During his four years at university, John was a "weekend warrior".
It's the term he uses to describe his heavy binge drinking sessions when classes weren't on.
After graduation, feeling he had no purpose or direction, he turned full-time to his old friend, alcohol. John's problems were compounded by anorexia.
His drinking was so bad, his parents were afraid to leave the house.
"They didn't know what they would come back to," said John, who asked his last name not be published.
When he overdosed in November 2007, his parents enrolled him in a 30-day treatment program.
"I came out and relapsed the same day," said John, who continued drinking on and off during the following months.
"It was two steps forward and four steps back."
In September 2008, John was hospitalized after drinking himself unconscious.
His parents gave him an ultimatum: get help or he could no longer live at home.
When John agreed to treatment, his parents directed him to North York's Caritas, a 25-month "school of life" addiction rehabilitation program that is the only one of its kind in Canada. Clients have addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling or food or are completely unable to cope with life.
"I was volun-told to come to the program," John laughed at the Tuesday, April 12 grand opening of Caritas' new home at 1880 Ormont Dr., southwest of Steeles Avenue and Weston, a move prompted by a dispute with the centre's former landlord.
His parents told him: "You have to see Father John."
Father John is Father Gianni Carparelli, a popular and unconventional priest who founded Caritas in 1989 after witnessing the devastating affects of addiction in his St. Clair Avenue neighbourhood in the mid-1980s.
Caritas comes from a Latin word that roughly translates to a parental-type of love that helps someone become a full human being, Carparelli said.
"Sometimes, it requires firmness that guides a child. When you say 'No,' it is not because you don't love them, but you know what is best for them," he said.
"Emotionally, they (Caritas clients) are like children. They have never grown up. They need to be introduced to the responsibilities of life. It requires love, firmness and respect, not judgement. We don't blame them for what has happened in their life, but they have to learn to deal with what happened in their life or we don't break the circle. It works. It doesn't work for everyone, but for those who accept the challenge to make serious changes in their life, it works for them."
John said the program worked for him, although he admits he initially found the 25-month commitment daunting.
The Caritas program, which is only offered to men, consists of four phases.
Clients begin by living in a Caritas residential home and attending therapy sessions, which include cleaning and cooking in addition to counselling.
Participating in basic life skills on a consistent basis teaches clients about taking responsibility, said Andrea Taylor, director of administration.
Often, enabling families of addicts have taken care of their routine chores so they have been let off the hook for even the most mundane duties in life, case manager Micki Tiano added.
The next phases of the program, which include a seven-month stay at the Caritas farm north of Toronto, transition clients from facing their addiction free of denial, looking at themselves with humility and truth, and making often painful connections in their lives, to taking responsibility, mentoring other clients and reintegrating into society. John graduated from the program in September. He is living in a Caritas guest house and is studying health management at York University.
"I am a new person approaching a new situation. It (being tempted to drink again) is something that is there, but it is not who I am. It is not helping me. I choose not to do it," he said.
"I don't have to do anything to make anybody else happy. I'm free to be me. That is probably the greatest revelation. It sounds so simple, but doing what makes you happy really makes you live a different life."
The Caritas residential program, partially funded by the Ministry of Health, costs $900 a month to attend. There is also a day program, which is offered at no cost.
For more information, visit www.caritas.ca or call 416-748-9988.