Walk the Line

“Don’t give me no rules. All I got are rules.” 

JR Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes a singer when his brooding blues music strikes a chord with the American public. As he rises to fame, JR now Johnny, meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) and quickly falls in love. Between trying to raise a family, managing his career, and being managed by various illicit substances, Johnny struggles to keep everything in check.

Johnny’s Problem
Ethically, nurses cannot diagnose patients; luckily, blog writers have no ethical standards. This gives me an interesting line of my own to walk. Usually, posts on this blog deal with fictional characters and thus, I do not feel any sense of immorality diagnosing them. Since Johnny Cash was a real person, I am going to discuss a key component of his struggles without going so far as to make a mental health diagnosis.

Please don’t sue me.

A Handful of ACES
ACEs denotes Adverse Childhood Experiences; this is a tool used in the mental health community to assess an adult’s risk for mental health problems, rooted in childhood trauma. Johnny Cash had a horrific childhood. His brother died in a violent accident and his father was an abusive alcoholic. It is well documented that Johnny Cash struggled with substance use, but the ACEs assessment theorizes that behaviors like substance use stem from difficult childhoods. It is fair to say that most people that struggle with substance use are not exactly having the times of their lives while they work through it. 

  • The Quiz
    The ACEs quiz asks ten questions about the adult’s environment when they were a child. These questions indicate if the child was exposed to things like a parent going to prison, if they were abused, and if they were made to feel unimportant at home.

  • The Outside World
    Of course, the home environment is only one facet of a kid’s life. The ACEs assessment does not assess for abuse by a teacher or mentor, abuse in a child’s group of friends, or other psychological trauma that may impact that child’s development. Noteworthy here is Johnny Cash becoming famous. Though some would argue that being famous is a coveted, respected position, those that know fame well would argue that it can be exhausting. Being under the spotlight might have its benefits, but one drawback disguised as a benefit is easy access to drugs and alcohol. Walk the Line suggests that Johnny Cash’s substance abuse problems escalated once he hit the big time.
  • The Results
    The ACEs test is meant to demonstrate an adult’s level of resilience – or their ability to bounce back from challenges. With therapy and practice, it is possible to become more resilient. There are numerous studies that show that more ACEs lead to higher rates of suicides (completed and attempted), higher drug and alcohol abuse, higher rates of domestic violence, and higher rates of physical health issues like Hepatitis.

Johnny Cash may have had a deck stacked with a lot of ACEs, but he seems to have found a wild card in June Carter. Walk the Line is a strong reminder that adversity does not have to be a life sentence.


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