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Petaluma Veterans Day forum on trauma's effects

As the country honors its veterans Monday, a small group of Petalumans will take time to recognize another product of war: trauma.

The Bernstein Institute for Integrative Therapy and Trauma Treatment is hosting a public forum for the discussion and healing of trauma.

The event — for veterans and civilians alike — will be held Monday night at Aqus Café, a few hours after the annual Petaluma Veterans Parade rolls through town.

Aqus, in Petaluma’s Foundry Wharf area, has been the site of a variety of community discussions. Monday’s will include opening remarks by trauma expert Dr. Peter Bernstein and Wes Easley, a veteran, retired police officer and staff member at the Bernstein Institute in Petaluma. Afterward, the audience will be encouraged to participate in guided discussions about their own experience with trauma.

“There are so many people in our community, not only retired veterans and military personnel and their families, but regular people who have experienced trauma in their lives and really don’t understand what trauma is,” said Jenny Stevenson, an administrator at the Petaluma counseling institute.

Foreclosure, bankruptcy, being a crime victim or witness, even the loss of a pet are traumatic events that sometimes aren’t recognized as such, she said.

Talking with others in a safe, supportive atmosphere can be healing, she said.

Ultimately, the goal is for those who have experienced trauma – in whatever form it may have come – to realize there is hope, and from that, to begin healing.

The adage “time heals all wounds” just isn’t true, said Petaluman Steve Rustad, who helped organize the event. Rustad’s father was a disabled veteran whose trauma affected the entire family for generations.

“Time doesn’t heal,” he said. “Unhealed wounds show up in aberrant behavior, antisocial behavior or addictive behavior down the road.”

Emotional trauma can be like physical trauma in some respects, he said.

“It’s like breaking a leg. If the leg is treated properly, it is actually stronger,” he said. “If emotional trauma is uncovered and dealt with, the person can emerge stronger, with resilience and hope.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. at Aqus, at Second and H streets. Organizers hope it will become a regular event.

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)

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