Childhood Disrupted

Join in conversations inspired by Donna Jackson Nakazawa's book, Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. We'll chat about the latest research on how ACEs can affect our health, happiness, and relationships; vent a little; and brainstorm our best ideas for resiliency and healing.

Recent Blog Posts

Trauma Mama: Little Girl Riding Shotgun in My Psyche

“I love you,” I say to my daughter.

“Of course you do,” she says, I’m awesome.”

She was twelve. The mother in me smiled. The girl I was shook her head inside and wondered how would it have been to feel both loved and lovable while a child?

I do not know. I will never know.

It does not matter how wonderful my present.

It does not matter who I will become.

I can’t change the past.

The past is a country I never want my daughter to travel near or in. I am an exile, from my past, my child self. There are no photo albums I want to share with my daughter. No traditions I want to pass on or teach.

My cultural pride is shame.

My native tongue is a memory I try to scrape clean so mud doesn’t cake out of my mouth. My greatest gift of maternal love is to insist she get no heirloom.

My gift is to break the cycle and attempt to give something I didn’t own as a child.






I am not a child-girl-victim anymore. I’m a mother-woman-adult. Except, I will always be both.


No one gets to choose whether they are victimized or not which is why the past is never completely done. I can't unknow that uncertainty.

We are not only the present but who and where we came from.

I know my parents, her grandparents did the best they could. And I know it was lacking.

I know my parents had no more for themselves than they had for me and it was not enough.

Because of that, I am raising my actual daughter as well as my emotional self.

I carry my past in my skin like a birthmark, in my teeth like a cavity filled and as a ghost that I can’t make real or go away who hovers, tethers and feels or refuses to feel. She is an invisible and palpable presence riding shotgun in my psyche at all times.

She is the foundation of the life I now live in. She is not where I live now.

She’s not my living room or my kitchen or even my bedroom. She’s still the basement bottom and the foundation all else is built upon.

I can’t pretend she isn’t in the way I settle in doors, windows, and choices.

Childhood was raged upon by the ocean during an astronomical high tide. Angry waves rocked the base and flowed through the bottom layers of my being. Watermarks and mold weakened wood which couldn’t dry without swelling even when the sea receded.

I weathered storms without coast guards or police to warn me, evacuate or take me to safety.

I endured extreme conditions like countless others.


I tried to “pass” for normal and pretend we had not just been through tsunami weekends and pretending was often the hardest part.

I went to school wet, hungry, shivering without homework or lunch bags or confidence. My 11-year-old self was a bet-wetting girl who also got her period. She didn’t have access to sanitary supplies or clean sheets.

She went to school sitting on her hands, hoping blood wouldn’t mark school chairs. She held her breath, hoping it would keep others from smelling her. She didn’t know the words abuse or neglect. She just thought she was dirty, smelly, and life was hard.

The little girl I was was not as confident as my own child is now.

Sometimes I watch my daughter and marvel. I celebrate when she asks for more food and affection, without worry, apology, hesitation, or shame.

It feels victorious at times.

Sometimes I worry I am parenting to my voids rather than her gifts. How can I keep my distorted beliefs from seeping through my floorboards where my daughter’s bare feet cross?

I know now that I was a scrappy and innocent warrior doing the best I could, but that is not what I grew up believing. I “knew” I was damaged and that something in me caused people to act bad.

I can’t go back and give accuracy or truth to the child me I was during development. I can’t go back and inhabit my body or the world as a child who felt safe. I can’t know in my bones that felt experience.

Instead, I inhabited faulty beliefs, a less empowered view of reality and marinated in fear.

How do I shed my former self while honoring all she went through to be this mother and adult?


I know the world offers beauty, love, and health. I’m eager, giddy and surprised. I binge on joy and happiness like they are a food with an expiration date that will spoil if not consumed.

Can I teach my daughter to count on plenty and to pace herself? Can I teach her she need not hoard and grab for fear of going without? Can I teach her that she has enough and is enough?

Sometimes, my daughter doesn’t even finish a cupcake. It astounds me every time and I stare at the plate.

“I’m not hungry,” she says as she pushes it away.

I don't even understand how that is possible. Who leaves a half-eaten cupcake on a plate? Who, in childhood knows how to listen to her belly and let go of worry what might come next?

How can I model for her what I’m only starting to believe and that knows better than I?

In some ways, she is wiser than I – stronger. And that’s a result of my good enough mothering but it also means that I'm not the sherpa, guide, and rock she deserves. And it means the childhoods we inhabited can never be shared. Not really.

Will I tell her someday what and why I write so much? I’ve done so only outlining the full story? How can I give context without burdening her?

Will I speak of the sentence of childhood as a woman who was once a child and as her mother?

How will I ever tell my daughter how sorry I am I was not whole from the beginning of her precious life? She deserved more. It’s not my fault I wasn't whole but it's even less hers because I am responsible for her. 

And myself.

Sometimes my hands and head have been too full tending to the child I was.

two children

Will I apologize for not being more present for barbeques and picnics on the porch or swinging in the hammock?

Will I tell her why I sometimes need to go down into the basement to open up windows and let sunlight into the darkest, deepest and oldest crevices?

Will I tell her that anxiety can be a bee I see, hear and fear that threatens to sting even when I don't have an epi pen in hand, and how this can keep me from being as attentive as I'd like to be?

Learning to navigate my survivor identity and being a mother is not something that ends after childbirth or adoption or the diaper changing years.

Being a survivor does not start or end with pregnancy, breastfeeding, hugging, bathing or while parenting.

It does not start or end when our kids sleep through the night or have their first sleepovers.

It shapes who we are and how we do or do not come to love, intimacy, partnership, and parenting. 

It's not just that survivor parents sometimes relive the past as our kids grow. It's not just flashbacks that rock us. It's the how clarity and perspective cause grief and confusion when we realize, reconcile and believe we were blameless, innocent and young. 

Though healing, that can upend and shatter many faulty relationships and realities.  


Our orbits spin for reasons people often misunderstand and misrepresent.

Sometimes the work of parenting is monumentally hard, lonely and daunting. 

Other times, it is staggeringly beautiful and fortifying and healing.

Mostly, it’s the silence that is often the hardest.

Few people say childhood, trauma, and parenting in one sentence.

Fewer says, "it feels like this," or "Here's what I need," or "Here's how I figured out trust, love, boundaries or what relationships are supposed to be like."

Few ask those raised to normalize trauma navigate adolescence, sex, or childbearing and rearing.

Or don't.

Few get how unfamiliar we might be with calm, quiet or our own bodies.

The past does not predict the future but it impacts us. We are not doomed but we are impacted. We can't change the past but we can change the future, and the present, for ourselves and for our children. 


Zora Neale Hurston wrote: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

My questioning is not yet done.

I am not looking for answers but companions.

We need sacred and safe places for open and honest conversation.  

Once, my daughter heard another mom say to me, “You’re such a good mom.”

Later, my daughter said, “I’m the only one who can say if you are a good mom because I’m the only one you’re the mother of.” 

I smiled.

I don’t disagree with her reasoning.

I am raising two girls still. My own and the child I was. Will good enough truly be good enough? 

I can only speak for me.

Note: An earlier version of this post was posted on my blog, in the Trigger Points Anthology and Parenting with PTSD.  

Childhood Should Not Be Disrupted

People often ask me why I wrote #ChildhoodDisrupted.

As a science journalist specializing in the intersection of neurobiology, immunology and emotion, I’d spent 20 years writing about the immune system and the human brain.

When I came across the CDC’s #ACE Study (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study), it struck me like a lightning bolt. I realized that after 20 years of writing about how we become ill and how we heal, I had been missing a huge piece of what can cause disease.

Chronic unpredictable stress in childhood was changing the way in which the stress-response, and our immune system, functioned for life.

It also resonated for me on a personal level.


When I was 12, my father - a writer, a publisher, a man who taught me how to sail, how to laugh, to love Shakespeare - went into the hospital for routine surgery and never came out. When he died my childhood ended. It was as if someone had taken all the color out of the world.

So it made sense to me that my experience had changed me in every system and cell of my body. My body was set on high stress response when I was 12, and my body marinated in stress chemicals for a long time.

As an adult, I’ve been paralyzed twice, by the autoimmune disease Guillain-Barré Syndrome, I have a pacemaker, bone marrow issues, and other immune system concerns.

When I saw the research that showed that for every additional ACE score a woman had, the likelihood that she would be hospitalized with an autoimmune disease as an adult increased by 20 percent, I decided that I had to devote myself to helping people to better understand this research.

childhood disrupted

So I set out on a three year journey to read over 2000 #ACE studies and wrote #ChildhoodDisrupted 

Conventional wisdom tells us what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But the science tells us that far more often, the opposite is true. We have to change the way we think about children, adversity, and trauma.

I wrote Childhood Disrupted because I believe that CHILDHOOD SHOULD NOT BE DISRUPTED. We need to help every child grow up #ACE free.

Which means parents w/ ACEs need help in resolving their own trauma so they can be the parents they want to be.


I am baffled and frustrated at the lack of trauma understanding among therapist especially those who work with couples and adults. Does anyone else find this troubling? My partner attends 12 step program and sees a therapist--but very little of it is addressing his ACES. I encourage the work he is doing but have to bite my tongue on the missing pieces, lest I trigger him. A previous newly trained, couples counselor spent alot of time on "communication" all the while ignoring the ACES related symptoms that were in the room. Does one have to seek out trauma therapists specifically? Any thoughts or perspectives.

Hello friends

   I need help and want to be more interactive in this goup. i have purchased the book. Childhood disrupted by Donna Nakazawa. i am a ADULT TRAUMA VICTIM  and feel like a WOUNDED CHILD.  I JUST STARTED COUNSELING WITH a EMDR Therapist for about 3 weeks now. it hurts. My mother was a  female batterer. Can this group help me to learn WHY do we not want our biograpy to become our biology. i guesss i am finding my voice have the questions now in life to ask why. As a kid i got beat up alot by my impatient mother and my absent father.  Can this group help me to get connected i feel alone and isoloated. I am involved in the 12 step groups as well. Both of my parents were Untreated adult children of alcoholics. I am 58 years old phyiically or i have 58 years chronically years but biological i feel like a wounded lil boy still, please connecwith  me so i can fell aprt of and learn to heal too.




Rick friday 02/17/17 central Fla.

Greetings, All!  Dwayne, here!  

First... TRIGGER ALERT!  TRIGGER ALERT!  This Blog-Post may cause some readers to TRIGGER into a TRAUMATIZED STATE!  Of course, that is never my intent; but, I thought it would be polite to warn anyone who needed such warning.  Now... 

I am not entirely sure how/where to start.  During my daily inner-dialogues, I hardly ever have this discussion -- there is just too much pain and shame involved.  I even end up feeling ashamed about those rare positive accomplishments I had; because they stand in such contrast to the abuses I endured.  

First, the good news... or, was it?    I was a genius, during my childhood and adolescent years -- with an I.Q. that was off the scale and a strong, vibrant Creative Muse... I was a wunderkind!  But, socially and emotionally, I was retarded -- in the truest sense of that word.  The de-evolution... Was it bred into me... and provided the gap through which all the abuses snuck in?  Or, did it come about, as a coping mechanism, from the abuses?  Hard to say, now that I am in my mid-50s.  Such questions keep me eternally, constantly frustrated with myself.     

The first incidence of sexual abuse happened when I was 5-years-old... I was gang-raped by older school peers in the boys washroom, at school.  It was a lunch-hour... I was stripped completely naked, punched and kicked and warned not to talk about anything that they did to me.  They gang-raped me, repeatedly -- anally and orally... Even the boys that weren't young enough to ejaculate took their turns.  After they'd finished their "fun", they warned me again not to mention a word; and they left me in the cold, stainless steel trough of the sink... naked, aching and trembling, covered in urine and semen and feces and some blood, and several clumps of paper towel thrown in around me... and told I'd better hurry up and clean up and get dressed, or I'd be late for class.  

I did as I was told -- cleaned myself as best I could... got dressed... tried to comb my hair with my fingers, in one of the mirrors... wove and wobbled my way back to class, stumbling to my seat, while the teacher wasn't looking... and carrying my great shame of that first-time sexual-encounter.  It gave me an erection; so I "knew" I had enjoyed it.      What kind of person was I!?!      

Similar gang-rapes happened a couple more times over that first two-weeks.  I got better and quicker, at cleaning myself up.  I'd be getting more of it, the other kids would tease me in the halls, seeing as how I loved it so much.  I decided they were being reasonable; so I should too.  I mean, at home, my father was physically abusive -- disappointed in his day-dreaming son -- and my mother kept me clean and fed, and gave out as many hugs as father would allow her... She couldn't really stop Dad's beatings -- THAT  was his job!  And, they both told me they "loved" me... So, at least I was able to take some gut-deep, visceral pleasure from the sexual abuses.  I certainly didn't get much pleasure at home... And, so, I never mentioned the rapings to anyone.  

Dad being military, we moved around a bit.  The sexual abuses continued -- I felt like I must have a "mark" on me, that the same type of people would find me wherever we lived.  By age 11-12, my abusers shifted towards men -- specifically, men "in authority"... 2 priests, an in-law, my dope dealers (trading my body for drugs)... and some of their friends... 

Oh, yes!  I started abusing drugs at age-10, to help me cloak myself in oblivion, as -- what seemed to me at the time to be -- a "reasonable" coping mechanism.  I continued active addiction from ages 10-31 -- long after the abuses stopped -- because... Reality was not my friend.  The sexual abuses by others stopped sometime after my 17th birthday.  From those years, to this day, I remember the taste of human semen, urine, feces, and blood... I remember what dog semen tastes and feels like, as well as goat, donkey, and horse semen... And I still have nightmares (and daymares, when triggered), of the time I was raped with a baseball bat, trading that for one more line of coke.  I had to lay in the dealer's tub for over 3-hours, before my anus would shut enough to stop voiding my bowels... Yeah, good times... Not.  

And, that is just a nutshell version of the sexual abuses I let others put me through... from ages 5-17.  From ages 17-25, I got into a chronic rhythm of genital self-mutilation... so that: a) I could still feel some pleasure, and b) to punish myself for making myself "gay".  And then there were the physical abuses... 

From age-5 onward, my father was extremely physically abusive.  The beatings were in the form of extreme-spankings from ages 5-12, leaving me criss-crossed and layered with welts from his hand, his belt, a wooden spoon, a hair-brush, a wooden switch, electrical cords... from halfway up my back, down to just above the back of my knees; and often the implements would pop partly out of his hands and wrap around my body.  I had the buckle of his belt come loose, whip around my hips, and snap against my boyish genitals on more than one occasion.  He would "spank" me until my bladder would let go; and then he'd get angry and spank me even harder, for pissing all over myself and the floor.  I would just barely be able to crawl up the stairs to my room.  As soon as possible, after, my mother would hurry up and wash off blood and urine, in a stinging bath of Epsom salts... dry me off as tenderly as she could... dress me in my pyjamas, and lay me in my bed -- where I would pass-out shivering.  After age-12, Dad decided I was too old for spankings... So his disappointments in me registered with fists to the head, instead.  Other physical abuses came from bullies, at school.  That continued until I was 15.  When I came back from summer vacation, I had developed a new attitude... and some major fighting skills.  The first bully who tried to intimidate me in front of the class, got laid-out unconscious.  I declared "hunting season" on ALL bullies.  I spent 3 months sending one after another home or to hospital.  None of them dared to confess that they were afraid of the scrawny little kid in their grade or lower.  So i got away with it.     ... I was vicious with them...   I ... enjoyed it.     And so, it is another great shame that I carry with me.  

And that is the shortest version possible, of "my" disrupted childhood... a lot of details have been left out, mainly in the interest of brevity.  What helped me get through all of it?  Well... Time... a 12-Step Recovery Fellowship that helped me to take a really honest look at myself... more Time... There were still mistakes made along the way; but I worked hard to find the lesson in each one, and put it to use in the next stages of my life... Giving back/Reaching out, to those who I found (or who found me) along the way... Sharing -- openly and honestly -- whenever anyone was willing and courageous enough to ask me.  There has never been any single-set, perfect solution.  I'm just not willing to go back there.  

Thank you for letting me Share with you!     I hope this is the correct venue for this -- or, wow!  You are all scratching your heads, out there, thinking, "Whhhaaaaaatttt?!?"      (LOL)  

Peace & Blessings, All!  

Rev. L. Dwayne Decker (ULC) 

I found this book through a side door.  I have been looking for information to suppress inflammation,since my knees have been hurting more and less for twenty years.   During an exam, my doctor said I had considerable crepitus (clicking and popping when flexing the knee joints).  I asked him if he could prescribe an anti-inflammatory regimen or medicine?  He asked me what the problem was and I described the continuing knee pain.  His response was to take ibuprofen as needed.
I wanted to stop/prevent/suppress the inflammation altogether and he wanted to treat the symptoms.  True, it was a non steroidal anti-inflammatory an NSAID, unfortunately we had just been concerned with my liver function tests being off due to using ibuprofen...  Sigh!!!

I started searching for whatever anti-inflammatory practices I could find.
I found numerous items that were anti-inflammatory through a book, "The Gene Smart Diet" by Floyd Chilton. After reading it and getting some help through implementing what I could, I continued looking for other ways to take care of inflammation and found that many places talk about their supplement's antioxidant properties, not their anti-inflammatory properties.

I have put together a few items and have suppressed the inflammation as long as I remember to keep drinking this and eating that.
I keep looking for info and references on anti-inflammatories and in the search found this book.

This brings me to "Childhood Disrupted" by Nakazawa.
Our biography can influence our biology through a process known as epigenetics.  This resonates with me and several of my friends.  My ACEs score is 6 to 8 depending on how I interpret the questions.  My main abuse (emotional, sexual, extreme neglect, emotional incest, etc) occurred between the ages of 6-16, I had some good fatherly influence early on.  I had a strong sense of who had the problems when bad things were happening and didn't internalize most of the negative self talk.  I still had plenty of problems with relationships, authority figures, self reliance, being more successful than others in my family and inflammation issues.

The above is necessarily a bare bones description.

I eagerly read Nakazawa's book and am in the process of learning to implement the strategies she writes about to reset the brain pathways that were misaligned during the abusive periods in my life.

Does anyone have any data on what works the best?

Many times we can get 80% of the improvement with just 20% of our effort. I would like to focus first on the most promising intervention and go from there.
So far it looks like Mindful Meditation is my first stop.  I found an app (it is wonderful to live in this age isn't it?) Headspace that will give me 10 days free to try it out.
Does anyone have any clinically verified interventions and how useful they are?
I'll also try any anecdotal suggestions as well, when many people find something helpful research later verifies what others were doing...