themighty logo

What My ‘Adverse Childhood Experience’ Score Doesn’t Show

Having a high score can be fantastic — SATs, reaching the Donkey Kong kill screen, credit ratings and bowling. The higher the number, the better. My SAT score was pretty average, I’ve never gotten past the first screen of Donkey Kong and I mostly throw gutter balls. I did receive a high score on a test I recently took — eight out of 10. Unfortunately, it was my adverse childhood experiences (ACE) score. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adverse childhood experiences are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood — abuse, neglect and household dysfunction — that can negatively impact a person’s health and well-being in adulthood. Generally, the higher the number of ACEs, the higher the risk of developing health problems later. Having resiliency, close relationships and positive experiences can help reduce the long-term effects of trauma.

I wouldn’t describe my childhood experiences as “adverse.” They were dangerous, terrifying and heartbreaking. My resilience, however, is greater than my ACE score. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I do. I have old battle wounds that rip open, and it takes all my energy to patch them up so I can heal. I live with depression, anxiety, self-doubt and shame. There are days they bring me to my knees, but I get back up. It’s hard and it hurts, but I don’t give up. I watched my parents be gobbled up by depression, addiction, fear, anger, violence and victimization. There was nothing left of them to give me, so I had to find my own way. I wore hope like a life jacket, found strong female role models, talked with people I trusted, poured myself into books and set my sights on college. Every choice I made was deliberate and well-thought-out to ensure I wouldn’t be gobbled up, too. I didn’t know I was being resilient. I just knew I wanted a better life.

Growing up, no one said, “Oh, Jenny. You’re so resilient.” They called me an old soul. They commented on how responsible and conscientious I was, how proud my parents must be of me. I went to college, married my best friend, started a family, created a safe, loving home for my daughters and excelled at work. I stood up to every challenge and kept moving forward. No one said, “Oh, Jenny. You’re so resilient.” They commented on how I made it all look so effortless. They commented on my strength and asked for my support, never thinking twice because they knew I could handle it. They said, “I could never be as strong as you.” They called it a compliment, but it broke my heart. I never wanted to be strong. I wanted to be a carefree kid who was loved and protected by happy, shiny people. I had to be strong.

I am so much greater than my ACE score. I’m not an eight. I’m a loving mother and steadfast wife. I’m a supportive sister. I’m a compassionate friend. I’m a fighter and a survivor. I’m creative and dingy; hilarious and smart. I feel deeply and my love for my family is limitless. I’m hopeful and a realist. I know that there will tough days that test me and try to break me, but I choose to face every day anyway.

“Oh, Jenny. You’re so resilient,” I say.

Getty image by stockfour