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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.