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July 23, 2020

Three people who saved my life after experiencing ACEs

"In a world where you can be anything, be kind" -Unknown.
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.
If we had met when I was 14, I bet you would see a completely different version of the person, I am today. I know a lot of us can say that but what I mean is you would have seen a shell. I was heart broken, abused and scared. I had a lot of anxiety, I was worried, I felt weak, and I had no idea how I was ever going to come up with the strength to survive. Through my journey I had so many people lay a hand in getting me where I am today. Without them, I know my life, would have been a different story with a much more negative outcome. Thanks to three people in particular! The need for all children and adults to have three people they can count to provide positive childhood moments is VITAL! My adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) never stopped my drive to live. 

What are adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) you might be asking?  They are a research-backed term for types of adversities kids may experience during childhood: 

  • physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; 
  • domestic violence; 

  •  living in a home with mental illness or substance abuse; and 
  • incarceration of a household member
  • Parents separated or divorced

During the ages of 14-18, I experienced 7 out of the 8 mentioned above. I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100%. That's pretty good! There was many times in those periods were I never thought I could get through. I was lucky in so many ways but especially due to three amazing people who truly saved my life!
I often wondered what this post would look like once I sat to write it all down. How would I arrange my thoughts, my experiences and my heartfelt thanks. 

When you are young you have the friends that you tell your school gossip to.  Friends you share your sporting wins with and friends who get you through the hard LIFE stuff. Colleen, was my "person". She along, with a two others, truly heard all the comings and goings of my hopes, dreams and troubles. From boys to ache we shared it all. On one sleepover I shared my most guarded secret I had, I was being abused by a parent. 

I have to give her 16 year old self credit, she handled it extremely well. Not only did she recognize I needed adult help but she soothed and stood by me as I fell apart. The weight of this secret was more than even I could bare but telling it seemed to open the flood gates.

"ACEs are likely to last longer than a single moment, which causes children's stress systems to be turned on for a long time. When this happens, the stress becomes "toxic" to their overall health. The more ACEs children face, the more harm they can have over time (ACEs website)".

I was abused for years by one of my parents and I never told a single sole! I had once tried to tell someone and it resulted in further punishment. When I opened up to Colleen, I am sure it was a complete shock. As soon as I did I was filled with regret. That is were Jackie, Colleen's Mom comes in.

As a teacher, Jackie, raised three children in the country alongside her amazing husband. Gosh, if you ever saw the house they built it's a magazine covers dream. Yet, on that dreary sleepover night she was darkened by my inner collection of stories of abuse that I had endeared. What were you thinking? How did they know just what to say? After a few hours of rest she drove me to the police station and sat next to me as I told my story to the police. 

Just once, in absolute detail, every encounter, every abusive act, every word that was said spanning over years. She held my hand, gave me a tissue and was the rock in which I was standing. Never will I ever meet someone so strong. You may have fallen apart at some point but I never saw it. Al I remember is your unveiling strength and you never made me feel bad. You accepted me as I was not dirty or unlovable. They came into my life with open arms and an open hearts. The biggest hearts on Earth! 

During the Court trial, I was blessed to live with them for a year. It was sort of a buffer from the stress before it became even more toxic for me. The importance of creating safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments in childhood, are essential to lifelong health and success as well as the prevention of ACEs. They knew this and I was given my first chance in life.
Not surviving but actually living.
It was years later before I was able to reconnect with them again at my 10 year school reunion. I didn't get the chance to say all the things I always wanted but I know that day will come. Our conversation always replays in the back of mind from time to time. What would you say to someone who quite literally saved not just your life but your brothers? "Thank you" just never seemed enough. I thought that if I excelled in life by pushing forward, moving on and not letting these negatives hinder me, it would honor the incredible sacrifices and impact they have had on my life. Maybe I should have said that to them as I was reaching the goals and dreams I never thought I would have. If you both made it this far that last part needs another reread. I've been blessed beyond measure in my life and it certainly wouldn't have happened without you!

People always say when you have a child of your own things get put into perspective. Talk about "hitting the nail on the head"! Have I taught my son what to do if a friend ever confided in him like I once did to Colleen?? Does he know what to say?

Or the other things they did like provide food, shelter and let me into their family unit for a year.... Honestly, if not for the circumstances it was the best time of my life. Your family is amazing and I wished it was my own in so many ways! At the time it felt like I was so alone. These two amazing people came into my life when I had nothing. You both saw me at my worse I hope someday you will see me at my best!
The last person whom I have drawn immense strength from was my late grandmother. I had the misfortune of watching her pass slowly from a battle with breast cancer (before they had such remarkable treatments). She touched the lives of so many people her wake was three full days and the church was packed with people. She was a strong women of faith and her perseverance through the struggles helped me through mine.

When I sat down to write this, it wasn't hard, to pick the three influential people in my life. Each one of you are strong, loving, compassionate people. All qualities I hope to model and embrace through the years.
I encourage you to identify three people or resources you can rely on to create safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments. After all reflection is what life is all about as we are walking examples to someone. If I ever need to offer vital support, I am in a healthy place to do so. We all have the potential to be someone else’s trusted adult who helps with stability!


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