There are a multitude of autobiographies out there, all chronicling their authors’ stories of recovery: “What it was like, what happened, and what it is like now.” For this reason, when a colleague recommended that I read Dragons to Butterflies, I thought I knew what to expect: the usual familiar read of a fellow traveler’s recovery success story.
Before diving in, I looked over the book, flipping through the pages and wondering, what makes Johnnie Calloway’s From Dragons to Butterflies so different? In reading the acknowledgments alone, I began to feel it. Rather than just a list of names with little blurbs beside them, Mr. Calloway’s thanks were letters of gratitude to individuals and groups who helped and influenced him along the way. I was intrigued.
Calloway’s story really began when he was five years old, and his sister brought him to the hospital to see his dying mother. “Come give Momma a goodbye kiss.” Looking at this woman with a big, disgusting blister on her lip that resembled “snot” and who no longer resembled his “Momma,” he turned his back and said, “No, I don’t want to.” He had no idea that this would be the last time he would see her, and Johnnie’s five-year-old mind quickly took on the blame for his mother’s death. “If I’d just kissed her . . ..”
Calloway went on to describe life in his chaotic, dysfunctional home. With an alcoholic father who was abusive – physically, verbally and sexually – Calloway built his fire of anger, pain and guilt. With his father’s admonition that Johnnie was to blame for his mother’s death and the message, “You are nothing but a Calloway, and you’ll never amount to anything,” young Johnnie set out to make these accusations true.
The author takes the reader on his journey into and out of drugs, alcohol, and the law. When he was sent to a boy’s camp, Johnnie experienced clear and consistent rules and consequences and catches the first glimmer of a different life. It was when he finally got sober that the real difference of this tale becomes apparent.
Calloway goes into detail of how he met and built relationships with his sponsor and mentors. He takes the reader along with him as he recounts how he worked each of the Twelve Steps. He incorporates Program slogans and idioms to illustrate how they applied to his life. He makes clear what it means to “seek outside help,” which he did through A Course in Miracles, doctors, and various experiential therapies like “Rebirthing.”
Dragons to Butterflies tells us that sobriety isn’t the end of the story. Calloway’s honesty and simplicity are refreshing. Describing a clear path to sobriety and a sometimes not so clear path to relapse, his story is one of ego versus humility, anger versus forgiveness, and the process of putting one foot in front of the other as the only way to get from one side to the other.
If you’re looking for flowery language or dramatic gravity, you aren’t going to find it here. Calloway has written his story in a simple, this-is-where-I-live style. His honest and open style of writing is both engaging and endearing. Well before the end of the book, I felt like we were close friends.
Calloway helped many people with his first book, Taming the Dragon. With Dragons to Butterflies, I’m sure that he will be helping even more with his inspiration and passion.
In the postscript, Calloway states, “My metamorphosis has been at times incredibly beautiful and excruciatingly painful but always full of life and passion.” I believe him.