Introducing myself: Cissy White, parent with ACEs who’s parenting with ACEs (and who’s the Parenting with ACEs group's new group manager!)

 

I learned about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study and 10- questionnaire survey only two years ago, and it’s fair to say I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.

I’m a mother, a trauma survivor, an activist and a writer.

For years, I’ve written personal essays, profile pieces and a few research-style papers about post-traumatic stress disorder, developmental trauma and interpersonal violence. Yet, something was missing.

In my own recovery, I’d often say, in therapy and to friends and lovers, “I know what not to do but I don’t know what TO DO instead.”

I said this in my teens, 20s and 30s, too. I knew not to be abusive, to myself or others, but that didn’t mean I knew what healthy was.

Learning about trauma and recovery was important, to be sure. It helped me understand why I struggled with anxiety, nightmares and social issues. It helped me understand there were reasons I struggled with an eating disorder and trust.

But it didn’t teach me how to gain what I lacked as an adult or had missed as a child.

How to be happy and healthy and feel safe in my skin.

How to connect with other people.

How to express emotions.

How to depend on other people and invite them to do depend on me.

How could I teach my own child things I had never learned?

How could I not pass on my unhealthy coping skills, like shutting down and numbing out and dissociating, that had served me well but which I hoped she would never need?

How could I create new family traditions and ways of interacting?

How could I learn the difference between a healthy emotion and what was a symptom of post-traumatic stress?

The medical model that views symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as personal problems to be remedied by talking about trauma is limited. Knowing one’s trauma, inside and out, doesn’t necessarily teach a person how to be healthy or happy or what it means to feel and be safe.

It didn't for me.

It wasn’t until I became a parent, through adoption, that something shifted. I learned the word attachment. While I was reading about the types of attachment (secure, anxious, avoidant), for my kid, I soon realized that I had attachment issues as the adult.

As a parent.

They came not only from trauma of abuse (physical, sexual or emotional), but from neglect and dysfunction as well.

Or, what I now know as adverse childhood experiences.

IMAG00521The trauma model assumes there is general health and wellness, marred or changed or derailed by incidents of trauma. But for many, trauma is less an event or even a series of events. Rather, it is a consistent environment where neglect and dysfunction are constant. For months, years or even decades. For a childhood.

I knew focusing only on trauma didn’t help relieve anxiety or make me feel more centered or calm. But it wasn’t until my 40s and learning about ACEs that I understood the cumulative impact of childhood adversity.

It wasn’t that I was weak or too sensitive or prone to crazy, as I had thought. It was just that the cumulative impact of adversity takes a toll.

On me and also, generally, as evidenced by a study of over 17,000 others.

This did more for my self-compassion and confidence than all the therapy I have ever received, combined.

And it did more than that.

It inspired my parenting because it also showed that a lack of adversity promoted health. It was not actually just a personality issue.

There were things -- stability and security and feeling loved and nurtured and being sober and attentive – that I could provide for my child that would improve her health and wellbeing – for life.

This is empowering and exciting and motivating.

ACEs provide a roadmap for what works and, if you grow up with a lot of ACEs, that’s a fantastic and practical resource to learn about.

Security matters.

Stability matters.

Emotions matter.

Relationships matter.

And can be positive!

So while attachment helped me learn to bond with my child and nurture her, learning about ACEs helped me believe this is fundamental to all human beings.

It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit that I didn’t know this my whole life and especially for all of my daughter’s life.

But I didn’t. 

Sometimes, when she was young, I worried that if I was too responsive, she wouldn’t be strong or independent….or that maybe I was spoiling her. The ACEs test and study help me still err on the side of stability and attention in my parenting choices.

I’m grateful.

I’ve also developed more compassion for myself as a result. I understand why it can be challenging for me sometimes. And by it I mean both "adulting" as well as parenting.

I want to share these facts and resources with others who are interested in the intersection of ACEs and parenting.

Now that you’ve met me, I hope to learn more about you.

  • Why are you here?
  • What are your experiences, questions and needs?
  • How has learning about ACEs impacted you?
  • What are your struggles and your successes as a person or a parent with ACEs?
  • What tools or resources do you wish you had not or when you were first parenting? And now?
  • What has been most challenging if you are parenting with ACEs?
  • Who and what has helped you through crisis or uncertainty as you navigate personal, health or social issues relating to ACEs?
  • Are you inspired by individuals or organizations doing incredible work? Do you need to share that?

The Parenting with ACEs group is the place for all of it. As well as for your individual insights or organizational strategies.

Help me get to know you so that we can do what ACEsConnection does best: Connect.

Connect people to people, people to resources and resources to other resources and people.

The Parenting with ACEs group is a safe place to share stories, research, resources and real-life experiences. In this community we support and educate each other and ourselves about the obstacles and opportunities faced while parenting with ACEs.

I’m so grateful to Jane for inviting me to manage this amazing group.

Please invite others who can contribute and benefit. Please let me know what you want and need.

I’ll post articles, stories and questions several times a week and we’ll grow this group together.

Warmly,
Cissy

P.S. Interested in how Parenting with ACEs began? Read Jane's blog post.

 

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Gail Kennedy posted:

THANK YOU for being you Cissy and for taking on the group manager role for Parenting with ACEs.  Our community is so lucky to have you taking this on - i want wait to watch what this group becomes!
Best wishes, Gail

Thanks Gail! I really appreciate the words of encouragement as I take on this new role. Thanks for being here too!

Cissy

Linda Topinka posted:

Thank you for sharing. I am also grateful for Aces. I'm a 67 year old African American female. As a clinical social worker,  I was very excited when I was first introduced to Ace's, about three years ago. However, when I took the Ace's questionnaire I noticed that racism did not appear among the questions, I was taken back, by the absence. This has been very concerning for me. When I think about resiliency factors, I know that systemic racism impacts families of color. How are the barriers of systemic racism torn down, so our families can have greater access to jobs, healthcare, housing, etc.

More about me...I am  the mother of three grown children and nine grandchildren. I provide a cultural specific parenting group for parents of children of African descent. I am also a member of a community Aces committee, educating our community on Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Linda:
Thanks for writing. Nine grandchildren and a clinical social workers. Reminds me of a quote my friend has on a magnet: 'if you think my hands are full you should see my heart.'

I like that idea though sometimes full is lovely and sometimes it's busy and stressful. Thanks for sharing. It helps remind me that the original 10 ACEs are great but that doesn't mean everything important is included. Like racism.

It's important to know why and how the tool is alienating or incomplete as well as how useful it can be. It sounds like you are doing amazing work! Thanks for commenting. And if you would like, please share any resources you create or use that you think are especially effective that others might use as well.

Cissy

Cissy, thank you for being so brave and sharing your process. Your thoughtful realizations open a world of compassion and healing for so many parents and families.

I was thinking yesterday that parents really have compound ACE's-they may have their own personal trauma histories and then may come to bare the weight of their children's trauma histories even among the best laid intentions. The ACE research I've done has proven that life is simply fragile and trauma happens. I have only begun to research the impact of children's trauma on the health of parents, but I believe there is much to be learned from emerging science on the brain body connection. (Donna Jackson Nakazawa's work-I'm loving)

I love that there is a resource for parents with ACE's-a much needed resource. It's such a shift when we approach our experiences and processes with compassion.

Christine Cissy White posted:
Holly White-Wolfe posted:

Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing! It is helpful to get specifics on how to recover from ACEs. I'd love to see more of that via our ACEs Connection.  

Thank you for writing Holly! I also love super practical and specific information that may border on obvious to others about healing, recovering and adult life after ACEs.

I'll keep alert about how to bring more of that to this role to gather and organize and get inspired by what others are doing, practicing and learning. I almost need the info. delivered at a much younger reading level because it can feel so abstract. Is that what you mean or something else? I'd love to know if you care to share.
Cissy

What you are sharing is spot on for me, Cissy. Keep it coming.

Hi, Linda: Racism wasn't included in the original ACE Study, because the demographic was mostly white, and, in a pilot study to identify ACEs, they didn't mention racism. However, subsequent ACE surveys do, including the Philadelphia Urban ACE Study. Some social services clinics and pediatricians are also including racism -- along with bullying, gender discrimination, witnessing violence outside the home, losing a family member to deportation -- if it's pertinent for the demographic they serve.

Thank you for all the work that you're doing in Iowa!

Cheers, Jane

Thank you for sharing. I am also grateful for Aces. I'm a 67 year old African American female. As a clinical social worker,  I was very excited when I was first introduced to Ace's, about three years ago. However, when I took the Ace's questionnaire I noticed that racism did not appear among the questions, I was taken back, by the absence. This has been very concerning for me. When I think about resiliency factors, I know that systemic racism impacts families of color. How are the barriers of systemic racism torn down, so our families can have greater access to jobs, healthcare, housing, etc.

More about me...I am  the mother of three grown children and nine grandchildren. I provide a cultural specific parenting group for parents of children of African descent. I am also a member of a community Aces committee, educating our community on Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Ellie Watkins posted:

Hi Cissy, Your post is very timely for me. My daughter who we adopted at age 3 suffered severe neglect and abuse of all kinds prior to joining our family. She is 24 now and expecting her first baby. Thank you for sharing. Ellie

I'm so glad it's timely! That must be quite something watching your own child prepare to do her own own parenting!  We can all learn so much from one another.

Hi Cissy, Your post is very timely for me. My daughter who we adopted at age 3 suffered severe neglect and abuse of all kinds prior to joining our family. She is 24 now and expecting her first baby. Thank you for sharing. Ellie

Holly White-Wolfe posted:

Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing! It is helpful to get specifics on how to recover from ACEs. I'd love to see more of that via our ACEs Connection.  

Thank you for writing Holly! I also love super practical and specific information that may border on obvious to others about healing, recovering and adult life after ACEs.

I'll keep alert about how to bring more of that to this role to gather and organize and get inspired by what others are doing, practicing and learning. I almost need the info. delivered at a much younger reading level because it can feel so abstract. Is that what you mean or something else? I'd love to know if you care to share.
Cissy

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