It wasn’t too long ago that 52-year-old Alfred Andrew was being pushed by his friends in a shopping cart to the emergency shelter in downtown Campbell River because he was too drunk to get there himself.
He had been going in and out of various recovery and counselling programs throughout his almost 40 years of substance abuse, but couldn’t make anything stick. He always ended up back on the street, using whatever drugs he could get his hands on, sleeping wherever he could find a warm spot – or at least one that was covered.
The thought of facing the world without the drugs was not a thought he could handle.
But he watched as those around him, living the lifestyle he was living, started dying from it.
More than once, he ended up in hospital battling hypothermia from being out in the elements and being either unable to feel them, or unable to do anything about it.
“I had no choice,” he says. “It was either continue on with what I was doing or die.
“But I chose to live. And every day I make that choice again.”
These days, instead of being pushed to the shelter in a shopping cart for a bed for the night, he helps run the facility.
And he’ll be three years clean and sober as of this coming June.
“He’s probably one of the ones that, a few years ago, we would have thought was unlikely to get it together,” says Pastor Art Van Holst of Radiant Life Church, who oversees the emergency shelter’s operation. “But he did, and it’s just great. He’s a real asset to us, because he’s been there – he’s walked the walk – and people listen to him because he can relate.”
People like Andrew, Van Holst says, “are why we do what we do. Sometimes it can be frustrating, because you see people going through the cycle, through the cycle. When you see people like him, doing what he’s doing, it makes all the effort – all your work – worthwhile. This is a wonderful story of not only seeing his own recovery but also that he wants to give back to help other people who are where he was and help them get through it.”
For his part, Andrew sees his new life as an opportunity to affect change for others.
“It’s an opportunity to be an example, a better example, a positive example, a role model, you know? To my street friends and family that are still out there, that I see nightly when I’m at work, I can be an example that there is hope for them to make that change, too.”
He sees the possibility for change in some of them, as well, and will do whatever he can to help with that.
“I can tell through conversing with them that some of them are close to that stage where they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, you know? And they’re afraid of the light – and I know that feeling. I know that cycle,” he says, and he knows how great life can be once that cycle is broken, so he’ll do whatever he can to help others break it.
He works three nights per week at the shelter, and he spends his days smiling like a man who loves his life because he knows it was nearly over long before it needed to be.
His goal is eventually to work at a place like Second Chance, the men’s substance recovery house here in Campbell River, if someone will have him.
He feels he can bring his experience from going through it himself to a role like that and be of real benefit to those still suffering in the cycle, just as he’s doing now with the emergency shelter.
And he’s well on his way to making that a reality. He already volunteers with Second Chance, when he can, and has just completed the Peer Support Training program through Campbell River Mental Health & Addictions Services.
That’s his only goal, though. He’s not making long-term plans.
“I need to just be myself,” he says. “Goals come as they catch my interest, I guess. We’ll see what life has in store for me as I make my way through it.”
And that’s how he has to live.
After all, as he says, that old life is just one choice away.
“I can’t forget about it,” he says, “because I have to remember where I came from to keep striving forward.”