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My ACEs and Me

      When I first attended an ACES presentation by Dr. Felitti in the mid 2000-aughts, the data was not so much astounding as revelatory.  As he ticked off the 10 adverse childhood experiences one-by-one, mental pictures of their existence in my life ran across my mind's eye like the fluttering images from one of those old 8mm projectors, complete with the clattering sound as the film shuddered over the sprockets.

     Some of the mental connections I made between the individual ACES Dr. Felitti described and my life's early years may have been constructed with flimsy threads.  But the notion of any standardized criteria to verify my self-proclaimed ACES score would have no effect on the Hitchcockian drama my recollections composed.  I will let the you and the experts at the CDC measure and opine on the degree of the retardant effects on my developing neural synapses.  Just grab your bowl of popcorn {extra butter] and soft drink [classic coke, please] and enjoy the show:

      #1 -- Emotional Abuse: Often or very often a parent or other adult in the household swore at you, insulted you, or put you down and sometimes, often or very often acted in a way that made you think that you might be physically hurt.

That would be a yes, very often, and at the unpredictable whims of my dad, whose vitriol was not saved for, and shared with, me exclusively (he would just as easily unleash a torrent of verbal abuse at the TV screen presence of the great Mickey Mantle, a future baseball hall of famer, who had the gall to fail to swing at a waist high fastball on a 2 and 1 count during a meaningless game where victory was already in hand for our beloved Yankees). Regardless of the target, I still remember the shiver of fear and recognition knowing that my turn would surely and often come to be lambasted for a minor, unpredictable failing.

    #2. -- Physical AbuseSometimes, often, or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at you or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured.

Stage left, the aforementioned Dad enters the frame, unbuckling his belt as he strode purposely towards me, then doubling the leather strap before grabbing one of my wrists then whipping the horse hide across my legs.  The sting lives on even as the nature of my transgression has faded to black.  While this scenario occurred 'sometimes' or 'often' depending on the ACES criteria, I feel that another event that occurred only once in my early life should probably qualify me for this ACES category. Having turned 13 or so I somehow came to the silly conclusion that interceding on behalf of my mother during one of my father's rages at her was a good idea.  My courageous ploy only led him to rush to the hall coat closet, from which he extracted a souvenir from his time in the South Pacific during World War II -- a Japanese bayonet, which he proceeded to hold against my throat daring me to repeat my insubordination.

    #3 -- Emotional Neglect:  Whether their family did not make them feel special, loved, and if their family was not a source of strength, support, and protection. 

I will stand on the evidence presented for #2 above to claim this category.

    #4 -- Mother Treated ViolentlyYour mother or stepmother was sometimes, often, or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her and/or sometimes often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard, or ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or ever threatened or hurt by a knife or gun.

Another slam dunk here.  Jump cut to my mother pushed up against the wall, my father's sinewy hand [uncannily and uncomfortably similar in appearance to my adult hand now] pressed against her throat, or another day, hearing her body thud against the floor in the next room.  Sometimes and/or often.

     #5 -- Household Substance Abuse: Lived with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or lived with anyone who used street drugs.

My dad is again the star of these mind-movie scenes, the director building the suspense for our film by starting with the distant slam of the tenement door two stories below, and the approaching heavy sound of footfalls on the hall stairway, then the fumbling key at our apartment door.  It swings open, offering a strong waft of rum or scotch blowing in before him.  Jump cut to #'s 1 through 4 above.  Repeat every pay day, or so it seemed.

   #6 -- Household Mental Illness:  A household member was depressed or mentally ill or a household member attempted suicide.

How does a woman, who emigrated from Puerto Rico, a 7th grade education and gold wedding band in hand, reconcile the evolution of her life from one of hope, love, romance, and possibility, with her loving Navy veteran husband (Its true! There are pictures of their short-lived happiness!) does she reconcile the change to a life of ongoing physical and emotional abuse from her one time Navy hero, and economic disadvantage that would make the raising of children a day-after-day battle with no end.  Well I suppose you do what my mother did: retreat into silence and sadness.  Mental illness? Hhmm, maybe.  Depression?  Oh yes, big time. 

     #7 -- Incarcerated Household Member:  A household member went to prison.

This qualifies as one of those flimsy threads I mentioned at the top of this post.  Does the memory of seeing my father in handcuffs on more than one occasion after a particularly rousing rendition of beat-the-wife qualify as 'went to prison'?  I'll leave it to you to decide.  Whatever the decision, my inner film counts 6 to 7 ACES out of the possible 10.

   And what of the ACES unaccounted for you might ask?  

   Well, I chose a conservative stance when deciding on:

#8 -- Physical Neglect:  whether there was enough to eat, if their parents drinking interfered with their care, if they ever wore dirty clothes, and if there was someone to take them to the doctor.


#9 -- Parental Separation or Divorce: Parents were ever separated or divorced.

      Even in our poor financial state I never remember feeling hungry or unkempt or such.  And my mother finally left my dad when I turned 19 and was drafted into the military.  Although technically below 21, the ACES cutoff age for 'childhood experiences', it does seem to me a bit of a stretch.  And besides, I feel flush enough with my solid 6 or 7 ACES.

     As for, #10 -- Sexual AbuseAn adult or person at least 5 years older ever touched or fondled you in a sexual way, or had you touch their body in a sexual way, or attempted oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you or actually had oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you., perhaps I will be one of those cases where a startling repressed memory rises up from the past to reveal the evil side of old Uncle Ernie or some other nefarious adult.  But until then, I'll demure, and stay in denial that such an event or events occurred.

    When I started to write this post, I imagined that it would be at this point that i would turn to how these experiences have affected my life, my behaviors, my health, looking back from my 62 year old vantage point.

   But truth be told, that film projector in my mind is still whirring.  And there are more and more scenes flashing against my cranial movie screen.  High definition, even.

    And I'm not quite feeling up to it.

    Perhaps another time.



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Comments (7)

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Hey Edwin:

It is good to connect again. Thanks for sharing your experiences, and more importantly, I hope you found it cathartic to express them publicly. I had sensed that there were some issues in your past, but back then we only ran into each other occasionally and topics like personal ACES just didn't come up. Hopefully, we are all learning to be more open to expressing, listening to and understanding personal trauma at any age.


I encourage you to write about the second part of your story, since I know you used those experiences to inform your work with others in the human services field. Thanks again for filling in a part of your life I didn't know: I think others would like to hear the rest of your story.

Thank you for writing ("owning") this post about your ACE score, Mr. Ferran. What I see are the many opportunities for healing. What have you tried--besides "owning" it by writing about it? There are many kinds of modalities that address various body systems that want to "undial" the hurts that have been dialed in and some of them seem like voodoo or witchcraft--outside of the "normal" healing sciences. Healing is as individual as are the ACE experiences, and the dial-ins of them. I look forward to your movement along the path of healing and discovery and know you will find a way to share the wisdom you gain.

This is what I call owning your ace score. I think owning your ACE score is ultimately helpful to others to let others know ACEs are common, don't warrent judgement or stigma, and make it easier for others to be authentic concerning something that has such a tremendous impact through all of life.  Thank You Edward.



Last edited by Former Member

Thank You, Edwin, for the clarifying points about ACE criteria, and the use of the analogy of 8mm film ("flashback" ? ?-as in actual PTSD- a "life threatening" [verbally encoded] incident, not by a stranger, but by someone entrusted with your care and nurturance) -when your father placed the bayonet at your throat, after you intervened to dissuade his physical abuse of your mother.

I hope your vivid recall of such events subsides [soon], and that we can now appreciate that the ACE researchers carried a pager "after hours", for at least a full year, in case someone who was interviewed needed to call, because such vivid recall became "troublesome" for them. I can appreciate the clarity of your candor, and thank you. Hopefully, our asserting such points, in a public forum, will avail us the "Athenian Theatre"  benefit, and greater likelihood that future generations of children will not have to endure ACEs. 

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