Adverse Childhood Experiences 6: Reactivity

I hear people say, “Why is this person so reactive?” “They are suspicious.” “They just aren’t nice. Why can’t they be nice?”

When I get a new patient in clinic who is not friendly and looks suspicious at my questions and is not warm, I do not react. I assume that this person has been hurt and has a past that has a lot of dark in it.

Recently I was talking to a person about chronic pain. We were nearly out of time and I was describing Adverse Childhood Experience scores.

“I have the highest possible score,” he said.

I said, “I believe you.” and waited. He had my attention.

He did not want to tell me about it and he knew we were out of time. “I ran away to live on the streets when I was six.” he said flatly.

I said, “Yes, if things were that bad, I think you would have the highest possible score.”

That was the end of that visit. I gave him the link to the CDC website about ACE scores and studies and set up a follow up.

But think about that. He ran away at age six and lived on the streets. Not with a sibling or a parent or an adult. He was by himself.

He told me a little more on the second visit. I knew he could read. I pictured street classes under bridges. “How did you learn to read?” I asked.

“The authorities kept picking me up. I would run away from foster care as soon as they placed me. Usually the same day. When I was fifteen, a judge said “If you get your GED, I will emancipate you.” It took me a year and three months, but I got my GED.”

So is this your image of a street person? All losers? All crazy? This is a man who left because the street was safer than home and got a GED living on the streets.

He said, “My life has all been like that.”

I said, “Chronic pain is not exactly surprising then, is it?”

There is a song by The Devil Makes Three with this line: “I grew up fast and I grew up mean, there’s a thousand things inside my head I wish I ain’t seen. Now I just wander through a real bad dream, feeling like I’m coming apart at the seams.” That song speaks to me and speaks about the people who view the world with suspicion and fear and whose porcupine defensive spines are quickly raised if they feel threatened. I do well with them because I am the same way and I mostly don’t react to them. I don’t tell them to calm down. I don’t get scared or angry. I stay present and wait. And sometimes they will tell me what happened to them.

How can any of us blame an adult for their fearful terrible childhood? Instead we need to give them space and not reject them out of hand. All that does is reinforce the damage. I think that people can heal, but we must make room for them and behave ourselves and not react.

The photo is my daughter at the Wooden Boat Festival in 2009.

Thank you for this

Oh Beloved

Oh thank you from my deepest being from all of me from every cell for this touch this kiss this day this cat this daughter this son this family this work this rose this farm box these vegetables tomatoes in my yard and deer outside the fence in town crossing at the crosswalk

the motor working the sailboat flying across the water my aunt laughing my uncle hanging the hammock up in the house the farmer’s market the panda trailer friends new bunnies who barely have fur and sniff at my alien scent in my hand teen bunnies who delight in celery patients and patience and enough

books a box from Wisconsin with a vintage suit fake fur collar and cuffs that unbutton and a woman in a wheelchair laughing when I show her the collar and cuffs and getting through another week and catching up on some of the paperwork a massage to look forward to music and song and a photograph of my father at 6 and my aunt at 3 and my great grandfather and great grandmother in about 1900, he was born in 1881 showing the photos to my daughter and my niece

physical delight that morning comes the wind in the sails of the boat hugs hands touching me and me touching the taste of the tomatoes blueberries a cream puff with whipped cream and strawberries soft cashmere yarn on sail in downtown and my daughter wants just the right hat knit of this yarn just so and it must not come down to her eyebrows we all laugh

loons mink crows raccoons deer a flock of cedar waxwings by the church who stop curious when I try to do their call cat fish frog nuthatches snapping turtle small bunnies

I am afraid to feel happy happy doesn’t stay I hold it away how can I be happy what disaster will strike next but little by little Oh Beloved I let the feeling rise and feel happy

Oh Beloved thank you for this and all

My photograph of common mergansers on Lake Matinenda, Ontario, Canada, 8/2015