Learning how to Trust and Love after Adverse Childhood Experiences

When I was ten years old I met a little girl who was one year younger than I was. You know when they talk about love at first sight? Well, this was something similar. We looked at each other and recognized something in each other’s eyes.

At that point in time we were both going through some pretty traumatic adverse childhood experiences. Her situation was totally different to mine, but at nine years old she had already had to grow up, just like me.

The wonderful thing is that when we were together we could let our guard down and be children again.

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (often referred to as ACEs) are defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as traumatic events experienced by children between birth and seventeen years of age.

Some examples of ACEs include growing up in a family where the child witnesses or experiences:

  • Emotional, mental, psychological, physical or sexual abuse.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Neglect.
  • Severe mental illness.
  • Suicide.
  • Instability because of a separation.
  • The imprisonment of a family member.

Research conducted by the Kaiser Institute in the US has shown that the impact of ACEs is lifelong. There is a clear link between adverse childhood experiences and a number of health and psychological issues that persist well into adulthood. The result is a diminished quality of life.

The trauma impacts these children for decades after it actually occurs.

What was the impact on my friend and I?

My friend and I had serious trust issues. The people who were supposed to protect us were either hurting us, or were depending on us to protect them. As I said earlier our situations were different. I was dealing with some intense psychological abuse from my narcissistic father. She was living through a very acrimonious divorce between her parents.

We had to grow up before our time. We took on the role of confidantes and protectors of our mothers, who were totally overwhelmed by the situation.

The impact of adverse childhood experiences

For over 35 years my friend and I have been there for each other through thick and thin. She was the maid of honour at my wedding, while I was the matron of honour at hers. At every step of the way we helped each other overcome obstacle after obstacle, until we finally got to where we are today.

She knows how much I have struggled and what keeps me up at night. So when she called me to say that she had just sent me something wonderful I immediately dropped everything and checked my inbox. I found a link to the following images, published by an organisation called Children’s Mental Health CMH Workshops . By the time I got to the tenth image I had started to cry.

You see for years I had told her that I felt like I was made out of higgledy-piggledy unmatched Lego pieces. As I got older I had to pull bits of me off and then replace them with the right blocks, until finally I could function like a normal human being.

The story in the images she sent me is my story. As a child my main focus was on survival. When I grew up, I too had to learn how to trust and to love, just like the cat in the pictures. And like him, it was my friends, and later my husband, who gave me the love and acceptance I needed in order to finally fight off the darkness.

I hope my friend knows that she is one of the most important people in my life, and she is in my heart forever.

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