Do you know what an ACE is?

This is no small question. Understanding this might improve your chance of understanding … well, everything.

An ACE is an “adverse childhood experience.” Two-thirds of Americans have experienced one, but a smaller section of Americans have experienced more than one.

What do adverse childhood experiences have to do with anything, anyway? It turns out they “cause adult onset of chronic disease, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.”

Indeed, “the more ACEs you have, the greater the risk for chronic disease, mental illness, violence, and being a victim of violence.”

Why am I writing about this, exactly? Because, of the ten ACEs studied, I experienced seven, and having “an ACE score of 4 increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and suicide by nearly 1200 percent.”

Over the last few months, I’ve had many zero-ACE friends tell me how cruel, heartless, and absolutely atrocious I am. They’ve made the mistake of assuming that I must be like them, because I look like them now.

They’ve been further bemused why I’m not torn asunder by their scorn, their castigation, their ridicule.

Really, in the end, it comes down to ACEs. I am one of the fraction of the ACE-ful who made it from daily trauma to something like success, so that most those who are successful have no concept how lucky they were just to be without ACE.

I genuinely, one hundred percent don’t care if you like me, now or ever, especially if you had zero to one ACEs and think everyone should be a Democrat. (“They must be evil if they’re not!!!”)

But I care a whole damn lot that you, zero- to one-ACEr, recognize that your experience was not representative. That poverty increases ACEs, and that there are tens of millions of children right now suffering because relatively well-to-do folk don’t even understand that ACEs exist, let alone virtually map the course of entire lives.

Oh, you sure told me, when you told me off.

You told me you know very little about the scope of suffering in America.

You told me you don’t know many like me, because so many like me died before they could find a keyboard and folks who bothered to listen.

I endured a new trauma
almost every day
as a child, so that
every time I read
someone has
committed suicide,
I brace myself against the tears
and think, “It is so heartbreaking
that those with the most power
haven’t even a fraction
of an idea how very
much you
or how much it took you
to just keep stepping.

“I’m sorry,
I love you, and
who should never
have suffered
so much–

  1. July 14, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    My ACE score is four. Maybe five because my mother never used street drugs but was addicted to prescription barbiturates (i don’t know if that counts). I’ve had cancer and asthma. My brother has been addicted to pain killers and probably is an alcoholic (I haven’t seen him in almost 30 years but hear about him from others). He decided long ago to have nothing to do with his birth family. We have a younger sister who was treated much better than we were, but she suffers from depression and was recently diagnosed as bipolar. We all made it through and experienced some measure of success, but it hasn’t been easy. I applaud you for your willingness to share your story with others.

    • July 14, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      I’ve heard so, so many similar accounts since I was a child. For a while, I forgot how prominent those accounts were. I made it through high school, and then college, and had almost entirely forgotten how much this shaped me by the time I went to law school.

      Now, though? I’m keenly aware of how the life experiences of those around me now bear NO resemblance whatsoever to those of the people I grew up with, and it hurts me … to know that so many people I knew then didn’t live, though they could have done so much for themselves and the world, while others take it as given they should have everything and may never know just how lucky they are to believe, through-and-through, that it simply must be so.

      I’m so sorry for all you have suffered. In a just world, where people mattered more than profit and property, it would never have been this way.

      It should never have been this way.

  2. July 14, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    Yes. All of this, yes. People always wonder how I suffered so much tragedy as a child… I didn’t know that my experience was unique. I didn’t know how to say it was because I was poor.

    • July 14, 2017 at 5:50 pm

      Same here, so much. It’s only the last year that I’ve found any of the words to express what I (we) suffered … and then only because i read, and read, and read, and because (as I learned having finished Beautiful Souls yesterday) I was determined to find an explanation, even if it meant the folks who’ve said they love my now-former incarnation are totally offput (to the point of never speaking to me again, siiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh, such a loss) by the fact I don’t think they’re the bees knees compared to all the lights I’ve known who–for scarcely any fault their own–shine no more.

  3. Nikki
    July 14, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    I also have an ACE score of 7. I have studied much to unravel the chronic illness of my person, but while unraveling the psychosomatic, did actually uncover a real genetic mutation that lends to the issues. With that said…turmoil can be translated down through the DNA and as much as I do know about my heritage…I didn’t just get a 7 from this life, but those preceding me also downloaded. (Studies have shown this evidence from the offspring of genocide survivors) How some are able to survive is beyond me. How the human spirit can carry our broken bodies on is a miracle in itself, but it points me to a purpose…there’s a reason we survive… We have wisdom to press forward for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. For the rest… well… Lord have mercy on their souls. It always hurts…always…but have learned to walk away. I’m not here for them; I’m here for the broken ones… like me. ❤

    • July 14, 2017 at 5:58 pm

      Oh, I love that sentiment – “I’m not here for them. I’m here for the broken ones – like me.” ❤️❤️❤️

  4. July 14, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    I feel every word of what you’ve written here, but your final sentence hits me especially hard. That sums it up for me, too. It’s not that I don’t love those I’ve known in this newer phase of my life. That’s not the case at all. It’s just that I know they have resources–money, people, and time–that those who are prominent in my heart do not (and will probably never) have.

    I’m here for those who cannot find resources. The broken ones. I want them to have a chance, though they might not believe they deserve one or many.

    The other ones already believe they do. They, without knowing it, have not just miles but continents on everyone else.

    It’s those who have nothing I want to nudge along. They are something. They can be something even more. They can make the world better by far, even if the “better” they help make is extending to everyone what the bougie-born always, mistakenly take as given for everyone.

    • Nikki
      July 14, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      ❤ ❤

  5. July 15, 2017 at 9:07 am

    My score is “only” 3, but an awful lot of emotional trauma was derived from my parents being disabled, which I guess isn’t as ACE-worthy as being drunk or on drugs? I would hug you if I knew you IRL.

    • July 15, 2017 at 9:46 am

      A lot of the books I’ve read have talked about the limitations of the initial ACE research. There are lots more adverse situations that hurt people in enduring, heartbreaking ways, and that’s true whether or not they were captured in any particular study. I know my siblings and I endured a lot of hardships not listed there, and those, too, hurt us decades later. What I like about ACEs is that they demonstrate–for folks who don’t have the experiences to know otherwise–how these things don’t just happen and then disappear. They happen and linger, even with dedicated pursuit of joy. We are not all as alike as we seem, and that’s something I think the world would be improved by more folks’ remembering. We take these mental shortcuts for a reason, of course, but by being aware of them, we can at least be aware of when it might be important to challenge them.

      I would love to share a hearty hug. Sometimes, they do so much more good work in the heart than any words. ♥

  6. July 15, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    My score is relatively low. A three or a four? But I was lucky. And so many are not. Which is part of the reason I volunteer on the crisis line. Reaching out. Acknowledging and hearing other people’s pain is an excellent reminder for me. And being sometimes able to help a huge bonus.

  7. July 16, 2017 at 6:38 am

    A fellow 7 here.

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