When I was 42, my life crashed down around me. Everything I had believed – all my relationships, my job, my perception of my family, my faith, my society – all fell apart. I had been living, breathing, working, financing a faith community for 13 years when I realized it was all a sham. I lost everything when I walked away, and spent the next number of years figuring out why that happened to me.
In 2014 I heard about The ACE Study. It was research conducted by Dr. Vincent Felitti of Kaiser Permanente and Dr. Robert Anda of the CDC published in 1998. They identified a correlation between adverse early childhood experiences which caused toxic stress, and health and social issues in the lives of affected children as adults.
I had always known that I didn’t have an optimal childhood. It wasn’t horrific, like some, but it was pretty lonely and empty of what I just thought were nice to haves – like love, encouragement, acceptance, respect, caring, enthusiasm, security, consideration, thoughtfulness, attention.
It seems ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences – actually include the absence of those very qualities and experiences I missed. They are hidden among the 10 categories that were measured in The ACE Study: emotional and physical neglect; emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; parental issues including domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, marital breakdown, incarceration.
Children growing up in non-nurturing, unsafe and unpredictable environments grow up steeped in toxic stress. Our little brains and bodies are flooded with terror because our survival is threatened. And it’s not conscious. The developing organism simply finds ways to survive. If we’re judged, we become perfectionists or give up trying. If we’re beaten we become tough or aggressive. If we’re ignored we seek attention or become invisible. If we’re insecure we become clingy or detached.
The strategies we develop to survive our childhoods become the strategies we use to navigate our adult lives. In our relationships, in our workplaces, we show up the same way we showed up as children. And eventually, if we’re actually lucky, those strategies fall short, and we’re forced to rethink our relationship with ourselves, others, and our world.
As difficult as my colossal crash was for me at first, I’m very thankful it happened, because I’ve now built my life on the truth as I have been able to access it, and all those essential ingredients for being a healthy human I missed, I either give to myself now or have relationships with people who can give them to me.
It is true that our childhoods don’t have to be a life sentence. But contrary to the way many have approached the situation before, encouraging us to just move on and leave the past in the past, I know that without facing our past and wrapping our arms around it and bringing it into our futures with us, it will track us. Like a Halloween ghoul, breathing down our necks every once in a while, it will show up in ways we may not recognize, but which will be our ACEs Legacy.
That’s what The ACE Study found. Unaddressed ACEs contribute to the development of mental health, physical health, social and economic health issues in adults. The toxic stress of our childhoods creates the unstable foundation in our bodies and minds. It lays dormant until it reveals its legacy, without us making the connection to the original cause. Toxic stress in childhood undermines our brain and immune system development.
If you have mental illness including depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD, check your ACEs. If you have cancer, addiction, COPD, unplanned pregnancies, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, check your ACEs. If you experience chronic work, home, relationship insecurity, check your ACEs. If you have been a victim or perpetrator of violence, or involved in the criminal justice system, check your ACEs.
The way we have historically raised our children, throughout generations, especially informed by colonial beliefs and practices, has created the conditions most of us live with, and we and our society don’t have to be this way.
Developing humans need certain ingredients to grow healthy and to be able to reach our potential – safety, security, belonging, self-esteem, and purpose. We also need clean air, water and soil so we are not adversely affected by toxicity in our environments. We need to be loved, nurtured, welcomed with open arms, and valued for the unique contribution we bring into the world through our very existence.
We’re all living with an ACEs Legacy, if not individually, then at least collectively. When children live in poverty; when our parents have insecure sources of income; when we live in poorly resourced neighbourhoods; when our education is inequitable; when the very colour of our skin or our religion is an excuse for marginalization; these are and create an ACEs Legacy.
The ACE Study is the most important and most ignored research ever conducted. It explains the connection between the way we were raised and the health, economic, and social conditions we currently live in.
Finding out about The ACE Study gave me the most incredible sense of relief and perspective on my life. When I checked my ACEs, I realized my adult life couldn’t possibly have been any different than it was, considering what I had learned about myself, others, and the world during my childhood. I had experienced my ACEs Legacy in my early adulthood, and since I learned the root causes of my issues, I have been able to deal with them directly and transform my life and myself. Now, I’m working on transforming my world, by spreading the word about ACEs, and how impactful they really are in our lives, whether we know it or not.
I didn’t know I was living an ACEs Legacy until I learned about The ACE Study. You can learn more information through ACEsTooHigh.com and ACEsConnection.com If you’d like to connect with me, please reach out.
It wasn’t your fault.
It’s what happened to you, not what’s wrong with you.
Our past will not be our destiny, unless we ignore it.
Check your ACEs.
Originally published at https://www.yourtango.com/experts/elizabeth-perry/are-you-living-aces-legacy