The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences: A Personal Story Part 1

Dear Parents,

This is Part 1 of what I think will be a three-part personal foray into the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

If you have read my book, then you know some of this about me; I was pretty severely traumatized in my early years.  Without being adopted, I suffered a pretty good amount of neglect, physical abuse, and emotional abuse at the hands of my parents when I was a kid. Then, as a teenager and young adult, I got a couple of whammies that changed the trajectory of my life. My ACEs score is 9 out of a possible 10.  That’s high, and it could have been worse in terms of intensity, so I feel lucky and grateful. Still, my regulatory system was a chronic adrenaline dump from the beginning of my time on Earth.

As I entered early adulthood, I experienced daily lightening bolt mood shifts and regulation management issues.  Those around me took the emotional hits.  I just kept on going, as though I were unaffected by the scorched earth I left in my wake. What I didn’t realize then was how truly different my brain was from many of my peers who had “normal” childhoods.  I did, however, always feel different.

For as long as I can remember, I was overweight.  Weirdly, I didn’t (and still don’t) eat that much.  In third grade I lost my first 20 pounds without telling anyone. All I knew was that my mother referred to me as fat, and that wasn’t a good thing. By my twentieth birthday, I had gained and lost hundreds of pounds. To lose weight I had to workout about two hours a day, everyday, and eat only baked chicken.

I have always marveled about people who get runners high or who like pushing their body to the limit. Working out is torturous to me due to a mysterious chronic condition I didn’t have a name for until I was in my early 30’s.  On occasion I stress injure myself during workouts in the gym or by just standing up wrong. I am ridiculously clumsy, falling flat for no apparent reason at all. I gave my dorm buddies a consistent laugh in the dining hall where I regularly failed to negotiate food trays and long legged jocks creating hurdles in my way. I swear they saw me coming and purposely stretched out.  Okay, probably not.

There was a year after adopting my children when I had to do my desk job while laying flat on the floor in exhaustion.  I never connected the stress of adoption with the disabling fatigue. Call me crazy (everyone around me did); I insisted the pain I felt was in my body. I took all kinds of prescription pain meds that first adoption year while doctors told me it was mostly in my head–so, I took low dose anti-depressants, too.  After awhile, I began to agree that it must all be psycho-somatic. Either way, I had to do my job from the grimy underbelly of my desk. Good thing it was a one-person office and my work was supervising others over the phone.  I never told anyone my dirty little secret.  I felt like the definition of my middle name—Shame.

Attachment Help

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

To Be Continued…

If you are unfamiliar with your ACE score, you can go to ACE Questionnaire and take the quick test.  For more information about the ACEs Study, click here.

Look for Part 2 of The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences: A Personal Story tomorrow.

Until then, love matters–I promise.


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