In almost every way, Jonathan Luiten (’01) seemed to be living the perfect life. He was thriving in his work, made six figures a year, was well-travelled, and had what appeared to be a happy family. No one—not even him—knew the truth of his alcohol addiction. But from 2007 to 2014, his life quickly unravelled and everything he thought he knew about himself changed forever.
Becoming the Wine Guy
As a young man, Jon says drinking was nothing more than recreation. He liked the social aspect and had no issues. No one ever told him he was out of control in the beginning.
“But if you talk to anyone who has an alcoholic in the family, you know it’s a progressive disease,” says Jon. “No one wakes up and says they want to grow up and be an alcoholic and ruin their life.”
“Myself and my disease, we went a long time without being detected,” adds Jon with a sigh.
On the weekends and over every summer as a student at Trinity Western, Jon worked at an insurance agency, one of the largest in Western Canada. He worked there for several years, then as soon as he graduated, was offered the opportunity to manage a location, and then was quickly offered a position in their commercial department. But since he’d just graduated, they told him to take some time off and travel first.
For the next three months, Jon lived in New Zealand, where he took a job at a vineyard and started to learn more about wine. This experience proved to be extremely useful later in his career.
Returning to Canada in 2002, Jon used his newfound passion for wine and started a winery insurance program. This program quickly grew, and before long, he became known as BC’s winery insurance guy.
“I went from writing one winery in 2007 to writing close to 150 before I left,” says Jon. “Every winery in BC knew who I was.”
The Rise and Fall
Because wine was such a big part of his life, a bottle never strayed too far from his reach. Jon says that by 2012 he was secretly drinking two to three bottles a day. As his drinking got worse, so did conditions at home.
Jon and his wife Rose had two children and were trying for a third. Sadly, Rose had two devastating miscarriages before their third child was born. These two losses put tremendous emotional stress on them. Shortly after their third child was weaned, Rose was diagnosed with bipolar2. On top of dealing with her depression, they received a diagnosis that their second child was on the autism spectrum (high functioning ASD or aspergers). It was all too much. Jon says he ended up in downtown Vancouver and got black-out drunk. During this time, he was missing for over twelve hours.
“I remember somehow getting home and pulling a piece of pizza out of my suit pocket with no idea how it go there,” says Jon. “My wife looked at me and said she couldn’t do this anymore.”
Jon told her he would do his best to stop drinking. Miraculously, she decided to forgive and support him. But it wasn’t an easy road. He had many relapses throughout 2014, including one horrible night where Jon says his wife had to pretty much pull him out of a hotel window to keep him from jumping out.
After this, he tried his hand a local recovery meeting but hated it at first. He still was denying that he had a problem and was primarily there for other people. Jon wasn’t close to God at the time and had decided to just try to white knuckle his way through this addiction until it passed.
The Road To Sobriety
If he was going to remain sober, he knew he’d need a change. In 2014, he decided to leave his job at the large brokerage firm. No one saw this coming. He’d been there for 18 years and was the Director of Sales. But he needed a fresh start—somewhere he could work as a sober man.
Around this time, Rose read a book, Chasers of the Light, by the Instagram poet Tyler Knott Gregson. She thought, “I could do this.” Rose went out and bought the family’s first typewriter and began to write anonymously on Instagram to help her through the ups and downs of her mental illness.
Jon, trying to stay sober on his own, was mostly miserable. Rose quickly offered that he should write as well. After all, he’d been involved with writing music, novels, poetry, and screenplays for most of his younger life. He hadn’t done anything creative for about ten years, but maybe writing could help?
It turned out to be exactly what he needed.
Jon created an Instagram account and started to post pictures of his writing. He largely wrote about his addiction, the struggle to stay sober, and his relationship with his wife. As he started to make progress in his sobriety journey, he decided to rebrand himself Jon Lupin, with the Instagram handle @The_PoetryBandit. He started sharing his journey with others like him and in 2016 he self-published a collection of these poems in a book titled, My Sober Little Moon.
“Slowly but surely, my story started to take hold on Instagram,” says Jon. His work resonated with many people, and he soon developed quite a following. A lot of people wanting to get help said they found comfort in his words. Today his follower account on Instagram alone is over 146,000.
In the beginning of 2018, he was approached by McMillian, one of the largest publishers in the world, to put together another collection of poems for them. This became You Only Love Me When I’m Suffering, released in the fall of 2018.
To date, Jon has sold over 3500 copies of his latest book You Only Love Me When I’m Suffering and has a third one scheduled for a Fall 2019 release called Encyclopedia of a Broken Heart.
In addition to his rising success as an Instagram poet, he felt called to do something about his career. Until as recently as fall, 2018, he was working for a smaller broker but felt there was something still missing from his life. After much prayer and consideration and encouragement from Arlene Dickinson of Dragon’s Den (who had become a friend through following his Instagram poetry), he started Valiant Insurance Brokers Inc.
Valiant is a boutique insurance brokerage, in Langley, BC, focusing on placing affordable Risk Management plans for any business, and does home and condo insurance as well. “Basically anything but Life and Auto,” Jon says. Many of his clients range from C-Suite level people and theirs firms that generate up to $100M a year all the way to the hard working contractor just starting out. His 22 years of experience and connections have served him well, building a book in 5 months that has him on track to complete his 3 year plan on revenue in less than a year.
“And not a winery in sight,” Jon adds with a smile.
“At first I was a little scared that “not drinking” would hurt my chances to schmooze and socialize with prospects and clients, but I soon learned that was completely the opposite. Being sober has brought me more clarity and focus to my risk management abilities, and has brought me a new kind of respect from my clients and prospects,” Jon beams. “I haven’t met a single person who thought that “not drinking” was a good reason not to do business with me,” he smiles.
But the most exciting thing of all is that he’s been sober since July 29, 2015, and his wife is in remission for her bipolar2. All their children are excelling at school, and their son is fully integrated into his class, thanks to early therapy and hard work.
Despite his many accomplishments, Jon is the first to admit that he still needs help and keeps a strong loyal circle of people in the recovery community and in his church around him.
In the days ahead, Jon plans to continue sharing his poetry and story of recovery for any and all who need to hear it. And though he is busier with running his own company these days, he hopes to release a few more poetry books before he’s done with this life.
“The trick is, to grow your heart so big, it won’t fit into anyone’s back pocket.” – Source: Instagram of Jon Lupin, The Poetry Bandit www.instagram.com/the_poetrybandit
“Wear your vulnerability like a crown; whether it is made of thorns or wildflowers is up to you.” – Excerpt from You Only Love Me When I’m Suffering by Jon Lupin, The Poetry Bandit
“I wasn’t given a second chance just to play it safe. Mediocrity can kill a man, and I am done with dying.” – Source: Instagram of Jon Lupin, The Poetry Bandit www.instagram.com/the_poetrybandit