This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.
Do Your Part to Help With Childhood Adversity
As a child, I struggled with a lot of negative experiences and people in my life. I didn’t have the kind of upbringing that I would wish for anyone else, and I have very few good memories when looking back. I remember feeling uneasy, uncertain of my future, and sad most of the time.
Now that my daughter is a teenager, I think about the struggles I experienced as a child, and I am reminded of the days when I felt like nobody had my back. The days filled with fear or anger, when I felt so alone.
Looking back now, I realize that there were people who not only had my back but without them, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten out of my childhood alive. I think about the times when people went out of their way to let me know that I mattered and that they cared when it seemed like nobody else did.
These people meant the world to me, and I know how important it is for every child to feel like someone cares for them. Someone to create positive childhood experiences for them, no matter what their home life may be like—especially for those who experience Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
What are ACEs?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) include the following traumatic situations:
Abuse: Physical, Emotional, and Sexual
Neglect: Physical and Emotional
Household Challenges: Mental Illness, Mother treated violently, Divorce, Incarcerated Parent, and Substance Abuse
ACEs are common, and one analysis found that two-thirds of US adults have experienced at least one ACE. The more ACEs one experiences, the higher the risk of poor health or social outcomes. Just because I have “survived” my childhood doesn’t mean that I am free and clear from the trauma that I have experienced.
There are hundreds of studies linking childhood adversity to health and life consequences such as substance abuse, mental health issues, injuries, unsafe sexual practices including multiple partners, and alcohol or drug abuse. There are links to experiencing adversities and failing at life opportunities as well.
Those of us who have experienced ACEs are more likely to experience poverty as well as drop out of high school. In fact, eight of the top ten leading causes of death have been associated with early adversity, and those who have experienced ACEs have an increased risk.
It amazes me to think about how many ACEs I have experienced, and it is hard for me to think about what could have happened if it weren’t for the people in my life that helped me through the hard times. I have experienced 9 out of the 0ACEs, and although I was put at risk, I owe it to a few people in my life that prevented me from becoming a statistic.
Why? Because one of the key factors that can mitigate the effects of ACEs is access to safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments (SSNREs) and positive childhood experiences. The presence of SSNREs helps kids cope with ACES and prevents toxic stress, and the absence of SSNREs puts them on a path towards negative outcomes.
My grandmother—my father’s mother, Ellen—is the first person that comes to mind when thinking about my support system. She was always there when we needed her, whether it was to talk or to give me something I needed. My grandmother was an amazing listener and always had helpful advice for anyone willing to listen to it.
Her hobbies were not like the rest of my family who enjoyed the party atmosphere. She would spend hours reading her favorite books in complete silence and encouraged me to do the same. I would sit with her and write short stories or journal about whatever was going on in my life at the time.
Those quiet weekends were when I discovered how much I enjoyed writing. No matter how much I felt like my writing would never go anywhere, she encouraged me to continue. I could tell that she believed in me. She was a problem-solver and a people-pleaser, always willing to lend a hand or give a hug.
She would spend hours in the kitchen making meatballs and her delicious homemade sauce in order to feed us for weeks after she left. We would freeze as much as we could and try to make it last for as long as we could but it was hard to resist eating it all right away. Those beautiful days spent in the kitchen with my grandmother, absorbing all of the cooking and life knowledge that I could, is what inspired my love of cooking.
Another person who made a big impact on me as a kid was a family friend named W.L. He was always around for the holidays, and as I got older and had more freedom, I was able to wander over to his house. I came to him with my problems, which he listened to and weighed in on. It was nice to have a trusted male adult to go to when things got difficult as I became a teen.
He was there when I needed him. I felt like I had a father figure at times when I felt that my father wasn’t accessible to me. Someone to talk to about life and boys. Getting the male perspective helped me to see things for what they were without being guided down the wrong path like a lot of the girls my age.
Unfortunately, when I was just 13-years-old, he passed away, and it was really hard for me to deal with that loss. I struggled to wrap my head around the finality of death as he was the first person close to me to pass away. I learned from his death that life is short—he was only 28 when he died. Even after passing away, W.L. was still teaching me the life lessons that he did while he was here. I learned to cherish the people in my life that meant the most and not be afraid to let them know how important they were to me.
Not too long after W.L. passed away, I met another trusted adult male who would go on to be a lifelong friend of mine named Dean. I met Dean when my parents decided to give their marriage another shot, and he came to Virginia with my father to help us move to Florida. At this time my dad lived in New Jersey, and Dean was a co-worker whom he became close with while living there.
When I was first told about Dean, my dad mentioned how much we had in common and that we were going to hit it off right away. My dad also told him that he had a daughter with the same kind of sarcastic humor that Dean had, and he was excited to meet me. It turns out, they were right—Dean and I were fast friends. I thought he was so cool—he was funny, confident, quick-witted, and sarcastic, but in the funniest most endearing way possible. Unfortunately, he lived in New Jersey and we were moving to Florida, so I thought this would be the only time we spent together. Thankfully, I was wrong.
It wasn’t long after moving to Florida before Dean came down for a visit. He took some time off of work and visited us for a couple of weeks. During this time, I got to know him and to my surprise, he got to know me too. I was amazed at how interested he was in me and how long we could talk to each other about religion, politics, life, or anything that crossed our minds. It was rare for an adult to listen to me at this time in my life, and I relished in the idea that Dean wanted to hear what I had to say. I was sad to see him leave when the time came to drop him off at the airport and send him back to New Jersey.
I will always remember the moment right before he got on the plane. I wanted to hug him but felt weird about it. I presented myself as a cool and aloof person, and I rarely showed emotion or affection for anyone. That’s when he said to me “What are you—too cool to hug me goodbye?” Then he squeezed me and told me he would miss me, and I knew I would miss him very much. It hit me pretty hard and I almost cried, feeling like an idiot right in front of the coolest person I had ever met.
After he went back home, when he would call, I would often answer the phone on purpose so I could tell him what I was up to before handing the phone off to my dad. He would give me input on my life and tell me what he thought was best for me, which I listened to most of the time.
Then the day came when my dad left again. He had some legal troubles and ended up being incarcerated in another state. This was quite a challenge for my family to face because we were just barely getting by as it was. My mom worried about how she would pay the bills without him there, and Dean offered to move in with us, taking on half of the bills while Dad was away. I felt like I won the lottery. I was thrilled to have Dean move in.
The day he arrived with his U-Haul is a memory I will never forget. I helped him unpack the truck, and then we went shopping for whatever items he still needed. It was a good day. We once again could stay up all night talking about whatever was on our minds and arguing constructively about religion or what my next move should be in my teenage relationships.
I knew I could trust him to give me the best advice because I knew he cared about me and my happiness. I rarely showed anyone my writing because I had little confidence in my abilities and didn’t think anyone would be interested in reading it. I was thrilled when I showed it to him. He not only read it with enthusiasm, but he encouraged me to write more. Having him around was a blessing to my family in so many ways. Even after my dad came back home, Dean lived with us. At this point, there was no denying it—he was family.
The day I moved out of the house, he made sure to get up early before I headed out to say goodbye to me. I remember this moment so well because he also went into my father’s room and tried to get him out of bed to say goodbye, which he rejected. My family didn’t necessarily agree with my decision to move out, but that wasn’t enough to keep Dean from saying goodbye. He gave me another one of his now-famous, goodbye hugs.
We still live far apart, but we talk occasionally through text, on the phone, and through long hilarious emails that I often re-read again and again. We will always be family, and I will forever be grateful to have him in my life. He has inspired me to be a trusted person in other kids’ lives and because of him, I know what kind of impact that can have on the way their life turns out.
If it weren’t for the trusted and supportive people in my life, I know I would not be where I am today. I am so thankful for those three, for being there for me when I felt that nobody else was there. Their encouragement to pursue my writing had a huge impact on me, and without them, I would have given up a long time ago.
I realize how important it is for children to create a stable and nurturing relationship with trusted adults to thrive in life. We all can be that person in someone’s life—the trusted adult that has good intentions and can provide vital support.
It’s time for me to give back by being that supportive adult for kids in my community and to tell everyone reading this that they can be that person for kids in their community, too. I want to hear about the people in your life that made a difference. Tell me about them in the comments below and learn more about Adverse Childhood Experiences to see how you can help kids in your community.
About Thirty Something Super Mom
My journey started after a Crohn's disease diagnosis, inspiring a commitment to well-being. This site shares my distinctive approach to healthy living with my collection of nutritious recipes that boast authentic flavors, mimicking the indulgence of traditional dishes. I love sharing guilt free recipes for low carb, keto, gluten-free, paleo, and the specific carbohydrate diet. I also share tips on natural living, including homemade cleaners and cleaning hacks. I also share my experience as a veterinary technician and pet groomer, to integrate pet health tips, homemade dog food recipes, and grooming insights to ensure your pets thrive.