Editor’s Note – Chris Cavaliere, long-time VOCAL member, has studied Peer Support and Trauma Informed Care extensively. (Her certifications include Peer Specialist Trainer, WRAP Facilitator, WHAM Facilitator, DBT Facilitator, UVA Whole Health Advanced Directives Facilitator and Mental Health First Aid Responder) She writes about trauma in her own, easy-to-understand voice.

“Embracing Our Humanity by Acknowledging Our Trauma”

I continue in my quest for meaning in suffering the consequences of trauma, I continually turn to traumatic experiences as the root of all behavioral difficulties.

This drives me with a passion that grows the more I see my peers in the mental health system consumed with questions of why or simply absorbed by complacency to the point of a “personal nonexistence”. Because of this, I myself ask the question again and again “why?”

What do I mean by “personal nonexistence”?

It is about the right to choose, the right to one’s own sense of “meaning in being”. It is my belief that this is a learned thing, deeply ingrained as the familiar loss of control, which is the first loss of trauma, where the loss of one’s inherent right to choose is taken away.

When an individual receiving services in the mental health care system gives up that right to choose, whether by compliance, persuasion, lack of provisions or resources, they lose their “voice for choice”, they lose another part of their sense of meaning in being. I do not deny that for many this is where they find their comfort and sense of security. Perhaps that is the problem, that they can only feel belonging at the mental health center. Does that say something about the greater community?

What if they could feel they belonged at the neighborhood civic association meeting, at the neighborhood block party, or having dinner at your house.

In these other places would they be able to have their right to choose, be welcomed, be safe and feel a sense of meaning in being? Could they then feel empowered to be other than mentally ill?

90% of people with a mental diagnosis report having experienced trauma, how many don’t know that hurtful things they experienced WAS trauma, or re-traumatization.  People with a mental illness are more often the victims of violence then the cause of violence. If you consider their learned and expected loss of voice and choice, how easily will they become vulnerable to abuse and violence?

All people face challenges in their lives, all are unique in how they experience and address their challenges. All will experience some kind of mental health challenges, and as a person in this world, it is highly likely that most will directly experience a potentially traumatic event in the future, a nearer future than expected.

We find this common thread runs through all people, for as we look more closely at adverse experiences, expanding on what defines trauma (physical or psychological, in the broadest sense within the context of traumatic affect), we see now that everyone is somehow affected by trauma.

So where do we go from here?

As children continue to be subjected to abuse and violence, as it comes from areas that are often undetected and unexpected, especially by the child who’s most fundamental need is safety, they are not as safe as we might think. These children often fall into a cycle of self-destruction, fueled by a lack of recognition of how their experiences are manifesting as they grow, a lack of effectively addressing their challenges in attempting to adapt to trauma.

There is an urgent need for trauma awareness, an imperative need for trauma education to be woven into the fabric of community, every national policy, and in every culture that claims the goal of peace and acceptance.

The most evident aspect of human survival from the earliest time of our conception, be it believed to be by evolution or God created, was to work together to acquire resources for the greater needs of the community, thus providing for all members efficiently. The unfortunate decline of our values as a people has come from deviations from focusing on that greater need.

While individual needs are very important, it is shown throughout our histories that the emphasis has become more and more on individual wants, overpowering the greater need.

In following the path of wars, nation against nation, culture against culture, religion against religion, individual and group persecution, family dysfunctions, fuels the advent of trauma and from there how many ways the possibilities of traumatization expands from historical trauma down through family generations and whole civilizations. With this in mind, we turn to see it in the violence on our streets, in the homes of our neighbors behind closed doors, in our schools, through social media networks, natural and manmade disasters.

Trauma exists everywhere, threatening to overwhelm us and destroy us.


The most baffling thing of all, now in the light of trauma awareness, is how our societies, our communities, have so defined the “wrongness” of trauma adaptations.

When a child, say a five year old boy, is subjected to something so outside the realm of safety that his mind cannot conceive staying in that realty, therefore his mind naturally creates his own world of safety, a reality he can tolerate. Then later his world emerges and conflicts with our reality, he is diagnosed “schizophrenic”, told to take medications that cause him to drool, has trouble staying awake and cannot focus or concentrate. Now his inner world has become manipulated and warped with bits and pieces of the one he tried so desperately to escape. He becomes fearful at what people think about him, he wants to stay in his room and sleep to be oblivious.

He is told he’s not allowed to sleep at the day program at the mental health center, told to stay awake and focus, because those are the rules. He can’t wait to leave and go home, back to sleep, back to oblivion. Even though there are good things that are being offered, this approach is not working.

When a person’s psyche is jolted so severely through trauma, the mind adapts in many ways, sometimes leaving a person going in and out of altered states, in a place where emotions become agonizing and magnified a hundred fold. At times your body feels the awful sensations your conscious mind tried to forget, and so you react, or as your mind becomes exhausted it shuts down completely.

What if the medications don’t work? How will you function, how can you find a way to continue? Is it worth going on living this way?

If YOU see someone panhandling on the street corner and you think, if I give them some money for food, will they just get drunk or buy drugs? Why would they rather get drunk or get high than eat, when they look so hungry?  What if you asked them, “May I ask what happened to you, were you hurt?” What if you sat down with them on the street corner, and asked them what they really needed, a place to live, someone to talk to, someone to care, someone to believe in them?

Have we so denied the existence of trauma as a personal struggle because it is unacceptable to express any kind of weakness, therefore causing it to be a hidden thing, now covered up when it emerges as unacceptable behavior and labeled a genetic “defect”? There has been little verified evidence of this in over 45 years of psychiatric genome testing. People who survive this are strong, not weak!

We as a people must take personal responsibility, and together collective responsibility, to bring this back to the forefront of our thoughts and actions to save our peoples, to save our most precious resource, our children. In doing this we move to accept, embrace and heal those who have been hidden away by our society’s denial of responsibility.

Remember, all people will be subject directly or indirectly by trauma in their lifetime, and all will have mental health challenges as we experience losses in our lives.

What comes of a traumatic experience?

 Normal responses to Abnormal circumstances!

If violence and abuse continues to run rampant, what people usually think of normal will be no more. Actually I suppose the cruelest fact of all is that trauma is now an EXPECTED NORM.


How do we begin to change this? When we begin to make sense of this, we become empowered to change it.

As individuals, as communities, as nations we were meant to accept each other, embrace each other in harmony of humanity, enjoying a secure sense of meaning in being that nurtures the greater purpose of belonging.  To go beyond individual survival, to build on the hope of change, we CAN make it happen!

However, if one by one we continue to turn away, to say this has nothing to do with me or mine, we unknowingly invite it to slowly infect us, to invade us in ways we will never realize. Think about this deeply.

                          How many ways is this possible?

All could say living through war is traumatic, but how many ways does war affect your life? Think about the effect it has on acquiring your basic resources. Let’s start with the food on your table, the quality, the cost. This in turn is affected by your work, how you get there, how you get home, your opportunity to have work, or not. What about people you work with? How you are able to work together? What about the type of work you do? How does this affect your children at school, or at their work?

                                   Stop and think for a moment.

Now, without judging yourself or me for asking this, consider your own life experiences, from a child until today. Examine even the minute details of your own “behavior”, what you feel, why you feel the way you do. Think about how far back you’ve had those feelings, and how you think that might reflect on the things you do that are emotionally driven, as everything we do is emotionally driven in varying degrees.

Only you hear the answers in your mind, you don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to, but if you start feeling bad about something, you might want to share it with someone you trust that you are very comfortable with, someone good at listening non judgmentally.

As normal reactions to abnormal circumstances, adaptations will vary from person to person even though they experience the exact same traumatic event.

Neuroplasticity in brain function allows for the real possibilities for recovery. The brain has been proven to adapt, or readapt, to physically change it’s make up. That proves there is hope for us as individuals, the question is can we change as a people, to broaden our humanity.

If we see and accept that trauma affects us all in unending ways, we cannot turn away from it, there becomes only one reasonable choice.



There is much that shows, both in the far past and today, that it takes a village to heal a village. Each individual is an important and necessary part of the village, thus all are affected by the health of the individual.

To bolster the health of the village, the individual needs to be nurtured as a valuable resource to the village in order for the village to thrive as a whole. This is a “Common-unity”.

How do we define Community?

Webster’s base definition is that a community is “a body of people living in the same place under the same laws”. It goes on to describe a more lawfully cohesive example; “a natural population of plants and animals that interact ecologically (RELATIONALLY functioning as a UNIT) and live in one place”. This is the true law of the natural world.

We know that part of that natural law is for some animals to eat others, usually the old or sick, an ecological law to foster growth and in sharing resources, but that should be solely the nature of wild animal predators, not ours! We have been gifted with our reasoning brains, our adaptive brains. We can learn many more valuable lessons from nature.

This is where I look to Webster to define community for our purposes; “Joint ownership”.  Are we speaking about ownership of commodities? Only if we consider that each member brings their unique value to the community, and is deserving of their parcel of needed staple commodities. In further defining joint ownership, while ownership of shared responsibility is for the greater goal of the community’s purpose to survive, it is essential to exist within a cohesive environmental relationship.

In this joint ownership, how we engage with each other through kindness and understanding, first within family, to nations existing together within our world, that we finally become a humane people.

If we each take ownership in this, we will not only survive, we will thrive.

Authored in July 2014 under Facing Forward © 2013 copyright


                            A Facing Forward© Media Production  

                         A human justice trauma advocacy program


Chris Cavaliere is an individual who after the traumatic loss of her father at 7yrs old, was raped at 10, and in attempting to adapt as a teenager fell into reliance on illicit drugs, which lead to further sexual abuse.  Later in life when her trauma reemerged, she began severe self-inflicted injuring in response to unfounded shame and guilt. There were years of hospitalizations where the lack of trauma-informed care subjected her to re traumatization by being shackled by police, subjected to four point restraints, given forced injection medications, stripped naked and locked in seclusion rooms, all without her ever giving any violent resistance. Thankfully, she now enjoys living a very full and meaningful life.  Chris is a human justice advocate, who has been certified in PA as a Peer Specialist and Trainer, a Certified Wellness Recovery Action Plan Facilitator, a Certified Whole Health Action Management Plan Facilitator, a UVA Certified Advanced Directive Facilitator, and is the author of Facing Forward, a peer facilitated trauma recovery program.

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