Skip to main content

Show & Tell


Show don't tell is the first bit of advice almost every writer gets.

Don't give facts if words can form an image. Don't say a song was fast-paced if words can tap quickly, instead, across the page.

It's good advice but when it comes to ACEs we need both. 

We need to tell and show and tell again. 

There's resistance. 

We need facts and data and proof. 

And we need stories. 

Both. Over and over and over.

I write about neglect and how it makes it hard to concentrate, in school, when there is lots of it. That's telling.

But what does that mean, really?

No one cleaned beds and sheets after I wet the bed and I didn't know how to use the washing machine. So during class, I'd worry about my smell as my eyes looked like they were on the chalkboard learning how to add and subtract. Even when the abuse had ended, neglect was the atmosphere i grew in. I didn't know sanitary supplies existed, made do on my own, at 11, with my period. So, for 25% of my time at school, I'd be hoping paper towel or tissue paper would be enough not to leave a blood stain on my pants. In school, I'd sit on my hands so not to leave a mark on the chair. Which means I didn't raise my hand in class. Which means the awkwardness of sitting on hands was better than the other choice. 

That's showing. And decades later, it is vulnerable to share.

I do so because neglect is not experienced as a two-syllable word.

It's air that permeates and anxiety and uncertainty with the concrete and physical world that pulls rank and colors over other experiences. Like learning or running or raising hands. 

Because it's not just that supportive parenting isn't happening but whole other experiences are happening, that aren't supportive, that inform the way we experience the world. 

Our beliefs and our bodies shape in this environment and that continues, for years or decades or forever.

That's telling. 

"Huge population without any experience of supportive parenting."

I heard those words yesterday said by Dr. Vincent Felitti. He was was giving a talk which I watched on You Tube (see below). 


He spoke about the ACE Study, the ACEs science and the entire video is powerful.

"Huge population without any experience of supportive parenting."

It's true. I smiled. Why had I never thought of it in such a concise way before? 

One sentence which, in fact, sums up the reason for this Parenting with ACEs group.

It's true. That's it, right there, the problem.

Yet, how often do we hear from these parents he is speaking of and about? How often do we hear directly? In lectures, workshops or even congressional briefings?

It's still rare.

The experience of that "huge population" without much or "any experience of supportive parenting" need to be heard.

Here. Elsewhere.

Because those stories, lives and experiences have impact and until we understand exactly why and how, in depth and in detail, how can any approach be truly trauma-informed?

How we were parented impacts us all, for life. 

How we feel in our skin. How we move through the world. How we regard relationships, at all. Relationships with ourselves, others and of course, children, whether we have them or not.

This is true for all of us.

Still, trauma is talked about as though it is past tense and it is never past tense for developmental trauma.

For so many, the pain of trauma is an experience that doesn't end. Ever. Not completely. That doesn't mean childhood doesn't end. It does, of course, and often, not soon enough. However, the pain of ACEs is still present for many adults, even adults who are aware and healing and sober and in recovery. 

"Huge population without any experience of supportive parenting."

That experience lasts.

It stays present, into adulthood, in one way or another just as the concept of family, for those with supportive parents, doesn't end at 18.

ACEs are not only about childhood and children or parents. They are about adults. 

And for parents with ACEs who have parents with ACEs and children, the path is unmarked.

ACEs are about grandparents and the grandchildren and relationships that are or aren't. That are dangerous or strained or difficult or non-existent.

Some cut ties with some or all family members who are not safe or "trauma informed" but that doesn't mean there is closure.

We never stop being related to our family. We never stop craving connection even if, especially if, connection is not safe or possible.

It's human and primal, but what many learn to live with is 'without'.

That void or pain might be what's most available and present or possible. This too must impact health as well as happiness. This too shapes our times at holidays and day to day.

What do we tell our children about why they can't see certain relatives and why we may have living parents they don't know? How we do or don't connect honestly, with others, who do have experiences of supportive parenting, how often, they even judge, assuming nothing justifies not talking or being there for a parent. 

We need to show and tell and tell and show. Over and over and over.

Showing, 1

There is an excerpt, below, from a survivor parent "On Grieving the Loss of a Parent Who's Still Alive" on the Trigger Points Anthology website. I have a decent relationship with my own mother at this point. I found out last year that my biological father is dead, which for me, was a relief. I didn't know him but knew him to be homeless and so I always worried about him being cold or hungry. This holiday is less harrowing for me. But there have been many hard years and this year is hard for so many. Sometimes, grief is constant, and comes with life and living parents and not death.  

The decision to permanently cut off contact with my parents was almost anti-climactic. After years of trying off and on to figure out how to have a relationship with them without sacrificing myself, I realized that I was trying for the impossible. I was embroiled in yet another abusive drama, in which I was somehow to blame for a parent’s alcoholic misbehavior. This familiar ebb and flow of dysfunction had played out so many times in so many ways that I realized I wasn’t angry any more, I was just sad. I looked into my future and saw it play out for the rest of my life and I knew I just couldn’t do it anymore. My husband and I were planning to have a child. Was this what I wanted my child to grow up watching? Were these people going to have a positive impact on my child? No.

In the 10 years since I made that decision, I have never once regretted it. I am a happier person without them in my life. It’s sad, but true. However, there is no rite of passage for the child who has had to make a choice between her mental health and a relationship with her parents. There is no supportive community gathering around offering up condolences and casseroles. There is just a long, lonely adjustment to the reality that you are, in a way, an orphan now.

When my parents pass away, I will get a call, or an email, from some relative. I will be asked if I will attend the funeral, but I will not, because I have already done my grieving. I have grieved the parts of that relationship that were good. I have grieved for what could have been. I have grieved for all the ways I needed them to show up for me that they were not capable of. And I am done. And I am angry that I did it alone, with no one to turn to me and say “I am sorry for your loss.”

I am angry that in addition to losing my family, I lost out on the rite of passage, on the support of community, on the acknowledgement of this very significant transition in my life. There is no ritual to support a child who has lost her family in this way, and there should be. It takes incredible bravery to do this in the face of cultural backlash, to give up the comfort of the known pain for the unknown.  To believe in spite of all previous evidence that I deserve better, and to walk away from people who will never love me the way I want them to.

I will never regret the decision I made, but I wish that it wasn’t such a lonely choice. 


Add Comment

Comments (0)

Copyright © 2023, PACEsConnection. All rights reserved.
Link copied to your clipboard.