Surviving Myself – Andrew Willis (ACE Study)
Dr. Jeremy Richman Ph.D., founder of The Avielle Foundation discusses Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) in his presentation The Science of Violence and Compassion, as a factor that could lead to violent or aggressive behavior. The following guest blog from Andrew Willis’ first-hand experience confronting his own ACE’s originally appeared on the Stop Abuse Campaign blog series and is from his 2015 speech at the Stand Up For Passion event in NYC.
It was a great job. Jetsetting around the world, managing integrated marketing communications for global brands like Citi, IBM and HP. The cliche, “It’s Hong Kong, it must be Monday” and stopover weekends in attractive cities my reality.
I returned home to a beautiful 6,000 square foot stone house in Connecticut, my wife and two children. An ideal life. Work hard. Play hard. Good friends. Great family. Two vacations a year; sailing in the summer, skiing in winter. Church on Sundays.
Then I woke up.
Staring into the bright clinical lights of the Very Intensive Care Unit in a hospital far from home. I’d swallowed 300 Tylenol PM and wished the world goodbye. Almost a week before.
Leather straps hung off my bed by my feet and arms where they secured me.
My veins had coursed with crystal meth. My arms… bruised and punctured. My goodbyes said, not heard.
I had never even smoked weed until I was over 50. Taking drugs was my way of medicating away the pain and humiliation of remembering my youth. Still today much of my childhood years are cloaked under the shrouds of secrecy that protect our sanity but drive our depression.
Why? I had to know why this happened to me. Was it just my bad choices or was something else at play. I guess I went in search of excuses – but I found answers. I found I was not the only one. In fact I was no different to about a quarter of people. One in four of you in this room is hiding a secret from childhood.
My search for the answer, combined with the love of my two boys, family and friends has kept me alive.
My search initially led me to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study). A massive study of childhood trauma and its impact on health carried out by Kaiser Permanente with the CDC.
The answer at first overwhelming. The answer it affects us all.
The epicenter of the problem- abuse and neglect of children.
The higher your ACE score-the more types of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction you lived through as a child- the worse your health outcomes throughout your life.
My ACE score is 5. That explained a lot of my life. A life I enjoyed, but full of the stress of secrets. Secrets require lies. And lies spread, a bit like flies.
Someone with a score of one is twice as likely to be an alcoholic, twice as likely to suffer from chronic depression, and one-and-a-half times as likely to experience serious financial problems.
Someone with an ACE score of 4 is a staggering 40 times more likely to use intravenous drugs. And 114% more likely to have 50 or more sexual partners throughout their lives. More than 1 in every 10 of us attempt suicide every year.
When your score reaches six, statistically you can kiss 20 years of your life goodbye
A score of 9, well they are often the cases reported on shows like Criminal Minds.
The ACE research made me realize I wasn’t the only one. I was harmed by the boarding school teacher who took me into his bed at night when I was ten. An older boy who had raped me shortly before. An entire culture who thought kids needed to be beaten until they bled. All these things I lived through as a boy made me who I was. The soldier I was. The businessman I was. The husband I was. The father I was. Woven by invisible thread to the meth, 300 tylenol, promiscuous sex through to the bright lights glaring in my eyes and the nurse beside me noting that I had woken up.
Abuse is a public health problem. America’s biggest public health problem but one we don’t like to discuss. After all who wants to talk about incest and children murdered?
We’re all responsible for our behaviors, but not our histories. Neurologists show how ACE’s affect children, and the adults they become. Science. Not rhetoric.
Science affecting us all. Documented suffering on a universal scale. Costing American taxpayers a trillion dollars every year. More money than I can imagine.
$1 trillion has twelve zeros. It is over $200 billion more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Australia . It’s more than the combined GDPs of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland.
Abuse and neglect are predictable and preventable. Prevention that stops massive human suffering and saves enormous sums of taxpayer’s money.
Changes in public policy protect children from most ACE’s.
The Stop Abuse Campaign is focused on helping communities make the health and safety of children their first priority. We achieve this through educating the public, legislators and public officials about state and local government policy changes that protect a child victim’s first right; not to be a victim at all.
We’re working with the community in Erie County, turning the child murder capitol of New York into one of the safest places in America to grow up.
We start with strong local leadership. Educate them about ACE’s and how to prevent them. Coordinated community responses the most effective.
- Preventing domestic violence, in the homes and in the family courts, happens by using an evidence based solution. The Quincy Solution. Stops Domestic Violence.
- Helping struggling mothers rather than persecuting them for the crime of youth pregnancy, through evidence based maternal home visiting programs achieves incredible, well documented results. And it leaves you wondering why states like New York are cutting funding today?
- If it takes a village to raise a child that means those villages must change old fashioned beliefs and stigmas that maintain the status quo.
- Now I’m sure many of you would be shocked if a registered sex offender moved into the house next door but the reality is 9 out of 10 sex offenders are not registered. Not prosecuted. Protected by archaic laws called statutes of limitations that protect rapists not children.
The sad truth is Adverse Childhood Experiences affect children at pandemic rates. And the aftermath affects us all. ACE’s can be prevented through public policy.
And that’s why I have dropped the corporate world of high pay and even better bonuses. Why I work for nothing, eating at friend’s houses and worrying about paying the rent.
The only way I can continue to live my life. The only way I can continue to drive the right of a child to grow up free of abuse and neglect is if you dig deep in your pockets tonight and donate what you can.
Donate $7, one dollar for every speaker tonight. Or donate an awful lot more because tonight’s speakers deserve your donation and right now deserve your applause.
Thank you for being here. Thanks for listening, And thanks for your generosity. With your help we will stop abuse and neglect.
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