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  • Writer's pictureBritany Libutty

What are A.C.E.s and Why Do They Matter?

When we look at chronic illness sometimes we get stuck in looking for the exact one thing that caused it all. We ask, "What did I do wrong?" "How did I end up here?" "Or what exactly do I have to take or do to fix it."

The western medical model would have us believe that if we could just pinpoint our chronic illness journey's takeoff to just one thing, then we could take a pill and magically get well again- quickly.

The reality is that recovery is a long journey. We are talking at least many months, if not a few years potentially. (That's the camp I am in.)

Your chronic illness is more than likely not just 'one thing'. 'One thing' may be your biggest stressor, or 'one thing' may have started the cascade of dominoes falling over into one another until you ended up with a huge pile of a mess of conditions and diagnoses.

Something we need to consider on this journey on the way back to wellness is our childhood A.C.E.s

What are ACEs?

A.C.E.s are Adverse Childhood Experiences- or in easier terms... the bad stuff that happened when you were a child. These experiences cause trauma. Trauma stored in the body and mind is directly linked to manifested chronic illness and your odds of getting chronically ill.

There is a 10 point scale for your ACEs. Here is a break down of the points system:

Five questions/points are personal. They cover: physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.

Five questions or points are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.

Here is a quiz for identifying which ACE's you may have so that you can get an idea of your childhood trauma load:

Every time that you select 'yes' as your response to the question asked, you get one point.

The higher your ACE score overall, the higher your risk of health and social problems.

Your risk of disease, social and emotional problems also increase with every 'yes' you mark.

I won't run you down on statistics, but it is estimated that for each point over 4, your projected odds at dealing with chronic illness, social and/or emotional problems as an adult become increasingly bleak.

I want to point out that this test isn't the be all end all. It does not factor in every variable that can affect your score, or how well you can cope with trauma as a child.

Taking the test doesn't account for:

  • Stressors outside the household (e.g., violence, poverty, racism, other forms of discrimination, isolation, chaotic environment, lack of services)

  • Protective factors (e.g., supportive relationships, community services, skill-building opportunities)

  • Individual differences (i.e., not all children who experience multiple ACEs will have poor outcomes, and not all children who experience no ACEs will avoid poor outcomes

Please understand that high ACEs score is simply an indicator of greater risk.


I've taken this quiz and I have a whopping 9 out of 10 points.

I lived a life as a child always very scared and disconnected from my family for safety reasons despite loving them and their flaws deeply. I had to function very inappropriately grown up at a young age in order to try and protect myself and survive the obstacles I was given as a child. I don't want to share all of my personal information online, so I will not be giving in depth dealings of my childhood, but I did do things to help create a safer and more stable environment for myself as I become more independent. I figured out at a really young age that home was not a place I wanted to be more than I absolutely needed to, and by freshman year of high school I was finding enough to do outside of home so that I only really needed to come home to sleep at night and would leave again in the morning.

I did not have a good relationship with my mother. I will not elaborate on that any more than that. I wasn't allowed to see my father as a child for reasons that never made sense, and unfortunately that robbed me of a parent that would have sheltered me and loved me and treated me well- thankfully he is in my life now and is absolutely amazing.

My siblings were dealing with their own adverse experiences along with me and we all were dealing with it in our own ways. I felt alone, adrift and felt a longing for a normal family. So, I found protective relationships in friends and their families.

I thank most deeply the parents of my friends that had me over for countless nights of sleepovers and would joke that I was like their 2nd or 3rd child. Honestly, I was because a lot of those friends' families were the ones that would give me hand me downs to wear, take me out on family trips, feed me meals, and would never complain when I constantly randomly showed up at their house with their child, needing help but not having the voice to ask.

I found strategies to cope with the hardships I faced. I showed up early to school showered at school when our water was turned off. I sing the praises of before and after school clubs/activities/groups that allowed me a reason to leave the insecurity and violence at home early each morning, and allowed me to stay late in the evenings. I was always intelligent, and I used my academic mind to earn praise and attention in positive ways in school.

I loved to read and I escaped my life through reading books, one of the reasons that the story "Matilda" has always resonated so deeply in me. I became fixated on World War Two survivor stories. I felt deeply for the terrified, malnourished, abused, and trapped victims of the Holocaust. I admired their strength and perseverance and figured if they could dig deep and make it through concentration camps and ghettos and oppressions throughout Europe than I could deal with what was happening in my home.

As I got older as was just on the verge of adulthood, I began to look for community resources, programs, or groups I could use to my advantage to find food, or clothing, or whatever they could offer that would help me. As friends prepared for college by taking SATS, ACTS, writing letters and essays and debating where they may go, I -one of the "smartest" friends in the group- listened to them blankly. I had no one in my life telling me I could or should go to college. I had no guidance or expectation beyond making it through the day or the week. I was turning gears in my head, not thinking about college rather I thought about counting down the days until I was 18 because I naively thought that I had to wait until that age until I could move out of my mother's house and become independent.

The A.C.E.s I had experienced throughout my childhood were like this huge fence keeping me trapped. When I moved out on the day of my 18th birthday into temporary shelter at yet another friend's house (her parent took me in while my friend was dorming in college), it was the first time I was able to breathe and feel really safe in where I was and I could begin to work on finding where I wanted to go in life. While I was still very lost, confused and affected by the experiences I had as a child, I was able to start examining them and begin what will be a lifetime of recovering from them.


The reason I implore you to look into what your A.C.E. score is is because knowing about the trauma you hold inside tells you a lot about the state that your mind and body was in before chronic illness moved in.

I have no doubts that my A.C.E.s have affected me profoundly, but I refuse to be controlled by them or allow them to harm me now. If you have an ACE score the is moderate to high, I implore you not to find terror in it. Rather, look at it as a another piece of information you have in your chronic illness puzzle. This may be something you need to look into in order to move through your chronic illness journey.

Often times we find that moderate to high A.C.E.s will impact the limbic system- or your "fight" or "flight" response (reminder there is also "freeze" and "fawn".)

Your limbic system being calm is an important part of your healing journey because your body heals while you "rest and digest" (or are in the parasympathetic state.) If you suffer from a large amount of trauma from your childhood, you most likely have limbic system dysfunction and are in a hyperarousal state because your body and mind are used to looking out for danger and helping you respond to that danger.

Before your body is going to be able to tolerate a lot of treatments, medications, supplements, or processes you need to do in order to get well, you are going to need to be able to get your body and mind back into a state of relaxation and feeling safe. If we aren't coming from that place of feeling safe due to ACEs, it will make our healing journey more difficult or stall it.

Knowing your A.C.E.s helps you understand the importance of treating the body and the mind in healing.

Another blog I wrote about ways to treat the mind with the body can be found here:

Included are some tools that may help your mind recover.

I hope this post was useful. Happy Healing. <3

(Image made by myself on Canva)

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