William White, Unsplash

Finding broken hearts can change the world

  • November 30, 2023

It all started with a call from a friend. “Would you be able to meet with a relative of mine who is sleeping rough on the streets and into drugs?” I said that if he was willing, I would meet with him. We arranged to meet at “Ripples of Kindness,” the outreach program run out of Sacre Coeur Parish in downtown Toronto. Little did I know that the meeting would lead me deep into the Rock ’n’ Roll scene of the ’80s and ’90s.

He was one of many teenagers in the era who picked up a guitar and naively dreamed of being a star. The difference was for him it became a reality. His band, “Salvation Armee,” were regulars on television and in the local rock scene where they played their own compositions, made a name for themselves and signed a record deal. Drugs, however, were rampant, and the “good life” promised was quickly evaporating because it came with its alter ego: depression and suicidal thoughts.

At age 17, he decided to move out of his home and take to the road with his band. Often living in a shelter at night was not the dream scene he had imagined. However, rubbing shoulders with some of the elite of the music scene such as Bruce Cockburn, Sarah McLachlan and Pearl Jam more than compensated for the reality of his nighttime sleeping quarters. Besides, drugs were freely available and that was becoming a priority in his life.

“Some of these people tried to help me out of my addiction,” he said, “but it had taken hold of me, and to be honest, although I had lost a lot, I had also learned a lot. Touring and performing were taking their toll on me. A 1990s interview with Rolling Stone magazine, which talked of the drug scene in all of its brutal reality, ruined everything for me.

“I moved back to Toronto, got married and had children. But my demons followed me. It takes an army of people to help an addict. There is no magic pill. However, with all I had learned, I also had a new passion. I wanted to use my experiences to help others, especially children. I wanted to learn as much as possible about this deadly enemy that haunts me, so that I could prevent it killing the most vulnerable.

“I was determined that the way to victory was to discover its weakness. I got a Master’s degree in Social Work, and a degree in Pharmacology so I could become the best counsellor possible. All of this time, however, I was still controlled by my personal addictions. I had been trying to reconnect with my family, but my suicidal thoughts and sleeping rough on the streets created burdens that were unfair to ask them to carry.”

For many weeks after this meeting at Sacre Coeur, I kept in touch with him, and also checked with his family to see how they were doing. A few weeks later, I received an excited call from my friend to tell me that he had checked himself into a hospital known for its work with addicts. It is one-stop shopping where addicts can be hospitalized while in a support group receiving medications to assist in withdrawals. In addition, his educational background in addictions, and his recent experiences of street drugs, meant he could assist the staff of the hospital in their rounds.

In the past week, he has also started to realize his passion of reaching out to the youth of our city as he joined me at a high school to talk to the teachers on their professional development day.

The note he received after his talk said it all: “Thank you for being so honest, kind and inspiring. Please come back to see us.”

Fr. Greg Boyle said, “We have to find our heart, and it is easily found when it is breaking. This is how the world can change. Love is the answer, but community is the context, and tenderness is the methodology.”

The evil of the drug scene is that it replaces true community that we are all searching for with a self-centred community. Overcoming this often demands many tears shed in self-reproach, much tenderness and patiently waiting for the person who will come along to walk with us into a new future. Each of us can be that person.

(Kinghorn is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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