"It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah..."
–Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah
ACE score. Answering yes to questions like:
Prior to your 18th birthday...
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 Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?
These questions are from the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and household challenges and later-life health and well-being.
Eight-seven percent of those in the original study had more than one ACE. And according to the research, with an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent.
The research is clear, but that this doesn't mean those with multiple ACEs will suffer chronic illness later in life; there are many factors involved and some people are more resilient than others, especially when they have supportive and loving relationships post-trauma. And those who get early intervention and primary prevention services.
In Tulare County, where I grew up, 43% had 1-3 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which again can include witnessing violence at home and/or experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as a child; and/or household substance use, mental illness, or incarceration. And 16% had 4 or more.
In Santa Cruz County, where we now live, nearly a quarter of adults (24.9%) had four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
But it was the visceral memories of growing up with some of these ACEs that triggered me and brought me back to the fear and the pain. We were at the 30-year celebration of Kidpower conference, a global nonprofit organization that's trained nearly six million children, adults, educators and peace officers on safety skills when dealing with sexual abuse, bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, domestic violence, and more.
I volunteer as a padded instructor, helping to teach others empowering self-defense skills when all other safety options are exhausted. God forbid we'll ever need them, but unfortunately too many do every day. My wife works for Kidpower and so we made it a family affair with our two girls and a group of over 100 amazing individuals working hard to keep children, teens and adults safe, empathic and respectful to one another.
After learning more about ACEs during the conference (and getting triggered), then some of us watched The Mask You Live In, which follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it, especially if you have children, boys or girls.
This was the second time I've seen the movie and it triggered me further. I was compelled to go find our two girls who were being chaperoned by wonderful volunteers along with all the other children attending with their families, doing fun kid things while the rest of us attended the conference.
I just wanted to see them, to tell them I loved them. They were happy to see me, but also engrossed in their kid activities, making address books so they could all contact each other, their new found friends. Healthy kids doing fun, healthy things. Amen.
Then I went for a walk on the beach, listening to music to clear my head. The Leonard Cohen song came on, Hallelujah, but even more poignant version (for me) sung by Jeff Buckley. I gazed out over the Pacific Ocean as the line "It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah..." echoed in my head.
I am here. I am alive. I am loved and supported. I love and support others. I can help make a difference. It's a warm and it's a healing Hallelujah.
All forms of violence are preventable. Early intervention programs for children and teens can help. We can all help. Support your local service providers that provide primary prevention. Be an advocate for those who need support and safety.