I was first introduced to the aces model by Dr Andrew Coward (Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) lead west midlands combined authority) I first met Dr Coward, when I gave my personal story on the impact on a young person, if they are unable to access mental health services. Alongside Citizens U.K, I campaigned and won the majority pledges which changed the availability of mental health services for young people. Over 400 community and faith leaders, including Dr Coward (acting C.C.G at the time) gave their pledge also.
So I was delighted when Dr Coward later invited me to attend a film screening for a short film called, ‘Resilience’. The film was being promoted by Birmingham freedom project a fantastic project focused on helping those who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence, and as a result, experience trauma. They deliver the recovery toolkit programme to help build resilience, and a better standard of living for families.
As I sat and watched the film it was like I was the only one in the room…..
It burned so deep into my psyche that I didn’t move for those 60 minutes.
It confirmed all my, intuitive, practical and theoretical experiences, during my own trauma and the trauma I witnessed in my worklife. THIS was the reason I set up Survive2Thrive.
As I watched this short film, I felt ellation, that there was something out there that articulates the lives of those who have suffered trauma. How susceptible anyone can be. Trauma is unbiased, it can cause a whole new trajectory to your life, changing the course – potentially forever.
This film articulated the biological, psychological and sociological implications to those who have suffered trauma. How those who have been traumatised, only pass the trauma on and the cycle continues. It was proved in America and Scotland that this model is effective enough to create, real change to our public health systems, for the better.
The film explains what trauma can do to the brain, the chemicals that are released and as a result of this formula, how it affects the choices you make and ultimately shortened life expectancy.
When I was 21, I had a huge fear of dying young like my mother. My mother’s name is Sharon Diana Patterson, she was of carribean descent and the 1st generation of our family, to be born in England. she was known as the ‘sickly’ one out of the eight siblings. Her parents found her being sick as a ploy for attention, and would beat her or ignore her when she stated how sick she felt. I guess they just didn’t understand she was a child with thalassemia sickle cell.
It became apparent to my mother just how sick she really was when she ran away from home and her bouts of sickness got worse. By the time she was 27 years old she slipped into a coma and died.
“When I was 21, I had a huge fear of dying young like my mother.”
I thought I had gotten over this angle of mortality, however it triggered me heavily. I ask myself, ‘So after my mother died I then endured years of traumatised people passing on their trauma to me, and as a result, I was going to die early? it wasn’t even superstition? it was a scientific fact that those who have experienced toxic stress, are highly prone to;
- Increased vulnerability to addiction
Over-reactivity and hypersensitivity to possible threat.
Increased stress response as adults
Greater vulnerability to mental illness
Greater vulnerability to physical illness.
Migraines and chronic pain conditions.
Compromised immune system.
Depending on your ace score (amount of trauma experienced) would depend on how your health will be impacted. So for example My ace score was 9 and above…..i was doomed by the looks of it;
9+ ace score =
Shortened life expectancy by 20 years, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, you name it I was 20 times more likely to – due to my level of trauma……And this was from the ‘Resilience film documentary?
I had yet to attend the training session, How am I going to feel when I begin to learn about the science behind the trauma?
Part 1 of Trauma Training
I had not really consciously experienced the physical manifestation of my trauma before.
It was scary and interesting all at the same time. Since graduating from university in social sciences, I have learnt new dimensions to who I am and why I do what I do. On this day I attended an ABC of Trauma ACES training. I had what I like to call an agent smith moment –
Like in the film the matrix any character, can be taken over by agent smith. And once he has taken over, his will, overpowers their very existence.
The morning of the training I found my mind to be willing to go, but my body was not. Everything seemed a chore and took twice as long – self-sabotage was kicking in. I managed to only be 3 mins late. I was shocked! and pleased that I wasn’t that late, all at the same time (Sophina 1 – Sufina 0)
‘Sufina’ is the past me, the childhood version, that suffered the most. Sufina is my sabbatore Whereas ‘Sophina’ is the new me, the more ‘aware’ me.
Reflecting back I would say I was experiencing my own ABCs to MY OWN trauma that day.
As we make our way to our seats, some trainee members find it hot and need the air conditioning on. Others are finding it too cold so they need it off! Hell’s kitchen or when hell freezes over?, I chuckle to myself. A part of me knows that im begginning to disassociate, but hey I was too busy sweating and shivering.
Entering Hells Kitchen
We start the session… I found myself liking the trainer, he was doing a great job getting stuck into his session. He began with, what the ABCs of trauma actually were. The ABC of trauma can be described in three parts;
A – Acceptance
Understanding of aces
Understanding of trauma informed approach
Understanding the science
What happened to you?
How we stay curious should we ask routinely?
How we enable our clients to stay curious
I’m thinking to myself ‘So I’m meant to accept this? I mean i thought i had, accepted the ‘bad’ things that had happened and had moved through life relatively ok. But in this moment I was a baby being fed steak and being told to digest quickly. I felt a whole new dynamic to my traumatic experiences open up.
A part of me (the academic) was excited by the new revelations. To learn a new piece of the puzzle that is our persona – sophina. This part of me was jumping up and down for joy excited to get to work to find the next clue. Then there was the other part of me, the child me. She stood silent, in shock and sadness. she was so sad for us. Her heart was broken.
I began to shrink in that room as the trainers voice slowly echoed out of my ear shot, I felt so alone. I wasn’t like anyone in here, is anyone else feeling what im feeling? I hear myself shout in my head, ‘SNAP out of it sophina! pay attention, you are here for a reason – deal with this after..’
I snap out of it, im back into the room, back to the present, Im sitting in an enclosed space with 15 other professionals from various council bodies. I was being triggered BIG time. The most intense I had ever felt. I was so heavily triggered i could not sit still, I was rubbing my legs, I was sweating profusely, my heart was beating, I needed to get out of here.
“all of this could ‘ve been different had I had better caregivers – someone who cared enough to stick around, nurture me, until I could fly.”
Before I was so numb to my trauma that when I spoke of it I didn’t even flinch, I was so flippant. Since having feelings, real feelings, it was harder to wear a mask. like a deck of cards I was truly feeling shuffled.
Last year I found out I had hyperthyroidism (an autoimmune disease) and went untreated for almost three years. I could now see how my experiences have made me ill. how my body had responded to those experiences. How my response and toxic stress pressed on my mental health and made me ill.
I made myself so ill I gave myself another condition that gave me further health complications. I begin to feel a panic attack coming. In my mind I begin to talk myself out of it.‘ It’s ok Sophina, it’s a blessing. It is all making sense.
Insanely, at least you now know what you must do next for your healing and for others. This is real and it’s ok.’ then I asked myself, ‘surely this can’t be right? How do I change this? I have to experience the life I want to live, NOW! What will happen to my children? My children!’
I was freaked out in this small training room as everything made sense. The gruesome reality of my life was presented to me in this small space/time continuum. Life had led me to here of all places on all days. It was in that moment that I realised that if I did not focus on my self care, I would soon become part of the statistics stated in this training. So far, historically, I was fitting the bill. I sat there fascinated, angry, shocked, intrigued, sad, happy, trapped yet emancipated, hysterical, yet calm. The metamorphosis had begun.
Part 2 of Trauma Training – ‘Behaviour’
The Metamorphosis – Welcome Agent Smith
My dark toxic emotions had never had their chance to shine in the spotlight..until today. During Lunch I went to the ladies, trying to get my ‘mask’ together, it was too late, my whole being had been morphed into what only felt like an agent smith moment . ‘So all of this could ‘ve been different had I had better caregivers? – someone who cared enough to stick around, nurture me, until I could fly.’
I paced the bathroom, thinking of all the people in my life that took my power away, had hurt me, when I had no choice, or understanding.
I felt snarly, raw and vulnerable, negative angry, and feral, I prayed no one came in and saw me, as I paced and seethed from 20+ years of venom, anger, resentment, and memories of those who had hurt me and should have known better. I reflected back on all the times I had made harmful choices, as a result of the subconscious perception I held about myself.
A little while after I had got myself together, I was approached by two ladies also in attendance to the training that day. They chatted with me for awhile about my company and told me to keep going, it is something that is needed for our young people.
I felt my spirit relax a little. I did find it funny, how once again life shows me to have faith and humour, as 2 mins ago I was an exploding volcano that had morphed into agent smith, fighting with myself not to be completely taken over by my buried hate and anger.
Trying to put my ‘mask’ back on. having to submit to going back into training slightly dishevelled with scorch marks, a bit of soot and a few low burning flames here and there. It was heartwarming to know that my fate made it so that as I reentered ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ two women (unbeknownst to them) – metaphorically were holding a fire extinguisher, a damp cloth, and a couple of smiles.
Part 3 of trauma training – ‘Curiosity’
So curiosity killed the cat? I think so, a part of me died that day. Another part of ‘Sufina’ I no longer resonate with. Yes I have all of these dark moments in my life, but they have helped birth a beautiful, powerful woman who has survived horrendous times in her life, who is still standing. She’s still willing to offer support and healing to those in need. I know how it feels to be abandoned, exploited, & invalidated.
But I now know what it feels like to be accepted, wanted, liked, loved, nurtured. I was certain that just like those that gave me trauma, it was the responsibility of others to give me my joy.
The 20+ years of searching for ‘the one’ to bring me my peace lead me right back to me.
I was made to feel abandoned and exploited, I had already experienced several traumatic experiences, by the age of 6 years old. Pathways in my brain developed and a part of my programming was formed, creating low self worth, and an unsafe view of the world.
My traumatised self, had a strong hold for a long time. The epiphany that is ‘My Aces an I’– as painful as the reality is,- is the ultimate epiphany, that set me free. I now know that it is possible to heal from trauma, and live a life that is truly for me and IS me.
“We become victims that find comfort in defeat…”
Here’s what I found helped my journey to healing:
- Getting connected to self – Try a new hobby, meditation was great for me, but find what suits you.
- Address the trauma – face what happened, various therapies are available, process & make a plan
- Habit making/breaking – this is hard but keep going, any ‘good’ habits can be made and any ‘bad’ habits can be broken.
- language – watch how you speak about yourself your mind is over hearing this and will believe you
- Addressing ego – take accountability, allow an open mind, try new ways to understand yourself and others
- Build compassion – understanding what happened to those who have harmed you can help the healing process
- Learn forgiveness – more importantly for the self, to forgive is to live again.
I’m not a doctor, but I feel like I have gained an honorary ‘PHD’ in trauma from life! I hope some of the points mentioned above guide you to your authentic way to healing. You must remember to be kind to yourself, (if you don’t then who will?) as part of habit making why not incorporate mindfulness to your day, it encourages you to be kind to yourself and helps relieve stress. Remember the chemicals we release can either hinder or benefit our journey to wellness.
“My happiness IS a choice and my resilience is a superpower”….
It’s not what most of us want to hear but it is our responsibility to get to know how we attain our happiness, without dependency on another.
My journey thus far has taught me how to release my abandonment issues, connect to others and build healthy relationships. My mental health is as delicate as china, and needs to be monitored and handled with care. My happiness IS a choice and my resilience is a superpower.
I’m not perfect and there are still days I contemplate defeat. I’m grateful it is now only days rather than years and that in itself, shows me my how far i’ve transitioned from surviving to thriving.
Take a stand on your health and well being, get to know who you are and why you do what you do. It takes a lot of courage to say trauma is part of my past and I no longer want it to have power over my future. It’s the first step to empowerment.
What would the world look like if we focused on our inner world as much as we did our external one? My triggers may never go away but I have found my way to cope and continue to pursue a life where I am thriving rather than just surviving.
If we do not go within and shed light on the dark corners of our trauma, we become victims that find comfort in defeat. We go without…
It was scary at first, as I did not know who I was, without trauma. It was like a clean slate for my ‘whole being’. No trauma, no conditioned beliefs, free to build a life that encourages healing, growth and thriving. I wish this for every Human Being on the planet. We will all suffer trauma at some point in our lives, it’s what we do with it, that will make a change to our world.