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When I had the opportunity to visit the Brattleboro area last month for a showing of the film “Uprooting Addiction,” I learned about this wonderful series of compassion stories and was invited to contribute one on the topic of addiction and compassion.

Addiction is not new in our culture; for as long as humans have contended with pain, it has been there. Addiction is suffering’s terrible twin — it promises relief and escapes from a twisted labyrinth of pain only to lead one towards a new and equally painful maze. Culturally, our attempts to address this issue have been mixed and relatively unsuccessful.

In the 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente initiated a study that focused on the impact of traumatic childhood events. Seventeen thousand participants were surveyed using the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) test. The study clearly revealed the direct impact that early traumatic experiences have on our health as adults. With little doubt, it also pointed out that the most influential factor in developing an addictive disorder is unaddressed pain.

While the outcome of this study has been available to everyone since the ’90s, the general public has only recently become aware of it. As someone who grew up loving individuals who struggled with addiction and having had to contend with it as an adult, reframing this as a result of unaddressed trauma versus weakness in character was validating and life-changing. And when I entered the treatment field as a social worker, it fueled my approach. Yet, the public support and funding for trauma-focused treatment for individuals with histories of addiction has never been robust. While conditions like cancer, famine, or more recently a deadly virus have been met with sympathy, the stigma around addiction — the tendency to blame people for their pain — persists. It seemed clear that increasing public awareness about the study might be one way to fuel a better response. This is where the documentary project began.

I’m a project person; I always have been. I love breaking big things into small workable bits and piecing them together into a complete whole. Yet, creating a film moved me far outside of my usual work lane. It forced me to navigate overwhelming fundraising, editing and technical barriers. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do it alone, as a team of incredible human beings joined me on this road trip and volunteered to share some of their most painful experiences with the world. And we found a film director with the vision to map out the journey for us. We all traversed it together and eventually released our film to the world.

“Uprooting Addiction: Healing from the Ground Up” traces the origins of addictive behaviors. It shows the connection between unaddressed trauma and vulnerability to addiction using the stories of six individuals. While it chronicles very real experiences of pain, it also tracks the individual triumphs of each person in the film and highlights their strengths. Additionally, it provides shining examples of a compassionate community response. It is essentially a story of hope.

Years after the film was completed, while doing a presentation, I heard myself tell the audience that the film was a love song. I’d never said this before, yet as I spoke those words, I felt their truth. The film allowed me the opportunity to show the strength and beauty of individuals who often had become representatives of our culture’s most awful statistics. It gave me a way to advocate for change in a system that too often had failed those it was supposed to serve. It was a way to honor the human beings I loved and lost.

My own ACE score is high, and I’ve struggled with mental health and addiction issues myself, yet I currently live a beautiful life. Creating this film has reminded me of a repeating stanza of my life’s song: What should I do with this gift that is my life? What I’ve found over time for myself and for others is that when you find peace, you want others to find it too. Part of your journey forward involves inspiring and helping others. That is the gift of any type of recovery. Compassion drops into the waters of life, leaving a profound rippling event that can touch others for generations. This love for others that springs from healing is a human trait that is also a huge gift to humanity. When considering addiction, which is indeed a form of suffering, compassion is the most helpful and humane response.

With Brattleboro voting overwhelmingly to become part of the international Charter for Compassion, the Reformer and The Commons have agreed to publish a “Compassion Story of the Month.” This is the 70th. Submissions, from Brattleboro area residents, for future publication, not to exceed 650 words, should be emailed to: or mailed to: Compassion Story of the Month, PO Box 50, Marlboro, VT 05344. Include your name, address, phone number and email address. Earlier submitted stories will automatically be considered in subsequent months.