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.

It’s not that my own trauma was triggered, though that happened.

It was the way she spoke about being let down so often by the systems she was often in and how often she was re-traumatized by them.

It’s the way she challenged my thinking so that I can no longer think about adverse childhood experiences without thinking about all of the ACEs – adverse childhood experiences and adverse community experiences and how intertwined they are.

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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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