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Childhood trauma has lasting impacts

Tony Oltmann is a bi-vocational pastor serving two churches near Mille Lacs Lake and working in foster care during the week. He also serves as co-chair of the Crow Wing Energized ACEs and Resiliency Coalition. Submitted

Where were you? I bet you remember. I bet there's lot about the day you remember. And, even if you don't remember, your body does.

What happened? Doesn't matter really. Could have been something truly magnificent, your child's first word (my son's was "yellow"), walking across the stage at graduation (I strutted), or seeing the sun set over the ocean. Could have been something downright tragic, a car accident (after a rollover accident, I was anxious the next time I rode in a car of the same make and model), maybe it's when a loved one died (I'll never forget the day my best friend's mom died), or even national tragedies (think 9/11, Oklahoma City or JFK).

Whatever the event was, I bet there's a lot about the day you remember, and even if you can't remember, your body does. That's the magnificent, truly wonderful, and absolutely confounding thing about the human body: it remembers. It remembers, and recalls, experiences long forgotten or experiences we wish were long forgotten. Our body, our brain, can remember and recall events both positive and negative. Our minds will store significant events that the brain believes will keep us alive. While the brain stores both the positive and the negative things we experience, it overwhelmingly stores the negative experiences because it's those negative experiences that threaten us most. The negative experiences make up a bigger part of who we are and how we see the world.

When we are in a safe environment our brains are able to process the danger and file it away for the next time we face a similar danger. If we live in an environment where there's constant danger, whether it's real or perceived, our brains are not able to process adverse events and file them away. Instead, our brains stay alert and active.

In the late '90s, researchers studied the long-term effects that take place when our minds stay active and alert; when we get stuck in fight, flight, or freeze mode. The majority of brain growth occurs in the first few years of life, and the brain isn't fully developed until the mid-twenties. If a child's life (birth to 18 years old) includes Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs as they're referred to, then the child's brain has those experiences as their foundation.

The ACE study specifically looked at how childhood trauma impacts someone later in life and as it turns out, it has a big impact on childhood, brain development and lifelong health complications. Childhood trauma impacts individuals throughout their lives. It impacts mental health, physical health, emotional well-being, social standard and the list goes on. ACEs have a tremendous impact on individuals and society as a whole.

This is the same study Oprah Winfrey presented in her first segment as a new host on "60 Minutes." In the segment, Oprah discusses the ACE study and the lifelong impacts of childhood trauma with neuroscientist and psychologist Dr. Bruce Perry. Also discussed was the work being done around "trauma-informed care," which seeks to mitigate the impact trauma has on the development of a child. One of the ways "trauma-informed care" seeks to help those impacted by childhood trauma is through encouraging a shift in perspectives from asking, "What did you do?" when a child does not act the way we think they should, to, "What happened to you?" This shift helps us to see that the way a child is acting is due more to their childhood trauma than willfulness. Oprah calls this new perspective, the impact of childhood trauma on brain development, and trauma-informed care "a game changer."

Oprah's segment has the potential to be "a game changer," in that the movement now has a very public and very vocal champion. The work Winfrey presented in her first segment is work that has been ongoing for decades and is work that is currently being done by and championed by Crow Wing Energized and the ACEs and Resiliency Coalition, or ARC. As a co-chair of ARC, I am thrilled that the movement has Oprah Winfrey as a champion. With her support we have the opportunity to reach more people and get more people involved!

The ARC group is actively working to share the ACEs study by offering ACEs 101 presentations throughout Crow Wing County ... for free! ARC also has speakers that will present on a variety of topics like resilience (one way to limit the effects of ACEs and childhood trauma on the development of a child), attitude of gratitude, and many other topics. For more information on ACEs, ARC, or Crow Wing Energized, visit the Crow Wing Energized website at www.crowwingenergized.org.

TONY OLTMANN is a bi-vocational pastor serving two churches near Mille Lacs Lake and working in foster care during the week. He also serves as co-chair of the Crow Wing Energized ACEs and Resiliency Coalition.

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