How John Hoover Inspired Me to Transform My Life

In Knoxville in 1983, I screwed up my courage and began therapy with a local psychologist, John Hoover, a tall, brawny man with an engaging and amiable manner. I immediately had the sense that I could trust John and that it was safe to share my innermost thoughts and feelings with him. Having already cut back on my excessive alcohol consumption, John did his best to help me get to the root of my self-destructive lifestyle, to recognize and deal with my dysfunctional ways of thinking, emoting and behaving. During my third session, however, I finally asked what had been on my mind all along: “John, am I crazy?”

“No,” John replied with a warm smile. “You’re not crazy, Bruce.”

Well, that’s it for me, I thought. I didn’t return for further sessions, because only crazy people needed to see psychologists, right?

A few years later in 1986, the middle of my fourth decade, life’s wake-up calls became so excruciating, so undeniable, that they could no longer be ignored—bankruptcy, losing my home and business, divorce, and estrangement from my beloved daughter. Conceding, at long last, the futility of my existence, I hit rock bottom.

In desperation I called my Knoxville psychologist, John Hoover, and appealed to him for guidance. Once I explained my situation, John said, “As it turns out, I just participated in a powerful self-awareness workshop sponsored by the Kairos Foundation. I think you ought to find the nearest one and get yourself there as soon as possible.” John said he’d send the brochure, and it arrived around a week later.

I was frightened and withdrawn at the beginning of the workshop; I participated but guardedly. As the weekend progressed, however, my heart opened, and the protective shield that I’d worn like iron for all those years began to dissolve. I was overcome with a powerful sense of well-being, of being loved and accepted just as I was—nothing to prove, no way I had to be. At last I’d found the secret passage to a more fulfilling life that I’d futilely sought through copious amounts of beer, cocaine, pot, and psychedelics.

Fast forward two decades. Once my girlfriend Shonnie (soon to be my wife) and I moved to Asheville in 1997, we had the opportunity to spend quality time with John and Sharon Hoover on a fairly regular basis. We visited them at their lovely home outside of Knoxville, and they visited us in North Carolina. Sometimes we met at workshops, frequently we hiked in the southern Appalachian Mountains, and often we shared meals. I also supported John and his colleague Eli Mitchell in writing and self-publishing their book The Elders Speak: Two Psychologists Share Their Lifetimes of Experience, spending a few days in the seclusion of Eli’s cabin to plan our course of action. And John continued to inspire me to maintain my vision for myself and my community and discern how and where my path might next lead.

It was Election Day, November 4, 2008. After the polls closed at 7:30 P.M., in my role as field organizer, Shonnie (who was serving as one of my lieutenants) and I began making the rounds of election night celebrations in my two southern Ohio counties. As we were en route from one celebration to the next, shortly after 9:00 P.M. Eastern time, John phoned to inform us that Ohio had just been called for Obama. Hooray! The race was no longer in doubt! I was grateful for the call from John, elated at our win, and, in all honesty, tremendously relieved the campaign was finally over.

Now, for almost four decades, John, I can look back and discern with joy how you have consistently shepherded me toward a life of greater authenticity, compassion, and service. Your empathy, intuition, and wisdom continue to support me on this endless journey, and I’m happy to have you in my life and count you among my cherished friends. I will, for the rest of my life, hold you in my heart and honor you for the extraordinary man you are and for the gifts you have shared with me. You have transformed the lives of so many and, in doing so, you have transformed our world. My deep and abiding gratitude for your presence in my life. I love you, my friend, and look forward to our next adventure together.

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