Knitting is typically something that is associated with women, but it’s actually helping a group of adult men recover from addition in a beautiful way.

At the Phoenix Society recovery center in Surrey, British Columbia, a group of men are breaking the cycle of addiction through knitting. It was Nelson Mendonca who started the group of so-called “toquers” at the recovery facility after he picked up some knitting needles in prison.

“At first I thought, ‘People are going to think I’m weird or whatever,'” Mendonca said. “Once I started knitting in public, I didn’t really care what people think. I enjoy doing it and I’m going to do it.”

Ten men have since joined the group, which has knitted around 200 toques (hats). Many of these hats have been gifted to loved ones, while the rest have been donated to a women’s recovery house.

The men in this group see knitting as a metaphor for starting over in life and changing things around, one stitch at a time.

“It’s the one thing in my life that I cannot cheat, manipulate, cut a corner or find a shortcut around,” Mendonca explained. “I have to follow each little step one by one by one. It makes me realize that to get results, I have to follow the routine, the positive routine. I can’t veer from it, because I won’t end up with the result I want. The most satisfaction for me that’s come out of it is when you give someone a toque, or teach someone how to make one, and they mail it out to their kids or someone else.”

Mendonca has been in and out of prison for the past twenty years, yet he said he’s happier than he’s ever been now after taking up knitting.

“So you’d walk into our group and see 10 guys knitting,” he said with a laugh. “Or walk in and a bunch of guys are watching Scarface and they’re all knitting.”

Ben Slaney is another man in the group whose life has been changed by knitting.

“I came over here because of issues with opiates. I’ve learned a lot of tools to help me battle this giant,” he said of his time at Phoenix. “This ‘toquing’ that we call it, was a great way to get to know the guys. It became therapeutic for me. It’s a great way to give back. I’ve sent some along to family members, some to the girls upstairs, some to the donation box. I really like giving them away.”

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