The Deepest Well: Healing the Effects of Childhood Trauma & Adversity

By Dani Bruflodt | February 02, 2022

One of the most important books I read last year was The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Trauma and Adversity by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician and the first person appointed to serve as Surgeon General of California. 

The book opens with the story of a 43-year old computer programmer waking up on Saturday morning to discover he’s unable to move. As his wife calls for an ambulance we learn he’s had a stroke—at 43! And as we discover on the following pages, his healthy, middle-class lifestyle wasn’t his risk factor; it was his childhood. From there, the book grips you and makes you care deeply about the subject, which Burke Harris brings to life through digestible stories.

More than two thirds of Americans are exposed to adverse childhood experiences, defined as various forms of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction experienced in childhood. ACEs, as they are commonly referred to, are scientifically linked to premature death as well as various health conditions including mental illness. 

As Harris writes, “Twenty years of medical research has shown that childhood adversity literally gets under our skin, changing people in ways that can endure in their bodies for decades. It can tip a child’s developmental trajectory and affect physiology. It can trigger chronic inflammation and hormonal changes that can last a lifetime. It can alter the way DNA is read and how cells replicate, and it can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes—even Alzheimer’s.”

The issues the book identifies and solutions it offers feel particularly poignant today, when all of us are experiencing collective trauma, solitude, and neglect.

It’s easy to see that this is an epidemic impacting almost all aspects life, especially right now. Although the book was penned in 2018, long before the word COVID was a household name, the issues the book identifies and solutions it offers feel particularly poignant today, when all of us are experiencing collective trauma, solitude, and neglect.

But what can we do about it? The Deepest Well answers that question, too, providing realistic, actionable advice on the tools needed for healing and how to implement them on a personal, local, and national scale. One of my biggest takeaways from the book was understanding that just because a child is growing up in adverse conditions doesn’t mean they cannot succeed. Burke Harris states that it takes just one engaged adult in a child’s life (even if that person is merely a teacher, neighbor, or family friend) to create a protective buffer that allows the child to navigate, and potentially overcome, adverse experiences.

Whether you or someone you know might be living with the effects of adverse childhood experiences or not, the book might just help you have more empathy for people you don’t know, as well, and might help you consider how important happy, healthy children are to a robust society. I found Burke Harris’ writing to be incredibly poignant and compelling, and her solutions to be attainable and necessary.

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This article mentions: Mental Health, Trauma

About the Author:

Dani Bruflodt

Dani Bruflodt is a systems and efficiency expert and the creator of The Daily Page Planner. Dani is passionate about teaching burned out millennials sustainable, holistic approaches to productivity. When she’s not making a to-do list you’ll find her in a kayak or biking through Copenhagen.

Read more articles by Dani Bruflodt
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