Why I'm Passionate About ACEs Awareness

 

Recycling this post. It's still relevant and I'd like to share it with my new clan members. Elizabeth

When I was 42, I landed on my butt so hard I couldn’t imagine how it had happened. I found out that the beliefs and relationships I had built my life on and around were all lies, and my world and worldview came crashing down around me.

From that place of desolation, at what was rock bottom for me, I had to figure out what was true and not true, what was right and wrong for me, who I was – not who I had become to be acceptable to others. I needed to figure out who was with me and to what extent they could be trusted and relied on. I needed to learn how to speak. I needed to learn how to think critically. I needed to learn how to make decisions. I needed to learn how to be and live as an autonomous human being, distinct unto myself - certainly in relation to others, but individual and separate - with my own values, perspectives, opinions, ideas, and ultimately, my own meaningful purpose.

Recovering from my past and reclaiming my identity and future took a lot of hard work, radical self-honesty, pain, isolation, researching, crying, trying, stretching, growing, and a lot of money.

In 2014 at the same time that I was reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, my psychologist suggested I look into the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. I remembered having read about that in Van Der Kolk’s book, so I went back to that chapter and read it again. I then began researching the ACE study, completed the research questionnaire, and found out that my score for adverse childhood  experiences was uncharacteristically high for a white middle class female. What was even more disturbing was that the questionnaire didn’t even ask about a lot of the other types of threatening experiences I had had growing up.

I had long known that our early life experiences affected our development and I had accepted the common belief that once we are adults we can choose not to be affected any longer and can chart our own path free from our past. Yet here I was looking back at my adult life and the mess I had made of it inadvertently because I was still unknowingly affected by my past in spite of my belief that I wasn’t.

However it wasn’t just my belief. As a society we demand that adults be responsible informed decision makers and contributors to society as soon as we turn 18, and adults who can’t be that are deemed irresponsible or pathological (something is clinically wrong with them). The norm is to be a healthy adult. To be an affected adult is abnormal. Yet if children don’t have their developmental needs met, they can’t be healthy adults without making the conscious effort to understand, repair, and resolve those developmental gaps. Yet we blame and shame each other as adults for not knowing what we never learned and didn’t realize we needed to seek knowledge of for ourselves.

I had thought I was being a responsible adult. I had made very self-sacrificing responsible decisions throughout my adulthood. I was a trained professional; I was well educated; I was aware of and supportive of the need for and use of mental health services. There were no obvious legitimate reasons why I should have been an at-risk adult - until I found out about the ACE Study. That was paradigm shifting for me.

I was trained as an Early Childhood Educator in the 80’s. I understood child development and what was needed to nurture healthy growth in children. It was at that time that the poem Children Learn What They Live was broadly popularized. We collectively tried to be kinder to our children. Nathaniel Brandon launched the self-esteem movement. But we didn’t know that the actual development within our adult brains had been affected, historically and inter-generationally, as a result of our prior child rearing culture.

It’s only since the publishing of the ACE Study and the research on neuroplasticity that we have learned that threats to survival during development – without mitigating influences considered resilience or protective factors – actually affect the physical development of our brains – which cannot be fixed with willpower and belief.

As a result, many of us – even those of us with numerous factors of privilege – are walking around with ticking time bombs in our brains.

It is these unknown vulnerability factors that I want others to be aware of so they can proactively address them before they catch up with them, if they haven’t already. I was forced to shake my head and reassess where I had been and how I got there when the life I had sacrificed everything for proved to be a delusion. Yes I made it through, but not without huge costs to myself, and to my society.

I am passionate about helping others see the potential risk factors for collapse in their own lives so we can each and all address those hidden influences in our brains so we can make sure we’re seeing ourselves, others and nature as we are and not as delusion.

I know how beneficial it has been for me to learn how my childhood survival programming affected my adult decisions. I thought I had everything under control. I thought I was living a responsible life. It was shocking, embarrassing, shame inducing, and cathartic to realize it was all a sham.  I don’t wish that pain on anyone, so I encourage people to do the work of checking and resetting their foundations under their terms, before the cracks in their basements expand and cause their houses to collapse like mine did.

That’s why I’m passionate about trauma awareness, recovery and prevention. I believe human beings have awesome potential to be responsible conscious members of ecology. I just don’t think we’re there yet, and to get there, we have to address the gaps we’ve created in our developing children.

There are many initiatives underway in Nova Scotia (where I live) that focus on creating safe and nurturing environments for children.

My focus is on helping the children who have already grown up to recognize their gaps as adults and to work to transform those effects so we can create a healthy society for our children and each other.   

Understanding ACEs research can aid us in facilitating social transformation. It changed how I see myself, others and nature. I am convinced it can help each of us.   

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Elizabeth Perry posted:
Laura Haynes Collector posted:

Elizabeth,

Even if ACEs are not part of the program where you work, you can still embody and model the content of ACEs science in many ways.  Just saying things like "anger is natural when you have been hurt,"  "most people who self medicate have often experienced a great deal of pain in their past,"  "sometimes events from the past can feel like they are still happening right now" -- stuff like that, whether in response to a story from a book or any other reason, could be very validating, and open up their thinking about themselves. 

I worked with a youth in foster care (I am a CASA)--  a teen with fairly low self awareness and a lot of distress.  I was always very wary of how much I could say directly, and waked the line of being honest, and validating her, without re-traumatizing her or labeling her.  But I wanted to expand her self awareness.

At the beginning, in particular, I didn't say much but worked on holding a sense of her pain in an aware calm, loving way when we were together.  Being consciously aware of the large amount of pain she contained, and visualizing myself as a firm platform that could hold and support all of it.   You can do this too.  You can be with these kids and witness them as individuals with righteous pain.

When you adopt this consciousness, you will notice lots of little moments to affirm them and validate them.  You can make a difference by seeing the pain and even more seeing the 'good kid' inside who got injured and deserves help.

Hi Laura, Your concrete examples of how to interact with youth are valuable. I recommend sharing them with Barbie Nall who works directly with youth. 

I read the interaction examples and that is why I truly love where I teach.  I have students 4 1/2 hours per school day so I have time to build a relationship with each of them.  To me, a stable adult can help make a difference.  Thanks for sharing ladies!

Laura Haynes Collector posted:

Elizabeth,

Even if ACEs are not part of the program where you work, you can still embody and model the content of ACEs science in many ways.  Just saying things like "anger is natural when you have been hurt,"  "most people who self medicate have often experienced a great deal of pain in their past,"  "sometimes events from the past can feel like they are still happening right now" -- stuff like that, whether in response to a story from a book or any other reason, could be very validating, and open up their thinking about themselves. 

I worked with a youth in foster care (I am a CASA)--  a teen with fairly low self awareness and a lot of distress.  I was always very wary of how much I could say directly, and waked the line of being honest, and validating her, without re-traumatizing her or labeling her.  But I wanted to expand her self awareness.

At the beginning, in particular, I didn't say much but worked on holding a sense of her pain in an aware calm, loving way when we were together.  Being consciously aware of the large amount of pain she contained, and visualizing myself as a firm platform that could hold and support all of it.   You can do this too.  You can be with these kids and witness them as individuals with righteous pain.

When you adopt this consciousness, you will notice lots of little moments to affirm them and validate them.  You can make a difference by seeing the pain and even more seeing the 'good kid' inside who got injured and deserves help.

Hi Laura, Your concrete examples of how to interact with youth are valuable. I recommend sharing them with Barbie Nall who works directly with youth. 

Elizabeth,

Even if ACEs are not part of the program where you work, you can still embody and model the content of ACEs science in many ways.  Just saying things like "anger is natural when you have been hurt,"  "most people who self medicate have often experienced a great deal of pain in their past,"  "sometimes events from the past can feel like they are still happening right now" -- stuff like that, whether in response to a story from a book or any other reason, could be very validating, and open up their thinking about themselves. 

I worked with a youth in foster care (I am a CASA)--  a teen with fairly low self awareness and a lot of distress.  I was always very wary of how much I could say directly, and waked the line of being honest, and validating her, without re-traumatizing her or labeling her.  But I wanted to expand her self awareness.

At the beginning, in particular, I didn't say much but worked on holding a sense of her pain in an aware calm, loving way when we were together.  Being consciously aware of the large amount of pain she contained, and visualizing myself as a firm platform that could hold and support all of it.   You can do this too.  You can be with these kids and witness them as individuals with righteous pain.

When you adopt this consciousness, you will notice lots of little moments to affirm them and validate them.  You can make a difference by seeing the pain and even more seeing the 'good kid' inside who got injured and deserves help.

Barbie Nall posted:

Thank you so much for sharing!  I teach at a residential drug and alcohol treatment center for youth (age 13-18) but have been told not to discuss 
ACEs with them by a member of my school district.  I even asked if a mental health counselor presented it, would it work.  The answer was still a firm "no."  I understand us not wanting to front students against parents, but I still think the students need to know and to begin healing.  I'll keep trying.

Thanks again for sharing!

Barbie

Hi Barbie, Thanks for sharing your struggles. I have definitely been following the rules up until now, listening to the "professionals" about not forcing anyone to self-reflect or disclose by simply giving them the option of completing the survey privately for themselves. The problem I have is that unless people receive the feedback from their own self-assessment they still get to keep the delusion that ACEs are about others less privileged than them. Obviously you have to respect the rules of your employer. In the meantime I agree, the more we can get everyone on board to make ACEs a standard part of the discussion the better. And when we incorporate the social, historical, inter-sectional, and evolutionary factors into the discussion, the blame is lifted from the parents as being the sole cause. Children do not develop in isolation in their families. Their families exist within social contexts. Social Determinants of Health are critical factors to consider when determining cause of ACEs. But as a society I know we're not there yet; we still want to blame the parents. Keep being there for the youth. An engaged, respectful, validating adult can be powerful medicine. Elizabeth

Thank you so much for sharing!  I teach at a residential drug and alcohol treatment center for youth (age 13-18) but have been told not to discuss 
ACEs with them by a member of my school district.  I even asked if a mental health counselor presented it, would it work.  The answer was still a firm "no."  I understand us not wanting to front students against parents, but I still think the students need to know and to begin healing.  I'll keep trying.

Thanks again for sharing!

Barbie

Lynne Skinner posted:

Thank you, Elizabeth. I am interested in your closing comments: 

"My focus is on helping the children who have already grown up to recognize their gaps as adults and to work to transform those effects so we can create a healthy society for our children and each other."

I, too, am interested in supporting adults struggling with ACEs; however, in spite of my research, am not finding much in the way of healing methodology. How do we help adults go from Point A (unaware) to Point B (aware of ACEs affects) to Point Z (understanding and healing.). If anyone knows programs going on -- those that do not have financial barriers for those who need it -- could you please let me know?

Thank you!

Lynne

Hi Lynne, Thanks for reaching out. I'm charting my own territory in this work. I've been trying to get people in my region interested for 4 years. During the last year I have finally been able to figure out what is already happening in my area, but it is still very isolated and siloed. I think this situation is too important to wait for bureaucracy to catch up, and it's too big to be addressed only by psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. So I offer public education to raise initial awareness, and I'm in the final stages of starting a peer support group. I have some basic premises for healthy development that I work from, and use techniques, exercises, practices I have accumulated from the bounty of sources available from professionals in this field. My vision is that if we can help each other help ourselves, and just use therapists for the big stuff, we can make some huge gains faster and cheaper, so we don't overwhelm the system or continue to not do anything while we wait for access to services. Feel free to connect through my Facebook page. I post all kinds of resources there for individual use. Elizabeth Perry Interpersonal Insights

Thank you, Elizabeth. I am interested in your closing comments: 

"My focus is on helping the children who have already grown up to recognize their gaps as adults and to work to transform those effects so we can create a healthy society for our children and each other."

I, too, am interested in supporting adults struggling with ACEs; however, in spite of my research, am not finding much in the way of healing methodology. How do we help adults go from Point A (unaware) to Point B (aware of ACEs affects) to Point Z (understanding and healing.). If anyone knows programs going on -- those that do not have financial barriers for those who need it -- could you please let me know?

Thank you!

Lynne

Karen Clemmer posted:

Elizabeth, Your writing and insight are extraordinary.  I hope you will continue to share reflections from your transformative journey.  I am grateful for you generously allowing us (readers) a window into your experiences.  Please keep writing!  Karen 

Thanks for the validation and encouragement Karen. Stay tuned. I'm going public:-)

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