My brother, Damon, tried to kill my mom and nine months later, committed suicide at age twenty-one. My sister, Andrea, fell asleep and never woke up on January 30, 2017. She died of suspected cardiac arrest after having had several small strokes ten years before her death. My sister also suffered from bipolar episodes. She was only fifty-seven. I firmly believe that Damon and Andrea never recovered from their adverse childhood experiences.
My sister, Andrea (in the picture, to the right, with her daughter, Sy), was the oldest of us six girls. My brother, Damon, was the youngest and the only boy. While we all experienced significant emotional and physical abuse as well as household challenges such as mental illness, our parents’ chronic separations, and our father’s substance abuse, I believe our sister Andrea experienced the most abuse. Our father sexually abused her. She left our home in Ohio and retreated to California and, to my knowledge, only returned four times during my entire life. She told us that she “disowned” us because she felt that no one believed her and that she was better off not hanging around our family.
In the photo is my brother Damon, with his beautiful infectious smile, with me, peeking over.
Damon’s only “real” friend was our father. Not only did he witness our father’s persistent prescription drug and alcohol abuse, he was constantly listening to our father’s tirades about how awful our mom was, and he often witnessed our parents fighting. I believe our brother also suffered along the autism spectrum, and he never received the appropriate treatment.
ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE STUDY
After reading about the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permeate, I am convinced that Andrea and Damon’s adverse childhood experiences were the dominating reasons for why they died early. The ACE study found a “strong graded relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults, and even early death.”
ACE created a series of questions that individuals can ask themselves to determine their overall ACE score. An individual’s ACE score indicates the degree and/or severity of adverse childhood experiences and what effects they’ve had upon you. You can take your own ACE score by clicking on this link. I scored a whopping nine out of ten. If I scored that high, I am certain Damon and Andrea’s scores were just as high.
Just writing this makes me cry. I am overwhelmed with sadness because I literally just found out about this study two months ago. I wish this study had been completed before Damon died in 1994. Maybe I could have talked to my brother about this and helped him through some issues. Had I known about this study, maybe I could have shared this with Andrea so she could have felt some sort of relief and perhaps received some treatment. Maybe that could have given her a deeper quality of life, and maybe even a longer life. Sadly, I cannot bring Andrea and Damon back to life. I would be lying to you if I did not tell you how many times I had to walk away from this blog post and go into my bathroom and cry. Undoubtedly, I am still grieving my sister’s death.
However, I need to gather myself and share this with you. I am resolved to spend the rest of my living days talking about this study. I want people to understand that their adverse childhood experiences do not have to dictate the rest of their lives. I want them to know that they can reverse the effects of their adverse childhood experiences.
After all, I have four other sisters: Toni, Janelle, Lola and Cheryl. We all need to know about this study. My Polly Fox young women need to know about this study. I am confident that many of these young women have high ACE scores. So many people in this world suffer with high ACE scores.
What are we supposed to do now?
If you have been a victim of adverse childhood experiences, as I have, and you have a high ACE score, just learning about the ACE study makes you feel affirmed. You feel like someone is finally listening to you and it explains why you may feel a certain way, or why you have certain types of behaviors or even illnesses. However, just like when a person is diagnosed with an illness, especially if the illness has dire consequences, you desperately want to know what you can do to overcome the illness.
That is why adopting these six strategies are critical to overcoming the effects of a high ACE score. By adopting these six strategies, you will push past abuse, adversity, trauma and challenges to rise above your circumstances, thrive and be successful:
Wake Up and Become Aware: When you gain a sense of self-awareness of how the adversity you faced in your childhood is affecting your life now, and the lives of those you love, you gain more power over your situation. Studies show that by becoming more self-aware and incorporating more self-management tools, you decrease stress, increase life satisfaction, and you develop more nourishing relationships. The book Emotional Intelligence is a great start.
Write Your Story to Heal: Gain a sense of understanding of your thoughts, feelings, and actions by writing out your story. You will experience many healing benefits. I did it. I understand myself more after writing my autobiography, Inspiration in My Shoes. One thing to ask yourself is, “What negative beliefs hold me back in life? Is that really me, or is it just something I learned long ago?” The key is to start writing. Write in your journal. Nothing fancy. Then, I encourage you to make it public in some way. Share it. That is where true healing begins. If you need a coach who can help you get writing or if you’d like to publish your work, speak to Amanda Filippelli.
Adopt an “I Am Worthy Mindset” Because You Deserve Love: It is essential that you pray and develop a worthy mindset of yourself, and a belief system that you deserve love. As you begin to write to heal, you will be able to see what lies you have been telling yourself. I firmly believe that God can rewire your brain. You will be able to get rid of the junk that is holding you back, forgive those who have hurt you along the way, and establish healthy boundaries in relationships. If you struggle in this area, you may need to hire your own personal therapist to help you through this process.
Surround Yourself with Caring, Kind, Compassionate, Loving People Who Cheer You On: As you work on steps one through three, you will start to attract caring and kind people into your life who cheer you on. This is critical. Disallow people who demean, criticize, complain, gossip, talk about others, live in drama, and who have an overall spirit of negativity and pessimism to be in your space.
Have Faith in More Than You See Around You: You have to have faith in something bigger than yourself. You must have a deep understanding of your own spirituality and adopt a mindset that believes in something more than what you see around you. Even in the midst of chaos, you can have peace that passes your human understanding. We are human “beings” for a reason. Saying we are “beings” refers to your spiritual force. For me, it is having a deep faith in God, holding strong to my Christian beliefs, and applying the Bible’s truths to my life. This is my path toward spirituality and my ability to have faith in more than what I see around me. Perhaps you have a different spiritual path. The key is having faith in that spiritual path. That is true enlightenment and a success driven strategy.
Incorporate an “I Must Do It No Matter What” Attitude: Pushing past false narratives takes work. Never, ever lull yourself into the lie that this is a one-time fix. This is a daily practice. You must tell yourself that you can do this, every single day of your life. You must feed off positive words you say to yourself, positive songs, positive stories, positive people, positive food and drink, positive exercises (Ashtanga Yoga, with Dhawi Pienta at Yogaja Yoga, has been a God-sent) that allow you to exhale these false narratives—it is a lifestyle.
Let’s get busy.
If this resonates with you, then join me starting November 6th for a weekly challenge leading up to Thanksgiving. My brother, Damon, and my sister, Andrea, were born in November, and I want to honor them by taking the above six steps to overcome my ACE score. Should you choose to accept this challenge, click on this link and insert in the subject line "Interested in the ACE November Challenge" and I'll add you to our special group.
Let’s do this together.
National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, article How to overcome adverse childhood experiences as an adult
Treating the Lifetime Health Effects of Childhood Victimization, book by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D.
Thrive Global's article, How to overcome Adverse Childhood Experiences
Diana Patton is a Speaker, Social Justice and Integrative Health Advocacy Coach, Author and Attorney. Learn more about her by visiting her website. Click here to read a free chapter of her book, Inspiration in My Shoes, or read more of her articles, here. Interested in having Diana speak to your organization? Listen to this 15 minute video and contact her.