Friday, October 30, 2009

A story too oft repeated.

*Staci was in the hospital, her liver was failing. The hepatitis she contracted years ago was now having its way. The fact that she had been a hard drinker didn't help her health. She thought the alcohol and drugs would help her bouts of depression, but they only made her unemployable and unbearable to live with. Her 16 year-old daughter recently moved out and who knows where her 14 year-old boy was.
She grabbed a mirror from the bedside stand, "How could a 39 year-old look 60? Why am I dying at such an early age?"she asked. Staci looked back on her short life and traced the steps from childhood to her hospital bed.
She never knew her father. Her earliest memories were of mother and her boyfriend fighting. The cramped apartment was littered with beer cans. The yelling and hitting scared her. Soon men in uniforms came and took mom and her boyfriend away. The men with badges gave her to a lady. Staci remembered the car ride to a new house and family. She saw her mother a few more times, but childhood was mostly being shuffled from one foster family to another. Some of the families were nice, but a few of the men made her feel uncomfortable. One man seemed really friendly, and liked to play a secret game of tickle. What started as a fun game began a feeling of shame she could never quite shake.
As she grew older she craved attention from men. Confused about what was good or bad attention, she soon found herself pregnant at 15. She went to a clinic and was told she could be "rid of her problem". The next day she took their advice, and although she was no longer pregnant, she felt her "problem" was never solved.
Staci remembered the depression that haunted her. She tried to dull the depression with drugs. But neither the drugs nor the men could make her happy. Maybe having a baby would make me happy, she thought. But two children and three boyfriends later, the depression returned. Feeling angry, unloved, and helpless, she attempted suicide, but failed at that too.
Her health was broken. The doctor told her, it was either a dirty needle or one of her boyfriends that gave her hepatitis. Her liver was in bad shape. She should get her affairs in order.
As a young child, Staci had the potential, the intelligence, and the genes, for along and health life. But adverse childhood experiences changed all that.

*The above scenario, though illustrative, is very common and very real to those living it.

The story demonstrates the progression found in the ACE pyramid. Staci experiences things no child should have to endure. It caused Staci to have a skewed idea of right and wrong. In her attempt to feel loved, she takes on behaviors that damage her mental, and physical health. She is broken, hurting, alone, all because her childhood was stolen from her.
If only someone had reached out and helped her overcome the anger, the depression, the shame, she endured.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

You Are Normal

Nearly every week I speak with someone that wonders why they are prone to depression, anxiety, or nervousness. Almost without exception they score 4 or more on the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) scale.

Recently, a woman and her husband came to me for counseling. The woman was anxious, nervous, prone to depression, and wondered why her family was having problems. I asked about her childhood, and I felt the floodgates open. She told how her father physically and verbally abused her and her siblings (2 ACE scores). How emotional abuse was common in her family (1 ACE score). Her father and mother abused alcohol (1 ACE score) and mental illness was present in the immediate family (1 ACE score). A family member attempted suicide (1 ACE score), the father often hit the mother (1 ACE score), and the parents then divorced (1 ACE score). Out of 10 possible ACE scores, she scored 8. (Too bad you don't get a prize for a high score.)

After telling me all this, she looked up and said, "What's wrong with me that I am so nervous?" I explained that there was nothing wrong with her. She was reacting normally (albeit wrongly) to the stressors in her life. Her emotional tempo (being high strung) was set as a child and she could not function without keeping herself and her family on the razor's edge.

The human brain is an amazingly plastic organ. It was once thought that after you reached 5 years of age the brain was no longer subject to change. However it has been found that the brain can adapt and somewhat repair itself after a stroke. It has also been found that the physical shape and size of certain brain regions can be changed by repeated learning.

When one is exposed to stress early in life the portions of the brain in charge of "fight or flight" are enlarged at the expense of the portions of the brain in charge of exectutive functions. Thankfully, you can retrain your brain to think executively (or spiritually) rather than react fearfully.

One can reset their level of stress by repeatedly reacting to stress in a proper manner. The proper manner to handle stress is not the result of positive thinking but the result of a Spirit-filled life. The Bible says that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" Gal 5:22,23.

The Spirit-filled life is a result of receiving Jesus Christ into your heart (John 1:12) and yielding to God in every area of your life (Romans 6:16). When we learn to trust instead of fear, when we learn to yield to God instead of panic, we change the emotional and chemical reactions of the brain. By so doing, we allow the brain to make new connections and establish new patterns of behavior. It is a constant work in progress, for the old patterns are hard to be broken. But have hope, for the old patterns can be broken "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee." Isaiah 26:3

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

The ACE Pyramid- How Abusive Parents Kill their Children

The ACE pyramid shows how abuse can stress a child into choosing behaviors that affect their physical and emotional well-being as an adult.
The stress a child experiences when exposed to abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, often causes social, emotional, or cognitive impairment. This means they begin to act, feel, or think in ways that are other than the norm. They can become anxious, detatched, depressed, or hyper-aroused. This can lead the child to adopt behaviors that for the moment seems to soothe their stress (smoking, drinking), or excite them (drugs, risky behavior), but has long-term damaging effects.
In the pursuit of immediate relief from stress, the child's long-term health is compromised, resulting in disease (lung cancer, COPD, liver failure, ect.), disability (injuries from risky behavior), and social problems (emotional problems, detachment, depression). This, in turn, can result in early death. A child that was born with great potential and promise, later dies prematurely because of the stress inflicted by dysfunctional or abusive adults.
The greatest risk to a child's health is not the flu. The greatest risk to a child's health is having abusive or dysfunctional parents.
If you had an abusive childhood, you need to take steps to overcome. Face the fact that attempting to overcome stress through smoking, drinking, drugs, or promiscuity is just a attempt to cope with something that won't work. It is just a quick ticket to a premature death.
The first step in overcoming is to ask God for help. Get on your face before God and confess your anger, your unbelief, and cry out to God for help. Tell God your attempts to cope don't work. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He will.
The above pyramid is from the

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Effects of Abuse Can Last a lifetime

Few children, if any, wake up one morning and say, "I think I'll live a life filled with depression and drug abuse. I think I'll beat myself up emotionally and ruin my life with alcohol and drugs. I'll fill my life with stress and problems and then pass them on to my children so their lives will be ruined too."

What Then Is the Cause?
Abuse, neglect, and living in a dysfunctional household produces pressures on children that can last a lifetime. A child cannot stand back and objectively see the physical and emotional effects an abusive parent has on them. The adversity an abused child endures can physically affect their ability to respond to stressful situations. Anger is often the response, and if not anger, then anxiety and depression are the result.

To cope with childhood stress adults often make childish choices. Smoking, drinking, drugs, sexual promiscuity, are all behaviors that can result in long-term physical and emotional problems. If not overcome, the abuse experienced as a child can result in disease, disability, social problems and early death.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Like an albatross hung around your neck-

If your childhood was filled with abuse and neglect, or if you grew up in a dysfunctional family you know the heartache it can cause. Like a dead albatross hung around the neck, the stench of past problems lingers on.

The effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) do not just go away. The physical effects are well documented and wide ranging: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, liver disease, impaired brain development, diabetes, obesity, and more. Emotional effects of ACEs can result in poor self-image, nervousness, anxiety, anger, self-pity, depression, attempted suicide and more. In addition, there are spiritual effects. Bitterness toward God and others (Hebrews 12:15), unforgiveness, unbelief.

ACE Overcomers is a program designed to help you overcome the effects of adverse childhood experiences. It is based on The ACE Study of Dr. Vincent Felitti and the Centers for Disease Control and will enable you to overcome past adversity through biblical principles.

Follow this blog to gain insight on overcoming.

What is an adverse childhood experience?

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) refer to 10 categories of abuse, neglect or household dysfunction before age 18.

These 10 categories are:

  • 3 categories of abuse- emotional, physical, and sexual
  • 2 categories of neglect- emotional and physical
  • 5 categories of household dysfunction- living in a home with: domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse, parental separation or divorce, incarceration of a family member

Dr. Vincent Felitti and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in their ACE Study gave a zero to 10 score to patients based on how many categories of abuse they experienced before age 18. After studying over 17,000 patients they discovered a strong-and-graded relationship between the number of categories of adverse experiences and later health, mental, and social problems. The greater the ACE score the higher the prevalence of disease, mental problems, and social problems.

To illustrate the effects of ACEs, a person with an ACE score of zero has a 1 out of 500 likelihood of attempting suicide. Compare that to a person with an ACE score of 6 having a 1 out of 14 likelihood of attempting suicide. The higher the ACE score. the greater the risk.

If you have a high ACE score, don't panic! The good news is, even with a ACE score of 6 you have a 13 out of 14 likelihood you will not attempt suicide!