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How Jesse Thistle's deeply personal memoir 'happened by accident'

Jesse Thistle had no intention of sharing his deeply personal story of homelessness, addiction and recovery in a book. But what started as a few personal details sprinkled into his doctoral work on Indigenous homelessness spun into something much larger - a bestseller.
From the Ashes is a memoir by Jesse Thistle. (Lucie Thistle, Simon & Schuster)
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Jesse Thistle originally had no intention of sharing his deeply personal story of homelessness, addiction and recovery other than with his close friends. 

He has post-traumatic stress disorder — reliving these stories brings back painful memories of the way he treated himself, and other people. It reminds him of who he was then, not who he is now.

But what started as a few personal details sprinkled into his doctoral work on Indigenous homelessness spun into something much larger. Those who read his work were moved by the story of how he went from being a Métis man, homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol, to finding his way.

"I realized that my story's kind of bigger than me," Thistle said. "It needed to be shared and I had to do it fearlessly."

Thistle's story, From the Ashes, has been on Canada's bestseller list essentially since it was released. Its derivative is the four steps from rehab, writing that wasn't intended for any audience other than himself.

"The book really happened by accident," he said. "I really didn't expect anybody to read my four steps. They were for me."

In the book, Thistle writes about his early life and what led to his life on the streets. Then, once he got himself off the streets, he tells his journey to relearn everything: how his partner retaught him how to write a coherent sentence, how to drive, how to access healthcare.

Thistle's story as a whole is unique — but parts in isolation are highly relatable in all sorts of contexts. 

"It's just really found a home with different people that I didn't think would appreciate it," Thistle said. "There's a lot of people who connect with the adoption angle, or the addiction angle, or incarceration, or the homelessness, or the relearning everything in school [angles]. I didn't foresee any of that."

The book follows Thistle on his journey to find home. But what Thistle realized — and hopes readers will take away, too — is that he'd found it long before he found a physical home.

"Love is home," Thistle said. "That's what I want people to know."