Tonier Cain Deserves an Evidence-Based Apology

Tonier Cain. Photo: Yi-Chin Lee/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Editor’s note: Over 15 years, Tonier Cain was arrested 83 times, and convicted 66 times. She was addicted to crack. She was a prostitute. She had four children and lost them to child protective services. Remarkably, she didn’t give up hope, and one day, she found someone in the system who knew about trauma and who didn’t give up on her. Cain now advocates for trauma-informed care in prisons and mental health facilities. She gives speeches around the country and the world. Cissy White was fortunate to attend a conference in North Carolina where Cain gave a presentation. This is Cissy’s reaction.
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When Tonier Cain gave a keynote presentation at the Benchmarks’ Partnering for Excellence conference in North Carolina, it took me months to recover from her speech.
Seriously. It was hard to stand after she spoke. When I did, I went right to a yoga mat in the self-care calm room for a while. I took off my high heels and curled up in a ball for a bit.
I’m still digesting her words. It’s not that the content was intense and heavy, though it was. It wasn’t that she talked about a ton of traumatic experiences she had survived – though she did.

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Anxious parenting: Parenting with ACEs

When my daughter was younger I was anxious. I didn’t have full-blown anxiety attacks, as some do. I had an almost constant anxiety motoring within me that would ebb and flow.

Sometimes, it lasted days. Other times, weeks. It always returned. When it did, it was hard to read, concentrate or focus. It was hard to eat or sleep or work.

It was hard to parent.

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How facing ACEs makes us happier, healthier and more hopeful

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Won’t it depress people?

Isn’t it triggering?

Aren’t the topics troubling?

Won’t it make people sad or upset?

Fear is what I often fight when talking about ACEs — adverse childhood experiences. It’s not my fear though. It’s the fear others have about all things ACEs. Adversity. Abuse. Addiction. Abandonment. Neglect. Dysfunction.

I don’t think this fear actually belongs to those of us who have lived with ACEs, who have lived through ACEs, who live with the aftermath of ACEs as adults.

When I found out about ACEs I was overwhelmed with joy. I felt radical relief. What I experienced was a profound sense of validation. It was epic.

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Putting resilience and resilience surveys under the microscope

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“Resilience is a message of hope,” says Debbie Alleyne, a child welfare specialist at the Center for Resilient Children at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, located in Villanova, PA.“It is important for everyone to know that no matter their experience, there is always hope for a positive outcome. Risk does not define destiny.”

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The single best medical appointment of my life was when a nurse practitioner asked about my adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

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Heidi Aylward spent much of 2015 going to doctor’s appointments for back and joint pain, dizziness, swelling of the legs and feet, high blood pressure, elevated platelets, heart palpitations and extreme fatigue.

2016 isn’t looking much better. She’s worn a heart monitor, had a bone marrow biopsy and continues to have blood work. She holds down a job as a full-time project manager, tends to her daughters, home and pets.

But she feels like her body is falling apart.

“I’m not going to make it to 60,” she said, “Why do I even contribute to my retirement savings account?”

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Paying attention as the most exhausting part of parenting with ACEs

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I used to sneak away for a hot bath as often as possible when my daughter was in the need-me-every-minute years. I’d soak long past when the water went cold and I felt guilty at times but sometimes I needed to be alone.

To read poetry.

To have some physical space.

To exhale.

I didn’t always know where or how to pamper or provide self-care to myself. There were few adults I trusted to help me. I believed in attachment-style parenting and wanted to be there all of the time for my daughter. And that even made me feel guilty when I craved alone time. Like any alone time I took meant not being present for my daughter.

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Poet/psychiatrist Dr. Diane Kaufman helps birds fly

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“I used to know how to fly,” says Bird, the main character in Bird That Wants to Fly, a children’s book written by child psychiatrist and artist, Dr. Diane Kaufman.

Bird walks wearily through her “sad and dreary” world of “blizzards and freezing rain and children with rocks and men with shot guns.” This trauma-sensitive tale tackles topics such as depression, violence and bullying in simple language. It offers a child-friendly take on post-traumatic stress that is both realistic and optimistic.

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Johnna Janis makes documentary “Invisible Scars” to heal her and others’ childhood trauma

Invisible Scars“It’s about so much more than childhood sexual abuse,” says Johnna Janis about her feature documentary, Invisible Scars, a remarkable film about her own sexual abuse and her journey of recovery.

Janis produced and directed the film with long-time friend, Sergio Myers, an award-winning filmmaker and owner of 7Ponies Productions. Together, they took on topics many would consider too triggering or taboo to address and did so without sensationalizing sexual abuse or trivializing trauma. The result is a personal, powerful and informative movie.

Invisible Scars, which has been a six-year labor of love, will have a red-carpet premiere March 29 at the Harmony Gold Theater in Los Angeles, CA. It received an Award of Merit at IndieFest 2015.

What started in 2010 as a “small little project” about one woman’s healing journey “expanded” when Janis learned about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study).

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Boston’s architect of community well-being: Pediatrician Renée Boynton-Jarrett

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Dr. Renée Boynton-Jarrett

The Aces movement is filled with pioneers. There are physicians, professors and researchers who treat, teach and study. There are leaders of non-profits who partner with individuals, neighborhoods and organizations. Volunteers who give time. Experts who draw on wisdom gained in academia, clinical practice, community work and personal experience.

But rarely does one person do all of these things while parenting three children under the age of thirteen.

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Trigger Points — finally, a parenting book for moms and dads who survived child abuse

 AtriggerpointsTrigger Points is the first book written, edited, published by survivors of childhood abuse geared towards parents who are survivors.
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THE FIRST!  THE ONLY!
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It includes essays from more than 20 men and women survivor parents with children of all ages, as well as resources, journal prompts and ways to join a survivor parent community.
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It’s the heart-brain child of Dawn White Daum and Joyelle Brandt who met in September of 2014 after Dawn wrote about raising a daughter as a survivor in Scary Mommy entitled Raising a Girl as a Survivor.
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They had not met or been friends but found each other through words.
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Words shared that made them feel less alone. Glorious words.
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Dawn and Joyelle had each done, as I have done, as others are doing ALL THE TIME – sought out resources and researcg,
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I’ve ached for information and support on topics such as:
  • parenting as a survivor
  • parent triggers
  • break-the-cycle parenting
  • support for parents who had abusive childhoods
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And found NOTHING.
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O.K., yes, maybe a chapter here and there or some mention or a study. Maybe a mention in a larger book.
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But nothing to and for and by other parent survivors that is practical and hopeful.
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