Sometimes, what is inspirational can also be annoying.
NOTE: The greatest part about getting more involved in the advocacy work on behalf of those with ACEs is to read, converse, and contemplate the amazing thoughts of others that have been “in the trenches” (many not by choice!) for far longer than I have. This post originally appeared on acesconnection.com, an online community I am a part of. Cissy graciously gave me permission to cross-post her work here, on my humble little blog. I trust you will enjoy it, and if so, visit her at http://www.healwritenow.com and let her know! –Chris.
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” -Karl Jung
I love the power of this quote and it also irritates me.
I think it touches on that word that is so sensitive for so many of us – resilience.
It implies identity and even health are as easy as a choice. A choice on how to be. A choice to simply be more resilient. And it isn’t that easy.
I’m doing two position papers right now for a major healthcare organization. Sometimes my writing pays and I get to do research as well. Unlike my let-it-rip free-writing style, my memoir and stream-of-consciousness, this is writing that calls on my reporter days. Every sentence needs a footnote, fact check or five and back-up supporting studies. This isn’t the place for the personal stories (though a blend of both will come later).
One of the papers is on how expressive writing helps trauma, the types of writing that does (and does not) help. The other is on who “super users/super utlizers” of the healthcare system are, what percentage of healthcare costs they use and why and what’s the relationship between super utilization and traumatic stress – particularly during development. It draws a lot on the work of Dr. Jeffrey Brenner so wonderful shared here by Jane.
The research is clear. Adverse childhood experiences cause lifelong social, emotional and physical health problems and early mortality of 19 years (with ACE scores of 6 or higher).
That is not because someone didn’t choose to live longer or didn’t choose to be healthy or didn’t choose to be happy.
It’s because someone suffered many types of adversity in childhood – a childhood they didn’t choose.
Adversity they didn’t choose. And often in the homes of and from family members one didn’t select or choose.
So yes, many of us are resilient. In fact, if we have ACE scores of 6 or higher and live a normal life span and relatively decent health and functioning I think we’re sort of miraculous.
But we shouldn’t have to be resilient or amazing to be human or to have a normal health span should we?
The pressure shouldn’t be on us, and it is, to heal, educate and rebound – not just for ourselves but for others too. Yet it is.
We are burdened with serious problems we didn’t choose and with the job or addressing and remedying them and often while being disparaged, judged and seen as weak, whiny or negative.
This makes me angry.
Even though I practice gratitude and mindfulness and staying in the present. It angers me even though I love life, my daughter, friends, passions and have a yoga practice. Why?
Because it’s a monumental effort to learn boundaries and healthy child-rearing and trust and healthy adult relationships and to manage money and do so with limited adult family support. If there was an ACE score of 6 or more there’s likely not an easy breezy and uncomplicated family of origin situation in the adult years. That doesn’t mean there’s no love, understanding, forgiveness or progress. But it’s complicated, work and takes more than resilience. The adversity and dysfunction present in childhood rarely zap or disappear or magically vanish.
So maybe we have complicated or non-existent family connections. We have to choose or grief or connection – rarely both and with ease.
Plus, as adults, we are responsible for our lives, health, well-being and healing. But we didn’t choose what crap got in the grocery cart of childhood and that we had to survive off of and live through. We didn’t choose what we will carry in our psyches, hearts, cells and bones which make the journey a little rougher. We have impact we didn’t choose.
We struggle and not only because we lack resilience.
We struggle because too much early adversity is consequential for a long time.
It’s life limiting and sometimes life-shortening.
And it can be exhausting and difficult.
That’s not because aren’t writing in a gratitude journal and don’t understand the power of optimism.
I don’t mean to say that healing or improved health aren’t possible. They are. I don’t mean we can’t make daring and pro-active self-care and health choices and live break-the-cycle lifestyles now. But it’s not called breaking the cycle because it is easy and requires no effort. It means breaking how things were. Which is hard even if it’s for the long-term health.
We have to make choices and deal with reality that is complex. Sometimes we choose not having kids because we can’t imagine healing, parenting and holding a job. Maybe we take jobs we’re overqualified for so we get insurance, therapy or less stress. Maybe we stay in marriages not great for us because we can’t manage full-time work and PTSD.
There’s not a lot of support or education or resources or even understanding in the world yet. Healing resources are hard to come by and often expensive. Few know for sure what helps adults with high scores live a full, happy and normal life span. Often, those of us WITH high ACE scores are also activists and educating our own doctors. shrinks, family members and communities on trauma, childhood adversity and what tricks and tips others have found that help.
And it’s not like there’s a cure for PTSD that’s easy, fast and affordable.
Sometimes there are tools which are expensive (like nuerofeedback) and not covered by insurance.
Sometimes healing feels like a full-time job which requires diligent effort, strict diets, devoted exercises, mindfulness based practices or yoga or massage – things that cost money, take time … and again, are rarely covered by insurance. Sometimes we find DIY fixes like expressive writing, grief work, sea glass hunting or tending to plants or animals. And they cost money.
We are coming to adulthood with less foundation, less support and then also asked to do more to gain, get, keep or acquire some measure of emotional, physical and social health.
So that’s a bit of work.
That can be a lot.
And we didn’t get to choose if this is how we would want to be spending adult time.
I’m irritated that a childhood I survived, and not easily, continues to kick my adult ass now. It does make me mad. And when others imply I could choose a better attitude or a better outlook or resilience it makes me mad.
I do get paid some to speak or write or be an activist. But it’s grueling work and work of the “make lemonade out of lemons” type. But that doesn’t mean many others are struggling more and with less. They are. They did not have a resilience failure.
They did not have a lack of resilience they had an overabundance of adversity. And an adversity avalanche will bury most people and we can’t forget that or minimize that reality.
If we did “make it” at all it is not because we are more resilient. At least that’s not what I believe.
Maybe had pets, teachers or nature that showed us unconditional love or neighbors who fed us food or poetry or hope. Or we had one aunt or a parent who was present or something that has very little do with our inherent worth or personality.
To call that resilience makes it seem as those who didn’t make it are responsible for pain, addictions, depression, anxiety and chronic poor health. I believe that’s too easy to say or believe. It leaves the rest of us off the hook and is a form of blaming the victim.
I don’t want to join in on that.
19 years off of lifespan for 6 or more categories of adverse childhood experiences before age 19 is no joke.
That means some of us die. And those of us that do are no less worthy than those who do not.
I want to be here for my daughter when she’s an adult so I can’t not pay attention to that. I want to be as healthy as possible as long as possible. It requires work and intervention on my part now even if I don’t have a lot of time or money.
And I feel like I have a right to be angry about that even as I do choose to continue the work.
Sometimes I do imagine a life where I’d have doting parents or I’d be focusing on travel, career advancement or just resting instead of studying attachment theory to learn how to reparent my 48 years old self as well as my kid. I don’t get to choose if need healing I just get to choose from a rather anemic selection of resources, supports and tools.
So, I love the spirit of celebrating the human spirit but it also makes me flinch a bit.
It’s so hard to honor the reality and facts and also stay hopeful and true.
I never want to sanitize the facts or be only grim and dire.
I don’t always know the balance. I’m grateful for writing and community though for being able to explore the buttons that get pushed, the people we are and the rest of our community too.
P.S. I love the work of Carl Jung, I am addicted to quotes and I am so glad I saw this one because it prompted and clarified some of my thoughts about resilience and I know many here have talked about this topic. Thanks Robert for posting this so I could think more on this topic and why my buttons were so pressed.
(c) 2015 Christine Cissy White, author and speaker. Her site is http://healwritenow.com/