In the autumn of 2019, Victor Bodiut and Marianne Vanderveen made a plan for the start of ACE Aware NL. Their knowledge of physiology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, attachment, brain development, and neuroscience led them to understand the importance of a broad, compassionate view of the foundations of health and the role of adverse childhood experiences. The most recent neurophysiological insights deserve an important place in this. These show that the early social environment in particular has a significant influence on how we function and how our health develops. Every person is part of a larger community. Just as we cannot separate the mind from the body, we cannot separate the individual from the social context. That means that health is not simply an individual responsibility; it does not simply depend on whether we are now getting enough exercise and whether we are now eating healthy. Lifelong health largely finds its roots in childhood. Did we feel safe? Were we wanted, seen, heard, loved? Was attention paid to what we had to give the world with our unique personality? And what is the influence of poverty, education level, work pressure and discrimination on how our parents were able to guide us more or less well into adulthood? What about power relations? These are complicated issues that cannot be dismissed sharply and in black and white manner with: ‘Go exercise! Do not smoke or drink! Have fun!’ They require nuanced answers to uncomfortable questions. They deserve a boldly connecting, multicoloured approach.
Vic and Marianne were touched by the documentary film ‘Resilience’, which deals with these subjects. Fascinating conversations with psychologist and scientist Suzanne Zeedyk, one of the founders of the ACE awareness movement in Scotland, provided further encouragement to widely share the knowledge about ACEs in the Netherlands as well. Aspa Kandyli, with experience in education and knowledge in the field of baby sleeping behaviour and breastfeeding, joined ACE Aware NL. Due to her maternity leave, there was a need for another colleague and Petra Bouma, a nurse by origin and also a lactation consultant, babywearing consultant and birth trauma specialist, has been part of the team for a while now. Over the course of over two years, the project has grown a focus on powerful softness, on a genuine, non-judgmental curiosity about human stories.
When the world was confronted with major health challenges in the spring of 2020, it suddenly became even clearer how crucial a well-functioning immune system is. Many more pressing issues arose. What do you say to people when their health seems to be at risk? What tools do you offer to avoid illness? How do you deliver that message? How much space do you allow people to give their own interpretation to what they need (or think they need) to protect themselves against risks? What is the effect of the lack of contact with loved ones? What is the impact on mental health if activities that provide joy and meaning disappear? How do you interpret the way in which people deal with a crisis? What is the impact of fear?
Times of crisis, transition and transformation on the one hand call upon us to act decisively and proactively, to stand up for justice and for fundamental rights in the field of autonomy and freedom, both physical and mental. On the other hand, they also definitely ask for compassion and contemplation, to step back, to turn inward and reflect on what touches us and why it touches us. Do people react to what is happening in the present or to the memory in the present of the past?
Recently, the great relevance of the seven pillars under our mission has been strongly emphasised: connection, compassion, courage, curiosity, confidence, kindness and resilience. After all, ACEs are essentially also about crises, about childhood experiences that affected our sense of security and trust and that are associated with a higher risk of illness and problems. ACEs may seem primarily personal, but the personal can, as stated, seldom be separated from the social environment in which we are born, grow up and live.
In most cases, softness has a healing effect, especially when you experience the world as harsh: softness in the connection with others, softness in the absence of judgment about what you and the other person feel, choose and go through, softness also in how we colour the view of our ourselves, with the full palette of rainbow colours, and where necessary black and white and shades of grey in between.
The complexity of the past few years made us want to tailor the ACE Aware NL logo a bit more to the human need for softness and we therefore have a slightly rounder letter from now on. Furthermore, not everyone knows the meaning of the term ‘ACE’. We wanted the logo to explain this at a glance. In doing so, we not only wanted to highlight the sad side of ACEs, but also very consciously draw attention to the fact that ACEs are not a diagnosis, not a doomsday scenario for life. People are capable of much recovery, especially in an environment that sensitively deals with grief. In line with the impressive film ‘The Wisdom of Trauma‘, we have therefore given the A of ACEs an additional positive meaning: Awesome. After adverse ones you can gain wonderfully beautiful experiences, restoring the connection with yourself and others. In addition, the adverse experiences often entail developing a certain wisdom, ‘the wisdom of trauma’. With that experiential expertise you can be of very special significance to your close others and the world. Especially if you have done your own shadow work, you can look with compassion at the impact of trauma on human behaviour. That makes you an ‘awesome’ person, less ‘angular’, with less sharp edges, more ’rounded’ and fluid in your approach. That is also why the new font is a bit rounder.
Because we want to help raise social awareness about childhood, the word ‘Aware’ has been coloured from the beginning. The importance of this should be eye-catching! However, that colour will no longer always be red. Life is constantly changing and our mood changes colour regularly. The more we can heal grief from the past and let go of anger, the more playfully we can approach life. That multi-colouredness may stand in broad light and will be visible in various ways. (And yes… still working on updating the website with the new stuff… ;-))
We look forward to the time ahead, when we would like to visit you for a presentation with a film screening of ‘Resilience’, for a workshop or for a consultation. And do you want to tell us how you give the knowledge about ACEs a place in your work or personal life…? Let us know! We’d love to hear your story – feel invited and welcome!