PEERS staff member Kivi shares their story of recovery and how it led them to join PEERS and further the organization’s mission
Kivi performing with their band Kittenhead. (Photo courtesy of Kivi)

By Kivi Neimi

I am the Human Resource Manager at PEERS. I grew up in a large extended family of immigrants from Finland. We are part of a subculture called Inari Saami. My family was large, happy, and very supportive of the children’s goals for their lives.  We were poor, though I wasn’t really aware of this fact. Everyone contributed to our family’s well-being, from working on our fishing boats to gleaning fruits for preserving from the abandoned orchards in the area. 

Even when I came out as a queer in my teens, my family was always loving and supportive.

I went to University on athletic scholarships and worked in the Alaskan canneries over the summers to supplement my living expenses. Full scholarships do not include things like books and clothing. 

Over the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I was assaulted in Alaska. The friend I was with at the time was killed. 

I was thrown off a cliff – I know their intent was to kill me as well. It took me 6 months to physically heal and relearn how to walk. 

Then the real healing had to begin. 

The nightmares were vivid. I would wake with the bruises from my assault months after the attack. Frequently my eyes would be swollen shut which would trigger another panic attack. I would fight people who touched me while I was sleeping or blinded by my swollen eyes.

I was told to leave University by the administration, 

I was deemed unsafe to be around other students. 

Ashamed, I did not return to my family – I felt I had failed them. 

Instead, I moved to California. I had been to San Francisco. It felt like home, but it was too big for my shattered soul. I settled in Santa Cruz with some queer folk I knew from University. One of them suggested a PEER group for assault survivors. 

It changed my life.

It saved my life. 

These people had lived experiences. They understood my PTSD, my issues sleeping, going to work, functioning. 

I learned tools to mitigate my PTSD. 

It was a very long road with many twists and turn, but I began to regain my life. 

Over the years, I have returned to Peer support groups, with one-on-one counseling as an adjunct. My healing is served with others with lived experience. I feel safer than I do with a therapist. Maybe it is my background. Perhaps it is a distrust of the medical establishment. Maybe it is just a feeling that a therapist is trying to “fix me.” 

It doesn’t really matter because working within groups of people with lived experience is how I heal. 

That is really all that matters. 

I feel honored to work at PEERS for many reasons. We are based on an actual wellness model. I get to support the staff rather than just protect the organization. The team at PEERS is a group of AMAZING individuals. But overarching all of that, PEERS provides the type of groups that led me out of the abyss. 

That is amazing, and that is what matters. 

Visit our Programs page learn more about the support groups hosted by PEERS.