Childhood trauma leads to lifelong chronic illness — so why isn’t the medical community helping patients?
A father in county jail is ordered to take a parenting class, but isn’t too enthusiastic about it. As part of the class, he learns about the ACE Study, and does his own ACE score.
“Oh my god!” he announces to the class. “I have 7 ACEs.” His mother’s an alcoholic. His dad’s been in and out of jail. He himself started dealing drugs at age 11, and doing drugs at 14.
“I’ve got two kids at home experiencing the same things I did,” he says. The light bulb goes on.
A few days after a woman who’s ordered by the court to take parenting classes learns about her ACE score, she quits smoking.
“I’ve been smoking for years,” she tells the class. “My ACE score was one of the reasons.” She quit, she says, because she decided smoking wasn’t helping her children.
Another parent of three kids was saddened…
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Mon 16 Jul 2012 19:56:56 | 0 comments
Almost nine years ago, over the course of four days, I let my doctor send me home from his office three times before I almost died of pneumonia. I spent two weeks in the hospital; it took many months to fully recover. It was a life-changing experience, and I continue to learn from it.
About three years ago a physician’s assistant skipped a basic, obvious test for a 17-year-old with swollen glands. Twelve hours later, in the emergency room, physicians glanced at my daughter, diagnosed mononucleosis, and confirmed it shortly thereafter with a “spot mono test.” The greater danger though, came from a severe reaction to antibiotics, medication my daughter would never have taken had the mono test been done at the doctor’s office. The horrifically painful reaction could have killed her.
Despite the fact that I’ve helped in marketing and fundraising for more than a dozen medical entities, including a hospital safety consultancy, in my 30+year career, it’s taken years of a different type of recovery to realize that no physician has what it takes for me to care for my family and myself. That requires the self-awareness, trust in my own intuition, and courage to risk evoking anger in someone in “authority” by calling them into question, if need be. That type of courage comes from becoming an emotionally healthy adult.
As a person healing from abuse, I must work doubly hard to stay in the moment and not let fears from the past keep me from doing “the next right thing.” An overwhelming fear of authority, desire to “people please,” and a sometimes crippling self-doubt can prevent me from questioning others, especially if I am not taking great care of myself; if I am not “living in the moment.”
“I am a real bulldog when it comes to advocating for my mom,” I said to the staff at the infusion clinic where my mother was to receive three pints of blood recently. The staff wanted to give her all three pints on the same day. My gut told me that at almost 87, my mom, who had just lost her husband to Alzheimer’s the night before, and has been weakened for years by an autoimmune disorder, did not need to be in that clinic for 16 hours straight. When, three days later, we received her diagnosis of congestive heart failure, the doctor said we’d made a good choice to stretch the procedures over two days.
My mother, daughter, and I survived each of those medical crises. I wonder, though, had I known more or followed my intuition earlier when my daughter and I were sick, if our outcomes could have been better.
By the time we got to my mom’s situation, I knew that relying solely on medical professionals does not ensure the best care. More important was learning how to trust my instincts and speak up. This is equally important for the millions upon millions of addiction and abuse survivors. We, especially, need to remember these bottom lines:
1. We need to practice “extreme self-care,” and try to stay out of the hospital; our health is already compromised by the stress of “adverse childhood experiences.”
2. If we do go to the hospital, just like everyone else, we need an advocate friend or family member to help us watch what’s going on – right down to asking hospital staff if they’ve washed their hands before we’re touched. We must value ourselves and have the courage to ask for help.
3. If you yourself are filled with the self-doubt, insecurity, and fear of authority that can come from growing up in addiction and abuse, these emotions can keep you from getting the best care for yourself and your loved ones. This is a good time to learn more about emotional healing that can help you, and your loved ones, learn how to speak up and become healthier on all counts.
There is not a surgical procedure that can cure the more than 30 million children of alcoholics who live, as I do at times, affected by some or all of the characteristics called the “Laundry List” of 14 characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. If there were such a surgical procedure, it could save our health care system literally billions upon billions of dollars from family addiction and abuse passed on from generation to generation. Addictions to alcohol, food, drugs, cigarettes, and harmful behavioral addictions to sex, gambling, spending, pornography, and toxic relationships, cost our health care system more than any other single condition.
The most amazing thing? One of the most effective treatments for these addictions, and the co-addictions suffered by the family members, is free. It just takes the courage to find a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Overeaters Anonymous, or the like. Again, the meetings are free. You can even call a toll-free number and attend meetings in complete anonymity, via a conference call.
Nine years ago, had I not prayed for the strength to stand up and ask for what I believed I needed – a surgical procedure to remove fluid from my lungs – I may well have died. I had to trust God, and my own God-given intelligence and courage to speak up.
The big lesson: recovery really does save lives, one day at a time, whether we’re in the hospital, or at the kitchen table.
Carey Sipp’s first book, The TurnAround Mom – How an Abuse and Addiction Survivor Stopped the Toxic Cycle for Her Family, and How You Can, Too, guides fellow “children of chaos” to create the kind of sane and loving home life that helps prevent next-generation addiction and abuse. Her book is available here.
There is help for Children of Alcoholics at
(National Association for Children of Alcoholics)
(Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization Worldwide, Inc.)
Read more articles by Carey Sipp here.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
Sun 03 Jun 2012
(NOTE: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that each year approximately 40 million debilitating illnesses or injuries occur among Americans as the result of their use of tobacco, alcohol or another addictive drug. Addiction and substance abuse is not just an individual problem, but one that affects families and communities. NIDA estimates substance abuse costs the United States an estimated $484 billion per year.)
Once again, I am in a throwdown with God, and things won’t be easier until I do this: Surrender to all the control I want to have, the approval I hope to gain, the fear I hold onto (fear of angry people and people in authority are the big ones), the perfectionism and procrastination I cling to that causes me to be late on timely commitments. I surrender. There are other character flaws I can add to the list, but I am powerless over wanting to do everything all at once, so I give up, too, on completing that list.
It’s time to turn in work and I am afraid. Truly, there are probably 10 pieces I’ve already written that would be good and good enough. But as the child of an alcoholic, even though I am 56 years old, I still feel overwhelming self-doubt and fear when I am not practicing the kind of self-care I know I need.
As one of almost 30 million children of alcoholics (COAs), I know I am not alone in having this deep-seated fear. When my fear overpowers my faith, I start trying to run things, and “forget” to practice the self-care that helps me remember that I am not in control.
(Note to self: remember that trying to control things means I need to take a deep breath, ask God for help figuring out how to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. ACTION: I take a break for 1.5 hours to attend support meeting. It is no coincidence that the topic is giving up control. God sure gives me what I need when I admit I do not have all the answers.)
My fellow co-addicts and I developed unhealthy relationship patterns in response to growing up with alcoholics or others addicted to substances or compulsive behaviors. I call what we have an addiction to “toxic intensity.”
Despite years of humbling work in therapy and support groups, if I become fearful, angry, excited, or arrogant, I can flat-out find a way to recreate the toxic dysfunction I knew as a child. Denying that there is a part of me that still has that childlike fear will kick my butt every time I forget. What is even more amazing is that when I am in that fear, I will attract others who are in their fearful, child-like states, and together we can make a monstrous mess that may take years to untangle. There are plenty of us around (again, there are 30 million children of alcoholics; further, one in four school children says alcohol or drug use causes trouble at home).
Whether at work or at home, on a phone call with a customer service person in India or Indiana, those of us affected by the chaos of addiction can trip and trigger and bring out the very worst in each other. The spiral continues. And widens. The disease, which is really the devil, really loves that. We can become the very people we do not want to be instead of the peaceful, productive, mature people we are.
When I am triggered, I have to stop and do what I wrote about in my book, the book I would love to rename as simply “TurnAround Parenting,” because I am not “THE Turnaround Mom.” I am one of millions of parents/people affected by the alcohol and drug abuse of others. There are many millions more, too, affected by the behavioral addictions of others: overeating, overspending, addictions to sex, pornography, and work. We are all part of a tribe of humans who seem to feel fear, guilt, and shame at a deep, toxic level. Feeling these feelings so deeply, we hope that if we are blessed with children, that they will be healthy, and not debilitated by the family legacies that may lead us to act out the very behaviors we swore we would not repeat, or to marry into families where those behaviors are present.
I am a mom who prays that I have done enough self-care, boundary setting, support system building, peaceful time seeking, toxic intensity avoiding, healthy relationship building and such that maybe my children won’t have the central nervous system wiring I inherited that makes me forget self-care, struggle with setting boundaries, forget about the sane people who love me, and sometimes succumb to the toxicity of “the dark side”: fear-based judgment, control, procrastination, etc.
It is so easy to abandon self-care right now: though my stepdad is in end-stage Alzheimer’s, it is my MOTHER who just went into hospice. He took care of himself, working out, eating well, doing rewarding volunteer work. She took care of him and everyone else. The irony is rich and sad and the lesson is right in front of me and my fellow children of chaos: we caretaking and controlling children of alcoholics or other dysfunction can be triggered into old behaviors by situations big, such as the illness of a parent, or small and every day, such as the early return of a loved one (YIKES! I’M NOT FINISHED CLEANING!). We can know how to care for ourselves and still end up killing ourselves trying to save others, attain perfection, control situations, justify abuse, make decisions, deny reality.
Denial wants me to forget that I cannot do it all. Fear wants me to freeze and stay in indecision while decisions are made by others. Denial wants me to believe that situations in my life that are NOT normal ARE normal, and that situations that ARE normal are NOT. Fear wants me to obsess about all of this, and miss being in THE moment, so there are even more regrets.
It’s like a giant game of whack-a-mole. Every toxic mole hit is replaced by three more, so there is no way to win. The only way to win is to put the hammer down and walk away from the game.
So the lesson learned is the lesson that may not have to be repeated: I surrender.
Today the healthy part of me – the part that is winning in this woman-against-self struggle – knows God has it under control.
If I will just take care of myself, and pull the plank from my own eye, I won’t have to kill myself trying to take the spec from anyone else’s. And we will all be happier, healthier, and less likely to become toxic.
There is help for Children of Alcoholics is at nacoa.org (National Association for Children of Alcoholics) and adultchildren.org (Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization Worldwide, Inc.)
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
Wed 13 Jun 2012
It’s estimated that there are about 30 million adult children of alcoholics in the US, and that today, one in four school children (or 13.5 million children ages 5 – 17) lives in a home where there is alcoholism or drug addiction. If you add in addictions to food, spending, the Internet, sex, codependency, and what I call “Toxic Intensity,” or the addiction to self-generated angst, it is likely that a far greater percentage of children — and adults — are living with the effects of addiction.
You see, addiction of any type has a negative impact on every member of the family, not just the addict. While the statistics below are about children of alcoholics, as revered pollster George Gallup, Jr., points out, “any type of addiction makes parents unavailable to their children and is damaging to them in other ways as well. The resulting neglectful and abusive behaviors are most often unintentionally passed on from generation to generation, perpetuating cycles of addiction and abuse.” The stress and insanity of living with addiction attacks the immune system of every member of the family.
I can speak to this damage on two levels, first, as an advocate for children and children of alcoholics. According to the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), “children of alcoholics experience greater physical and mental health problems and higher health care costs than children from non-alcoholic families.” NACoA reports that for children of alcoholics:
Inpatient admission rates for substance abuse are triple that of other children.
Inpatient admission rates for mental disorders are almost double that of other children.
Injuries are more than one-and-one-half times greater than those of other children.
The rate of total health care costs for children of alcoholics is 32 percent greater than children from non-alcoholic families.
Speaking on this from the second level, as an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) myself, I concur. I spent a lot of time in the doctor’s office as a child, and have had, over the years, some of the typical health and depression issues detailed in the groundbreaking report: The Health and Social Impact of Growing Up With Adverse Childhood Experiences, The Human and Economic Costs of the Status Quo by Dr. Robert Anda, MD, MS.
I know that my immune system requires extra help in the form of supplements and self-care. And, I must be mindful of my addictions to toxic intensity and sugar.
Addictions succeed when they are making their addicts, and those around them, sicker. My addictions want to compromise my immune system by having me yield to rushing, over-committing, eating sugar, worrying, not being in the present. The result can be a bad cold, a bout of bronchitis, a sinus infection, or saying and doing things I will regret.
The greatest defense against my immune-busting addictions is my own spiritual immune system – my internal Jiminy Cricket conscience/judgment – that tells me when I am headed away from healthy actions and toward unhealthy actions such as rushing, over-promising, and that urge to please people at almost any cost. My strongest weapons are two words: THANK YOU and NO.
When I am at my best, the thank you comes the first thing in the morning – thanking God for rest and the hope of a new day. Then I make a gratitude list for the blessings in my life. This is an immune booster of the highest order, generating joy, helping me plan my day, and helping to keep negativity away. (Negativity is another addiction that wants us dead. If you are a child of chaos, you’re familiar with negativity, and know how seductive it is. To steer clear of negativity, it’s best to limit exposure to negative people and stay in gratitude.)
Gratitude helps me plan my day so I can use the NO to stay away from the unimportant but urgent time wasters and stress makers that can push me/my immune system toward overload, and away from health.
These are important lessons for this adult child of chaos, who is grateful, today, to continue moving away from chaos and disease, and toward life and health.
©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
Fri 23 Mar 2012
Brilliant, funny, dear, kind, sensitive, and grief-stricken to a fault.
Many alcoholics – and the people who love them – are just plain terminally grief-stricken. Not the healthy form of grieving we go through when we’ve lost someone we love. I am talking about an all-encompassing grief for self.
I only know about this because I have been there myself. Right now, someone who is in this grief is in my prayers.
Her grief is palpable. Her grief over her past. Her future. Her failures. Her successes that weren’t enough. Her having had some sobriety and losing it. Her losing her sobriety and not being able to get it back. Her relationships going south.
So I watch her family ride the grief roller coaster – soaring to unbounded heights of joy and anxious expectation when she is sober. Then all plummeting again six feet under, when she drinks. She finds, in her drink, momentary comfort and the next reason for self-loathing. They find greater ammunition to doubt her ability to ever succeed. Their fear feeds her fear; her fear feeds their fear. It is a cycle. A downward spiral.
Guilt also runs this spiral. Guilt and shame and blame. They are all based in fear – a lack of faith that God forgives and wants us to forgive ourselves – that keeps this tragedy circling. We, as humans, remember, and torture ourselves, taking others with us while God keeps forgiving and yearning for us to forgive each other, and most of all, forgive ourselves. God forgives, plain and simple. Asking for and allowing that forgiveness means surrendering control; it means surrendering our own self-important “pride in reverse” of obsessing about how horrible we are. When we spend our time beating up on ourselves, it is still self-will; it is still self-centeredness.
This is big stuff: allowing that forgiveness and having the faith to allow it means there is no need to dredge up the past. God forgave it. No need to get anxious about the future. God has it. No need to stay focused solely on ourselves: God wants us all to help each other. There is someone for everyone to help.
Others affected by this grief are in my prayers: A dear friend called yesterday to tell me that her father – a longtime drug and alcohol abuser – had succeeded in this, his most recent suicide attempt.
His God, in his mind, could not forgive his infidelities, failures, and relapses, his not measuring up.
His God, in his mind, was not big enough to love him no matter what; not big enough to embrace his humanity; not big enough to allow him to trust the therapists and medications and treatments that would have helped ease his depression (anger turned inward) and terminal grief. He did not believe that somehow, somewhere, there was someone who could have benefitted from his incredible sensitivity, compassion, and talent as an artist. I have no idea whether or not he ever asked for forgiveness, or trusted that he was forgiven. I just know that she is having a hard time explaining grandpa’s death to her children.
And so my friend is grieving the for-real death of her dad, who, despite glimmers and shimmers of being present, sober, and healthy through the years, had been, in many ways, dead already by ongoing returns to alcohol, drugs, and self-grief. She and I will visit soon; we’ll do some grieving and some celebrating of his life.
Springtime brings a bittersweet grief for many. As life is bursting from every inch of earth, many feel despair over their own lack of life, youth, rebirth. Springtime is a big time for suicides and relapses. It is also a time for turning old earth under; asking for new life. Giving up our own ego-driven self-remorse — self-grief — to allow all manner of forgiveness to give way to a new way of life. It is possible. I know. I have seen it happen thousands of times.
If you have an addiction challenge, Alcoholics Anonymous has been a source of help for millions upon millions of people, worldwide. Online meetings and information are available at http://www.aa.org
If you are affected by the addictions of others, Al-Anon, a support group for family and friends of alcoholics, is also a source of experience, strength, and hope for millions of people worldwide. Visit http://www.al-anon.alateen.org
You, and the people who love you, deserve at least a chance at a life free of self-grief. People who once thought that they, too, had nothing to offer, are very willing to help you and yours take the first step.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
Mon 18 Feb 2013
With all the news about concussions: the long-term impact, cumulative impact, risk versus reward in letting kids play football and crash into each other versus experiencing teamwork, hard work, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, I believe we, as parents and people who love children, need to think about another type of concussion, one different than the crashing of heads in football helmets, or the smacking of the frontal lobe as a soccer ball is header by a teenaged Mia Hamm wannabe.
Please consider, if you will, the EMOTIONAL CONCUSSION.
If parents, sporting equipment companies, school systems, pediatricians, neuroscientists, researchers, journalists, and others in this debate would think about the emotional concussions suffered by children in homes run by addiction, abuse, and dysfunction, I believe we could help a lot more children.
I am talking about the one-in-four school aged kids who live in a home run by alcohol and drugs. If you add in the children living in homes run by some other type of dysfunction – addictions to food, sex, pornography, spending, gossip, religion, and control, plus those who live in homes where there is physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse, the percentage of children affected goes way up.
The life-in-dysfunction emotional concussion is a day-in-day-out brain bludgeoning by stress-induced hormones of adrenaline and cortisol. It wires developing brains for flight-or-fight. It desensitizes kids to insanity and violence. It sets people up to continue a family legacy of dysfunction.
These ongoing emotional concussions set up a cascade of disasters. And there’s no coach or trainer on the sideline holding up three fingers or checking for dilated pupils before sending the anxious child back into the game. Kids living in the abuse of constant emotional concussions have to stay in the game. There is no time out. There are no rules forcing them to sit out the next two or three games. The ongoing stress of emotional concussions is their way of life, wiring brains for hyper vigilance; arresting development; stunting emotional growth.
Like leopards born with their parents’ spots, these children are marked for re-dos of their parents’ lives. Think about it: the family with the single mom whose mother was a single mother, whose granddaughter becomes a single parent. The family with three or four generations of alcoholics. The family with suicides.
I speak for the children when I say that as much, if not MORE, attention needs to be dedicated to the study of EMOTIONAL concussions, and the PREVENTION of emotional concussions.
If the politicians supporting Pre-K education (which is a noble endeavor) truly want to make a difference, we have to start teaching parenting education to children when they are children. And then teach it all the way through school. And bring the parents in when the kids are young and teach the parents how to take care of themselves, so they are more likely to model sane and loving behavior to their children.
Taking these “drain the swamp” measures could truly help solve the $80 billion a year problem.* Helping people KNOW better and supporting them can help them do better, and help their children do even better.
If a parent saw the brain scans of a child stressed by a family addiction and abuse versus the brain scan of a child living in a relatively peaceful home, it might make a difference. It might help them realize that to care for their children they have to care for themselves. It might help them stop inflicting their own emotional concussions via addiction and other self-destructive behaviors.
This is a much saner fix than having emotionally concussed kids end up in treatment facilities, prisons, dead or able to access guns.
Hurt people hurt people. To stop the cycle, we’ve got to stop hurting people, especially the most vulnerable among us.
Resources that may be a help:
©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC