fireworks, mostly illegal as we planned our route around the legal displays.
Next year will be the same. The year after will be the same. People that suffer from PTSD and CPTSD who have no way of escaping the harsh displays in the name of fun have it the worst. Many veterans have no means of getting away from where they are living. They suffer through flashbacks, panic, and dissociation just so you can have fun. Remember that next time you bring back illegal fireworks from your favorite out-of-state location.
As the morning begins, I take a sigh of relief. My husband and I just survived Independence Day.

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Christopher Rabago is a self-educated photojournalist who started his career in 2015 with his photography site Rabagophotography.com. He has continued his passion of photography and community service by taking it to a new level by beginning his service to the community as a volunteer photojournalist for the Winsted Phoenix in September of 2020. He has covered numerous topics ranging from special events to profiles on local business. By interviewing local politicians including Jahana Hayes and Jay Case he has gained a reputation of being a non-bias reporter and all around great local personality. Notable events that he has covered in the Northwest Corner include the new Winsted Health Center opening, James Mars day and other events important to the community. His current goal is to support local community non-profits through his talent of videography and has worked with non-profits to spread awareness of their services through social media. Chris current resides in Winsted with his husband Branwen and is passionate about the LGBTQIA+ where they both fight for equality for all including transgender rights.