I didn’t learn about the ACEs test until a couple of years ago but it helped put some of the final pieces of the puzzle into place for me. I’d been through therapy, tried all the medications, failed miserably at “getting better” and had all but resigned myself to a life of misery and bitterness and regret when I came across an obscure study linking immune system dysregulation with adverse childhood experiences.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences, or “ACEs,” quiz asks a series of 10 questions (see below) about common traumatic experiences that occur in early life. Since higher numbers of ACEs often correlate to challenges later in life, including higher risk of certain health problems, the quiz is intended as an indicator of how likely a person might be to face these challenges.
Hell, I have health problems (boy do I!) and I am the poster child for an adverse childhood! Or so I thought. Until I actually took the ACEs test I wasn’t 100% sure that I could trust my interpretation of the past but I did know I felt broken after all I’d been through and now I was practically “allergic to the world” with my MCAS having gotten worse over the decades.
Here are the questions:
For each “yes” answer, add 1. The total number at the end is your cumulative number of ACEs.
Before your 18th birthday:
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
- 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?
- Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
- Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
- Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
- Was your mother or stepmother:
Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
- 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?
- Did a household member go to prison?
Unsurprisingly, as I went through each question, I found myself marking them “yes” one by one, all save one. Well two, but number 7 applied, it was just that my dad was the one who was chased down and burned by cigarettes and had his things broken in front of us kids by my mom rather than him beating on her. The last one, though, did not apply. No one in my close family had went to prison, but that one was a technicality.
Should some of them have went to prison? That’s a big yes! In all honesty, at one point in time, I should have, too, but it seems in all the madness my family had some sort of magic spell cast over it that gave us protection from some of the repercussions that befell everyone else who came into contact with us or lived the way we did so none of us went to prison and none of us died tragically.
Well, almost none of us. There’s always that symbolic firstborn-son-demanded-as-a-sacrifice thing, but that’s a different story for a different day.
So the ACEs test served two purposes for me. It gave me some final closure to my past and it also opened the door to the possibilities that my MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome, an immune system disorder) is actually intricately connected to, if not directly caused by, my childhood. It probably started before I ever left my mother’s womb and then was exacerbated once I arrived on the scene, the youngest of five in what I can only describe as my own personal house of horrors.
Which leaves me questioning whether or not generational trauma can also lay the foundation for diseases like mine to begin being passed down to the next in line even if the abuse stops? Has our very DNA been adversely affected by not only our own but our parent’s and grandparent’s adverse life experiences and have we inadvertently “cursed” our progeny with chronic illnesses like mine?
It’s a very real possibility and one I was just diving into with my wildly popular website on mast cell disease when COVID struck and my world completely spun out of control.
Also another story for another day.
Anyway, I highly recommend taking the ACEs test if you need some validation that you really did, indeed, have a shitty childhood. Sometimes we can’t trust ourselves to make these sorts of judgments so it’s nice to have the experts help validate us. 🙂