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A Minister, A Priest, and A Rabbi

walk into a coffee shop, and then a teacher, a librarian, and a lawyer walk in. They are followed by a mayor, a doctor, and a homeless person; behind them are a musician, a store owner, and a banker; followed by a realtor, a garbage collector and a police officer and then a pilot, a waitress and an alcoholic. And just as you are asking yourself “is this some kind of a joke?”, you are welcomed with a cup of coffee and asked to sit in a chair in a circle that is large enough to fill the room. The presenter from the Institute for Community and Family Resilience, steps into the middle of the circle and welcomes everyone to the “community compassion trauma circle” and begins to go through a list of 10 questions, prefaced by, “While you were growing up, during the first 18 years of life: 1. Did a parent or other adult in the household swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? Or Act in a way that made you afraid you might be physically hurt? If so, step into the circle. 2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often, push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured? If yes, step into the circle. 3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or tray to or actually have oral, anal or vaginal sex with you? If yes, step into the circle. 4. Did you often feel that no one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special or your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other? If you answer yes, step into the circle. 5. Did you often feel that you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? Or your parents were too drunk or too high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it? If yes, step into the circle. 6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced? If yes, step into the circle. 7. Was your mother, father or stepmother or stepfather often pushed, grabed, slapped or had something thrown at them? or sometimes or often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or something hard, or ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife? If yes, step into the circle. 8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs? If yes, step into the circle. 9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide? If yes, step into the circle.10. Did a household member go to jail or prison? If yes, step into the circle.

This 10 question survey is known as the Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire (ACEs). 11 of the folks from our fictitious coffee shop, or almost 64% had at least one ACE and 5 of the folks had 4 or more ACE (over 25%). And so you ask “what does this all mean and what does it have to do with me.” Thank you for asking 🙂 because it means, that almost all of us are carrying around some kind of childhood adversity. And looking at the population that came into our fictitious coffee shop, we know that adverse childhood experiences can show in any demographic, in any community. And the possible effects of adverse childhood experiences are health problems, mental illness, substance abuse problems in adolescence and adulthood. And ACEs can negatively impact education, employment prospects, and earnings. And as you can see in our sample, albeit fictitious, it does represent a cross section of the community and reflects the actual percentages in our state of adults who have experienced ACEs.

The follow up question, so often asked, is why do some folks go on to become, mayors, physicians, teachers, and even mental health practitioners and others visibly struggle. And the answer is two fold; it seems to have much to do with resilience, and no, resilience is NOT an innate ability to just deal with it and go on. There is no gene for resilience. It takes positive connection; it takes having at least one person who sees you, hears you, listens to you. It takes “connection”. And that’s how we help children and adolescents who struggle, we connect with them in a positive way. And to help adults who are struggling, we let them know that their voice matters, their choices matters, their safety matters, their needs matter…they matter.

Note: If reading this post, has disturbed you or perhaps triggered some memories that are difficult for you, and/or you have questions, please feel free to reach out to us through the contact link on the first page of the website.

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