Every morning over the past 14 years, John has devoted an hour to his memoir. For the four years prior to the pandemic, he was been perched on a stool at a Starbucks on a gritty corner in downtown Toronto, half a block north of a sex shop/crack house, a noticeable hub of dismal activity on “cheque day.” Every now and again, John looks out from his perch at these broken people and wonders if he knows any of them. Probably not. Most of his former cohorts are likely dead. Still, the street outside the window evokes memories.
The pride of place he gives to his writing follows a very early hour of yoga, chanting, and meditation in the comfortable study of his home. John is a man of habit. For more than 40 years, his habits were illegal drugs and drug-induced sex. For the past 14, they have been self-care and examination in pursuit of a deeper understanding of addictions and recovery. Resulting in uncovery.
He’s written an epic manuscript that starts where stories about addiction typically end. In the first chapter, we meet the author after his long-term residential treatment and divorce from his wife of 30 years. He is a Buddhist lay-monk living in a Zen temple, fully dedicated to good health, physical fitness, emotional well-being and social connectedness. He has been abstinent for exactly one year. An exemplar of the bio/psycho/social plus spiritual method of recovery, he dedicates every hour of every day to making this model work for him. He embodies the wisdom of experts in positive psychology, neuroscience, and Buddhism, but he also knows through decades of trying that none of these practices, on their own, are sufficient. Together, though, they help him put one foot in front of the other and have a good day.
John navigates his post-addict life with curiosity and humour as his compass. He discovers through near-misses that even the most widely accepted protocols for recovery too often amount to little more than transferred addictions. The dutifully recovering addict surrenders, repeats slogans, perhaps assumes a popular style of mindfulness, and replaces destructive habits with better habits. But no matter how good the intentions, trying to replace a lifetime of bad habits without understanding what created them in the first place will not lead to transformative recovery. The recovering addict is still an addict, just not using.
The key to John’s change is a process of finding a deeper understanding, which he calls “uncovery.” He takes us through his earlier adventures, both thrilling and devastating, as the son of a Lutheran minister in small-town Ontario, an ambitious classical guitarist, a sailor, a music critic, a father, a husband, a crack and sex addict. We feel the spring return to his step as he builds a profession in restorative justice, opens himself up again to romantic love, and becomes a grandfather twice. We share the experience of his healing as he learns to love again, and not only his new wife and his granddaughters but, most important, himself.
John is a gifted storyteller with a thoroughly engaging voice – at times as gritty as that corner on Yonge street, at other times sage like a bodhisattva, and as knowledgeable as any addictions expert of renown. In the latter part of this manuscript, John opens the door for us to see how one man’s transformation might have lessons for us all. He argues that addicts aren’t broken: they don’t just have “issues.” They aren’t diseased. They have bad habits, as do we all. Addictions to crystal meth, crack, heroin, cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, pot, Internet porn and gaming aside, he believes that consumerism, energy consumption, economic disparity and social inequality all stem from our culture’s addictive nature. If one man’s lifelong discovery becomes the experience of other curious addicts and the people in their lives, this will be the beginning of a new way of understanding and compassionately responding to addictions. And if this leads to a better world for his granddaughters, John’s mission will be accomplished.