Closeup of a young man holding a toddler and giving him a kiss on the cheek.

Early into my childhood, I experienced the sudden and tragic loss of both of my parents in a car accident. In that brief moment, the single most important relationships in my young life were instantly broken… leaving me frightened, confused, and alone.

I do not remember much from the night of the accident. Over the years, as I’ve moved through various stages of grief, those initial feelings have been replaced by unexpected moments of emptiness and loss. Who were those people who loved and nurtured me as an infant? How would I be different today if they were still in my life?

The trauma expert Dr. Gabor Maté states, “Nothing itself is addictive… And on the other hand, everything could be addictive if there’s any emptiness in that person that needs to be filled.” As I consider my own adverse childhood experience, I recognize that I will always hold an “emptiness” within me that increases my risk for developing unhealthy ways of coping with – or trying to fill – this loss.

“Nothing itself is addictive… And on the other hand, everything could be addictive if there’s any emptiness in that person that needs to be filled.”

Dr. Gabor Maté

So, what are the factors that create resilience and help us to maintain health and fulfillment despite adversity? It is an important question for all of us to consider. For me, I was fortunate to receive love and care from a wide circle of supports, including my adoptive parents, teachers, friends, adult mentors, and many others. These relationships provided a safe space for me to explore my feelings, build connections, and learn that I’m not alone.

Another factor in my journey were the opportunities I received to develop leadership skills and engage in programs that strengthened my awareness of self and of the world around me. Service projects, sports teams, choir, social and emotional learning programs, youth camps… each was a unique opportunity to learn a new skill, take a healthy risk, gain confidence.

In my current role at Compass Mark, I’m grateful to be part of a team that is actively developing these protective factors – the building blocks of effective prevention – for thousands of children, youth, and adults in our community each year. Even though I cannot change the difficult parts of my life story, I know that the prevention strategies invested into my life were critical in shaping my path forward. It is now my passion to grant those same opportunities and resources to others in our community… so that we all can live healthy, fulfilling lives free from addiction.

If you’d like to learn more about prevention or get involved with Compass Mark’s mission and programs in Central Pennsylvania, please reach out. I’d love to hear from you!

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About the Author

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Eric Kennel, MPA, is the Executive Director of Compass Mark, a non-profit organization with a mission to prevent addiction through education, skill-building, and community mobilization. Compass Mark’s team provides science-based prevention programs to over 8,000 children, youth, and adults each year across Central and Southeast Pennsylvania.

This post was originally published by WGAL TV 8 on and sponsored by Donegal Insurance Group as part of the Mental Health Moment campaign. We thank WGAL TV 8 and Donegal Insurance Group for their support of prevention and mental wellbeing in our region.