There is no single path to recovery. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol can find recovery in a variety of ways, based on their own needs and beliefs. The recovery story of John Woods is one example of a unique path leading to hope and healing.
Back in 1975, Woods lived in inner-city Chicago, struggling to end a longstanding addiction to heroin. Drug-free since 1973, Woods was in a methadone program and had attended Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but was still suffering physically from post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which included great difficulty in sleeping. He was also struggling emotionally and spiritually.
Even after completing addiction treatment, Woods says he still “couldn’t put all of the pieces together because I was lacking something. I was still not able to become the success I needed to be.”
He had lost his family. He had legal problems after being arrested on marijuana possession and gun charges. He had physical problems including sickle cell anemia, pneumonia, cardiac problems, and hepatitis C, which led to a two-month hospital stay. Woods was looking for something to believe in. At the time, he says, “I was a total atheist; Christianity and Islam didn’t do anything for me.”
Then someone told Woods about a Buddhist organization called Soka Gakkai Buddhism, which dates back to 13th century Japan. Practitioners chant the phrase “nam-myoho-renge-kyo” daily, as a way to improve their health, happiness, wisdom and compassion, manifesting the enlightenment of the Buddha in their own lives. The goal is to attain a humanistic view of life.
Woods attended his first Soka Gakkai meeting on April 7, 1975. “When I started chanting, something deep down inside of me said ‘This is it.”’ And then my life began to change.” Woods’ physical, mental and spiritual condition immediately improved. He felt much better about himself and the world, and “began to associate with people who were really positive.”
“Heroin is a powerfully addictive drug. But when chanting “nam-myoho-renge-kyo, it was the most powerful thing I have ever experienced. Only when I encountered true Buddhism was I able to change poison into medicine,” says Woods.
Looking back, Woods believes that “when you begin to chant these words with sincerity, then you begin to fundamentally ‘overcome’ yourself.” By practicing Buddhism, every human being has the potential to become a Buddha, Wood says. “You can change whatever you are going through in life.”
Woods’ practice helped him fulfill a personal ambition when he opened New Perspectives treatment center in Minneapolis in 2008. He ran New Perspectives until 2017. He now works helping recovering addicts and alcoholics get their personal finances in order and reestablish good credit.
The values of the treatment program and Woods’ current work were and are based on Buddhism, says Woods. “One central value is a belief in the value and potential of each person.”
Woods and his colleagues demonstrate its humanistic principles through their behavior, he says. “I don’t force-feed them my beliefs, because that can really turn people off. We show them through actual proof in terms of recovery work. We’ve had pretty good success.”
Woods also credits his daily Buddhist practice with helping him overcome more recent health problems – a broken jaw and broken neck suffered in a fall last year. “The doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to practice. But I continued chanting, and in a month, I was totally healed.”
Healing is what his work is all about, Woods says. “My goal is to teach the clients how to become capable people in society and lead positive and important lives.”