Come Veterans Day, veterans, friends and loved ones will gather to discuss a topic long deemed taboo: post-traumatic stress disorder. Titled Resilience Caf? this new series of group meetings seeks to break the silence on this closeted condition.
Defined as a condition of mental shock following a traumatic incident, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most commonly associated with those who serve in the military. But anyone who experiences or witnesses something disturbing &#8211; from car accidents to crime victims &#8211; can suffer. Even financial, family or career related incidents can trigger symptoms of the disorder.
Yet, for a disorder affecting more than 10 percent of the American population, there remains an element of the taboo when it comes to PTSD.
Dr. Peter Bernstein of the Petaluma-based Bernstein Institute realized this some 40 years ago as he began his work with PTSD, after serving in Vietnam.
"I was an infantry trainer in Vietnam. I had a heart for their suffering and how lost they seemed, how stuck they were in the turmoil of the past," he recounts.
Steve Rustad, a friend of Bernstein and an avid supporter of Resilience Caf? also holds a deep personal connection to PTSD. Though he understands the suffering it can cause, as well as the impact on friends and family, he also knows the benefit of open discussion and treatment.
"My father was a disabled World War II veteran," Rustad explains. "I grew up witnessing my father's severe PTSD, which was characterized by anger, violence, verbal abuse and alcohol addiction."
Yet when the Vietnam War came about, Rustad, too, served as an Army medic in Germany and witnessed sights that continued to haunt him for years on end. Like Rustad, many PTSD sufferers often take months and years before looking for help. Bernstein noted that many feel a sense of shame in admitting something is wrong.
With this in mind, he decided he needed to find a more casual, softer way of opening up the topic of PTSD in an effort to reduce the embarrassment some feel in seeking help.
The answer appeared to Bernstein one day as he talked to friend and Aqus Caf?owner John Crowley.
Crowley's establishment is famed in Petaluma for its intimate yet welcoming gathering spaces. More recently, Crowley has also been known to push the limits of socially "acceptable" meeting groups such as the recent Nonviolence and Nonviolent Conflict Resolution in our Community, Revisioning Slavery's Legacy and the Death Caf?
"We've hosted some world cafes and conversation cafes that discuss things we generally try to brush under the carpet," Crowley says, matter-of-factly. "I like to push envelopes in the hopes of making a better world. I like to see people have conversations about topics we usually don't, but should, have conversations about."
And from this came the birth of Resilience Caf?at Aqus Caf? With a series of chosen speakers followed by small-group discussions (and sharing if desired), the caf?hopes to smash the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder while building support and community amongst those who suffer. Many of the speakers may come from military backgrounds, but Bernstein, Rustad and Crowley agree that anyone who suffers from PTSD is welcome.
"I see a lot of different types of trauma in our community like developmental, shock from loss of a loved one, struggle with finances, divorce, etc.," Bernstein explains. "With so much going on, we want Resilience Caf?to help the full range of people dealing with PTSD."