How Facing ACEs Makes Us Happier, Healthier & More Hopeful

 
Won't it depress people?
Isn't it triggering? 
Aren't the topics troubling? 
Won't it make people sad or upset? 
 
Fear is what i often fight when talking about ACEs.  It's not my fear though. It's the fear others have about all things ACEs. Adversity. Abuse. Addiction. Abandonment. Neglect. Dsyfunction.
 
I don't think this fear actually belongs to those of us who have lived with ACEs-who have lived through ACEs-who live with the aftermath of ACEs as adults.
 
When I found out about the ACEs I was overwhelmed with joy. I felt radical relief. What I experienced was a profound sense of validation. It was epic. 
 
I also felt rage because the ACE test and study and science hadn't been shared with me. Not my doctors, therapists, shrinks, teachers, social workers or anyone while I got ready to become a parent.
 
Why?
 
This one test, study and website changed my life. It changed the way I see myself and feel about myself. It changed the way I parent, prioritize parenting and self-care. It altered the way I think about my past and my parents. It didn't just change my personal life but my professional life as a writer, health activist and survivor.
 
It's a movement and a mission and the meaning is beyond me.
 
This one study and website has done more for me than decades of therapy in helping me understanding the impact of post-traumatic stress. 
 
I want that for others. This information should be shared and with people as much as possible. It's not negative, depressing or upsetting.
 
Adversity is negative, depressing and upsetting. Trauma is traumatic. But understanding ACEs and their impact is amazing, incredible, medicinal, healthful and hopeful.
 
It's hard to convey they deeply and emphatically enough. 
 
I HAPPY CRIED when I saw that others my age, with my ACE score almost all had been prescribed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication.
ace and nmedication
 
It's not just me? I'm not just weak or a failure or too sensitive?
 
For the first time, I understood it's not just a personal problem it's a social issue. It's a cause and effect thing.
 
Mood problems are symptoms. ACEs are the problem. I'm not the problem.
I stopped looking at myself to try to figure out what's wrong IN me and with me. I saw that thousands of other people with ACE scores suffered the same way. I saw that thousands of other people with lower ACEs scores suffered less and had more health. 
 
This changed everything.
 
I began hunting for what people with a lower score got, that I lacked. I stopped looking for my fundamental flaw or berating myself for showing signs of wear and tear.
 
This is a profound shift.
  • It's a shift that makes me feel better in me, as me and about me.
  • It's a shift that makes me have more compassion for my parents.
  • It's a shift that made it crystal clear that parenting is the most important thing I will likely ever do and all efforts will help my daughter now and for her lifelong future.
 
It has practical benefits as well.
 
I can talk about ACEs, in general, without having to detail my entire story every time I need to go to the doctor or therapist or psychiatrist.
 
For example, recently the behavioral medicine person at my HMO changed. I had to meet with a new 30-something to prescribe my generic Paxil.
 
She started to ask me about my life story and history.
 
"I have an ACE score of 8," I said.
 
"What's that mean?" she asked.
 
I told her about the ACE study, the CDC website and the ACEsConnection website.
 
She then asked again about my childhood.
 
"It's in the file," I said, if you want to read it but knowing my ACE score is enough," I said. "Over 90% of people in my age group with my history struggle with anxiety and depression. I'm just hear to manage my PTSD."
 
I was polite and calm and clear that I didn't want or need to detail my entire life story. I didn't want to go into daddy issues or feel shame about abuse or talk about the worst things ever done to me. I'm close to 50.
 
"This is actually just a drug run," I said. "I need you to fill my prescription. MY PTSD is well-managed. I'm not looking to discuss or process or get feedback. I just need that prescription."
 
I was polite but I've had PTSD about as long as she has been alive. I do not want to share the story of what caused my PTSD every three months and certainly not with a total stranger. 
 
However, I could tell her a lot but telling her my ACE score. I could tell her a lot without revealing more than I want.
 
She wanted to know about my childhood and my story but being abused is not my story. That's the story of the person who abuses. Being neglected isn't my story. That's the story of the person who neglects. My story is living with post-traumatic stress. That's what I can speak to and about.
 
Having the language of ACEs, for me, is empowering. I share information she needs in order to write me a prescription but in a way that doesn't make me feel over-exposed. 
 
I LOVE that. To me, that's not a repetitive waste of 20 minutes which often is sad, triggering and depressing. Instead, some young, new doctor got to learn more about ACEs which is about me and about everyone else, too.
 
Learning about ACEs has not "cured" my PTSD. Going to therapy hasn't cured it either and takes a lot more time and energy but no one ever says that shouldn't happen.
 
Learning about ACEs has normalized the heck out of most every symptom I have battled, mostly in isolation, for most of my life. 
 
And that's what makes me a broken record about ACEs.
 
That isn't happening anywhere else for people like me. 
 
I found something that helped me go from feeling like a failure as a human being on the most fundamental level, no matter how much I tried, to just a human being, who like every other human being, is impacted by ACEs.
 
Most any other human with high ACEs has symptoms, issues and impact. Most any other human with low ACEs, has less symptoms, issues and impact. It means the cumulative impact of trauma is the problem and not me or how I deal with it.
 
It means traumatic stress is caused by toxic adversity in ways that aren't all that much of a mystery.
 
This, just this, all by itself and without doing anything else is helpful and huge and hopeful.
 
It doesn't happen in therapy or at the doctor's office or in church or school.
 
It needs to be happening now. The only thing depressing about ACEs is that this information wasn't offered to me sooner, when I was younger, because it would have helped my healing, parenting and traumatic stress. 
 
I think the ACEs test and study can be surprisingly helpful to people - especially to people in crisis. It gives context and perspective about pain. It normalizes despair and offers relief. 
 
It shifts the "what's wrong with me question?" and changes it to this:
 
What do I not have that I need more of?
 
What skills and resources and support did others get, that I can try to give myself now as an adult?
 
What do I need to learn so I can teach it to my kid.
 
How can I be a parent with high ACEs who has a child with lower ACEs?
 
How can I make sure my kid gets all that I lacked?
trigger points
Knowing about ACEs helps me prioritize being available, patient and present as a parent because I not know it's just as important as if my daughter gets her vaccines, to school on time, enough to eat. Think of all the time we worry about fast food, texting and how much sugar our kids eat. What if we talked about ACEs as much?
 
Why would anyone keep this information from people? I don't understand.
Those of us with high ACE scores are not traumatized by this knowledge. We are traumatized by trauma.
 
And honestly, we are stigmatized by the fear of others who are so uncomfortable about what we have lived with and through that they treat us like we are broken or damaged and that the only qualified to even speak with us or hear us is a hired and paid professional who specializes in trauma.
 
People are so afraid of the trauma we have lived with and through and this fear is painful and damaging at the root of so much of the caution and fear that others have.
 
Those of with high ACEs have already lived through trauma. We often live with traumatic stress. We are not hurt by understanding cause and effect.
 
It helps us better understand our lives as children and as adults. preptsd
I've heard some say that people don't want this information and it's too scary or negative and it's too much bad news. If that's been your experience I have to wonder how the information is presented and if it's presented with fear.
 
We all have an ACE score just as well all have an income. But the differences in what those numbers can have a huge impact on our daily life. That's true for all of us and any of us.
 
For those of us with high ACE scores who maybe have compared ourselves to others, throughout our lives, we realize that others aren't just stronger, able to try harder or smarter.
 
They got things as children which promoted their health and well-being. That's necessary for me to know because I want those same things for my own daughter.
 
I lived with things a child isn't supposed to live with, that would cause any child distress.
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How can we parent better if we don't fully understand this? How can we parent better if doctors, nurses, midwives, birthing clinics, adoption agencies and places meant to support parents don't share this? We didn't learn it at home.
 
How are we supposed to learn if we aren't taught what we didn't get and what we should have got and what we need to provide?
 
I used to compare myself with others thinking I couldn't measure up. But I realize it's not just that they eat more kale or work out or have a more optimistic outlook. They got attachment, stability and safety and it fortified them, sometimes for life. 
 
I'm not just unlucky. They are lucky. They should write their parents thank you notes each and every day. They should realize they benefit from what their parents and community were able to provide in order that they keep providing it. I need to understand that all day long what they got and how I can get it now so I can heal and so I can make sure my daughter has it as well, because she, like all children, even me, deserve that.
 
Those with lower ACEs are more fortunate. Fortunate in the ways all of our children should be.
 
So while it's true that I can't change my past. I can change the impact of that past with what I now know about ACEs, in the present.  I can understand more why my parents were not able to do so and why it's been hard for me. With all that, I can help change the future. 
 
This is REALLY GOOD NEWS! Facing ACEs makes this ACE-informed face healthier, happier and a better parent.
 
Note: I'd really love to put a recent mother daughter picture right here. However, my daughter gets to publish her own photos (or not) when she's grown up.   

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Beth Grady MD posted:

Hi Christine, 

Thank you for this post.  I am sorry you have had to deal with health care providers who are not familiar with ACEs science.  Since hearing Dr. Felitti speak at  medical conference probably 16 or more years ago, I have also been surprised that there are so many doctors and other health care providers who have not heard of his work.  The good news is that situation is changing.  Writings like yours help those of us trying to convince our fellow health care providers to talk with patients about ACEs as part of their medical history.  When I talk with patients about ACEs, I often quote from the author, survivor and advocate Savannah J. Sanders, whose book "Sex Trafficking Prevention: A Trauma Informed Guide For Parents and Professionals" helped me understand how just talking with patients about ACEs helps with healing.  She wrote:

“When I speak with teens…I find that they have not connected the dots between a past sexual abuse event, divorce, or other traumas, and their suicide attempts, cutting, eating disorders, relationship difficulties, drug addictions, or life in general.  No one has ever educated them that these behaviors are normal reactions to an abnormal traumatic or abusive situation.”


I have been meaning to comment on your post from 9/27.  I am glad that you found the study of Danish soldiers useful.  Thank you for your writing and thank you, Jane, for creating ACEsConnection.com. 

 

Beth Grady

Dear Beth:
That is a GREAT quote. I have not read that book or the work by Savannah Sanders. Thanks for sharing that. I will get the book and learn more about her. She sounds AMAZING and so does that title. I'm going to share the title over at Parenting with ACEs.

I found your webinar to be great. I liked the way you presented the material and the references were great as well for digging even deeper into some of the literature.

We are so lucky to have this great network Jane has created! Thanks so much for commenting and especially for sharing that great book title!
Cissy

Hi Christine, 

Thank you for this post.  I am sorry you have had to deal with health care providers who are not familiar with ACEs science.  Since hearing Dr. Felitti speak at  medical conference probably 16 or more years ago, I have also been surprised that there are so many doctors and other health care providers who have not heard of his work.  The good news is that situation is changing.  Writings like yours help those of us trying to convince our fellow health care providers to talk with patients about ACEs as part of their medical history.  When I talk with patients about ACEs, I often quote from the author, survivor and advocate Savannah J. Sanders, whose book "Sex Trafficking Prevention: A Trauma Informed Guide For Parents and Professionals" helped me understand how just talking with patients about ACEs helps with healing.  She wrote:

“When I speak with teens…I find that they have not connected the dots between a past sexual abuse event, divorce, or other traumas, and their suicide attempts, cutting, eating disorders, relationship difficulties, drug addictions, or life in general.  No one has ever educated them that these behaviors are normal reactions to an abnormal traumatic or abusive situation.”


I have been meaning to comment on your post from 9/27.  I am glad that you found the study of Danish soldiers useful.  Thank you for your writing and thank you, Jane, for creating ACEsConnection.com. 

 

Beth Grady

Hi Jill:

There are a bunch of us with these "aha" moments and it's great to share them. I am sorry for the loss of your brother. I too have felt and heard about siblings being compared and sometimes judged by how they struggled (or didn't). But even in the same family the ACE scores still vary. I've not thought of that enough. Thanks for bringing that up and honoring your brother.  Cissy

 

Heather Turner posted:

I love this Christine! Absolutely love this!

You have put in words the entirety of empowerment and freedom ACE's informed knowledge brings, as well as the very real confusion and fear so often shown by family or friends when I first try to explain the impact Generational ACE's knowledge has gifted me in my own 'growing-up'. To strive to become a fuller, healthier parent and individual.

Before ACE's theory, I went around feeling like a 'fraud,' most of the time. Trying to understand why this was even when I knew I currently was living fuller than I ever have, was frustrating. For example, therapy is taught to be a 'necessity' toward 'healing.' Going through the expected motions of therapy, while also trying to protect myself from repeated re-traumatization meant I was having to do 'double-duty' in a 'safe space.' What a paradox! I would go home after therapeutic sessions feeling way worse, along with a plethora of complex feelings re failure. The mantra: "it will feel worse before it gets better" got really old.

In contrast, ACE's offers a self-recognition and compassion that for me, is dynamically un-parallel.  

Thank you for your post! Wow! And yes!

Oh Heather:
I'm so glad you have also felt this empowerment, even if it sometimes comes with having to be an educator. Yes, "worse before it gets better" is right up there with "you have to feel it to heal it." Well feelings, sure, but symptoms? Ugh... re-traumatization. I wish I learned that world a bit sooner....

I love your comment and am glad others feel as empowered about these facts. I hope you share over at Parenting with ACEs as well. I think the generational impact is part of the broader parenting issue (understanding our own parents) and also understanding the parenting of ourselves and our kids.

Thank you for your comment!!!!!!!!!! Cis

I love this! You so elegantly captured what I myself felt when I read about the initial ACE study. It was truly an “Aha” moment. I always knew my anxiety and hyper-vigilance were caused by early childhood trauma, but ACEs gave me the language and science I needed to truly understand myself. How liberating!

Your post also makes me think of my own sisters and brothers. I grew up with four siblings, same home, yet we all had different ACE scores, due to family dynamics. My older brother, in particular, received the lion’s share of toxic stress, and in the end, he committed suicide. In the years following his death, I heard some version of the following: “That all five children in my family were raised in the exact same environment, but only one child chose to end his life, so he must have been weaker, etc., than the rest of us.”

This has always made me uncomfortable as it promotes the notion that my brother was fundamentally flawed or grossly inadequate. If only ACEs had been around back then I could have said, “Don’t judge! He had a higher ACE score than the rest of us combined!”

Thanks so much for your impactful posts! 

I love this Christine! Absolutely love this!

You have put in words the entirety of empowerment and freedom ACE's informed knowledge brings, as well as the very real confusion and fear so often shown by family or friends when I first try to explain the impact Generational ACE's knowledge has gifted me in my own 'growing-up'. To strive to become a fuller, healthier parent and individual.

Before ACE's theory, I went around feeling like a 'fraud,' most of the time. Trying to understand why this was even when I knew I currently was living fuller than I ever have, was frustrating. For example, therapy is taught to be a 'necessity' toward 'healing.' Going through the expected motions of therapy, while also trying to protect myself from repeated re-traumatization meant I was having to do 'double-duty' in a 'safe space.' What a paradox! I would go home after therapeutic sessions feeling way worse, along with a plethora of complex feelings re failure. The mantra: "it will feel worse before it gets better" got really old.

In contrast, ACE's offers a self-recognition and compassion that for me, is dynamically un-parallel.  

Thank you for your post! Wow! And yes!

Christine Cissy White posted:
Allen:
You wrote:
"I think it would be great if ACEs Connections had a regular opinion/ personal observation/ commentary section. I've posted a few stories myself, but it's hard for me to write regularly, and anyway, a variety of authors is a good thing. Is that something you might be interested in supporting?"

I love that idea. I'll mention it to Jane because she may be dreaming something up or have something in the works! 
I agree that more voices, stories and experiences would be wonderful. And for those who don't like or don't have time to write, even a Q&A format could be fantastic.
And besides this site, your name looks familiar. Were you on the Developmental Trauma webinar series last year? 
Great idea. 
Cissy

I might have listened to it, but I wasn't a presenter. Jane may have pointed you to some of my posts. My most recent was on working with refugees. http://www.acesconnection.com/...uma-and-resilience-1

Allen:
You wrote:
"I think it would be great if ACEs Connections had a regular opinion/ personal observation/ commentary section. I've posted a few stories myself, but it's hard for me to write regularly, and anyway, a variety of authors is a good thing. Is that something you might be interested in supporting?"

I love that idea. I'll mention it to Jane because she may be dreaming something up or have something in the works! 
I agree that more voices, stories and experiences would be wonderful. And for those who don't like or don't have time to write, even a Q&A format could be fantastic.
And besides this site, your name looks familiar. Were you on the Developmental Trauma webinar series last year? 
Great idea. 
Cissy
Christine Cissy White posted:
Allen K. Nishikawa posted:

Many thanks for your comments and for your willingness to share them. I like reading studies and reports about ACEs, but I love reading personal stories of folks with ACEs and the reflections of people who have tried to assist others dealing with trauma. One tells us how we might do better, while the other reminds us why we need to do better. Please keep us up to date on your journey!

Allen:

I feel the exact same way. I like studies, reports and info. A lot. BUT I LOVE stories and why and how the studies, reports and info. help people. I'm so glad you responded to this. I worried it was a bit of a rant so I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for saying that. That's reason enough to keep on writing!

Cissy

I think it would be great if ACEs Connections had a regular opinion/ personal observation/ commentary section. I've posted a few stories myself, but it's hard for me to write regularly, and anyway, a variety of authors is a good thing. Is that something you might be interested in supporting?

Patrick Anderson posted:

Good comment Cissy. I have put knowledge as the first stage in my Restoration to Health Protocol for the exact same reasons you articulate. Dr. Felitti often speaks about how revealing that you suffered ACE's impacts adoption of the negative behaviors that you experience, and that doctor office visits declined by about one third after you had that knowledge. He said that a  2 year followup was conducted with about 130,000 patients where the same ratio held up. This impact last for about two years, so it's important to share more than knowledge. He also said that they were required to carry a cell phone around 24/7 to respond to any crisis that occurred because of an ACE reveal to a patient, and never had to use it. He did a lecture in Juneau, AK last February. It's on VIMEO and I provided the link. I am thankful that someone else is talking about this topic.

Patrick:

Thanks for those excellent points (and the link). I think that fear of how people might respond, which is so different than how people actually have and do respond is so important. Thank you for bringing that up.

Can you link to the Restoration for Health Protocol? Is it personal or available to others?

I'd love to see how health might improve, even for those with high ACEs, who learn about it much earlier and can use new approaches, find more self-compassion and acceptance and get more tools and resources and "backfill" some of what should have happened in childhood. I have to think that has to improve health outcomes in the long run as well as the short run.

I think the fear others feel about ACEs is part of what causes silence, shame and the discomfort for those of us with ACEs. If we address and challenge and change this fear, this can promote healing as well.

Cissy

Good comment Cissy. I have put knowledge as the first stage in my Restoration to Health Protocol for the exact same reasons you articulate. Dr. Felitti often speaks about how revealing that you suffered ACE's impacts adoption of the negative behaviors that you experience, and that doctor office visits declined by about one third after you had that knowledge. He said that a  2 year followup was conducted with about 130,000 patients where the same ratio held up. This impact last for about two years, so it's important to share more than knowledge. He also said that they were required to carry a cell phone around 24/7 to respond to any crisis that occurred because of an ACE reveal to a patient, and never had to use it. He did a lecture in Juneau, AK last February. It's on VIMEO and I provided the link. I am thankful that someone else is talking about this topic.

Allen K. Nishikawa posted:

Many thanks for your comments and for your willingness to share them. I like reading studies and reports about ACEs, but I love reading personal stories of folks with ACEs and the reflections of people who have tried to assist others dealing with trauma. One tells us how we might do better, while the other reminds us why we need to do better. Please keep us up to date on your journey!

Allen:

I feel the exact same way. I like studies, reports and info. A lot. BUT I LOVE stories and why and how the studies, reports and info. help people. I'm so glad you responded to this. I worried it was a bit of a rant so I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for saying that. That's reason enough to keep on writing!

Cissy

Many thanks for your comments and for your willingness to share them. I like reading studies and reports about ACEs, but I love reading personal stories of folks with ACEs and the reflections of people who have tried to assist others dealing with trauma. One tells us how we might do better, while the other reminds us why we need to do better. Please keep us up to date on your journey!

Cynthia Birkeland posted:

Thanks so for this blog post! I only recently found ACES profound study and connected with this movement. Something I've been searching for my entire life! So much of what you said, I could have said! I've battled anxiety, depression (and later addiction) my entire life. Never knowing about the confirmed, direct cause/effect of ACES. I knew it in my ❤️, but to read all the reasearch and to finally be confirmed! Wow! Now I'm in process of trying to heal from it. What steps do I take, how do I get involved in ACES on a local level to help make a difference?? I raised my 2 boys with the mantra "to stop the evil tide from rolling over another generation" and believe I was mostly successful. We have a loving, caring  relationship with our boys both my husband and I nurture daily. 

If you are able to reach out to me in any way, I would love to talk with you. Don't know how that's possible, but if it is, please let me know. Thanks again so much! ❤️

Cynthia B

Hi Cynthia:

What a wonderful message. Consider yourself part of the movement. I know there's plenty you could do on this site and I know I'd love you to join or help over at Parenting with ACEs (the group) if you have any interest. Even sharing THIS comment as a blog post would be wonderful!

You have parented and have much to teach and share. As far as healing, I think there is so much we can do and a lot of it (at least for me) is about being a mama to our selves on the most physical and basic level. We're all different but for me that means eating decent, yoga, guided imagery as well as vitamins, exercise and various types of therapy (EMDR, heartmath, tapping, yoga, guided energy). For me, those have been more effective than talk therapy (though it's helped at times as well). Medication (though I don't love the side effects). I wrote about my own personal journey, healthwise, here. 

https://acestoohigh.com/2016/0...od-experiences-aces/

I think Donna Jackson Nakazawa's book Childhood Disrupted is great as is the Health Journeys website and things that slow and calm and center (though that's much easier said than done). 

Someone emailed me a link raving about The Body Keeps Score. I love the research in that book but not how it talks more about trauma survivors rather than to and with us. But there's a lot of research, content and types of healing (like neurofeedback) described that can give ideas for exploring. 

In addition, being here and in community and with other survivors, just knowing bone marrow deep, there's context and community counts for a whole lot.

And amazing on what you've already done, endured, lived with, coped with and come through. 

Cissy

Thanks so for this blog post! I only recently found ACES profound study and connected with this movement. Something I've been searching for my entire life! So much of what you said, I could have said! I've battled anxiety, depression (and later addiction) my entire life. Never knowing about the confirmed, direct cause/effect of ACES. I knew it in my ❤️, but to read all the reasearch and to finally be confirmed! Wow! Now I'm in process of trying to heal from it. What steps do I take, how do I get involved in ACES on a local level to help make a difference?? I raised my 2 boys with the mantra "to stop the evil tide from rolling over another generation" and believe I was mostly successful. We have a loving, caring  relationship with our boys both my husband and I nurture daily. 

If you are able to reach out to me in any way, I would love to talk with you. Don't know how that's possible, but if it is, please let me know. Thanks again so much! ❤️

Cynthia B

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