“I know I shouldn’t be alive,” says Andre. “I was always in and out of emergency rooms or found passed out somewhere. At times, I consumed enough alcohol to kill a horse. But someone was looking out for me.”
Andre credits both his Salvation Army church family and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for helping him stay sober and on the right path.
Andre’s story begins after he was removed from his family, along with two of his four sisters and one of his brothers, and placed in foster care. Andre says he was in and out of 11 foster homes by the time he was 15, and suffered physical and sexual abuse in many of the placements.
“Because of that, I lost interest in school. I lost interest in everything,” he says.
Andre ran away from the last home. “This guy was two feet taller than me and one day I came home and I tried to fight back but I lost.”
After the incident, Andre was deemed “unmanageable” and placed in a reform school.
“When I left the school, I was 16 and I had no respect for authority,” says Andre. “I ran the streets and I got into alcohol to cover the pain and shame.”
Finding the Army
Andre had problems with alcohol from the age of 17 until he was 52, and that was the cause of the breakdown of his marriage in 1977. As a result, he lost touch with his children for many years.
“The turning point was in 1999,” says Andre. “I’d had enough of the drinking and I reached out to God to help me. I couldn’t go on like this, in a black hole of despair. I had an experience then. The desire to drink just left me, and once that happened, I got myself into a 28-day program in Elliot Lake, Ont.”
Andre was in and out of AA for 22 years. “I just thank God that I kept coming back and started to share my testimony with the group,” he says. “That’s how it works; that’s AA in a nutshell. You can’t maintain sobriety if you are carrying the world on your shoulders. The streets are full of people who were abused. I am so glad that I found God and I found a way out.”
Andre discovered The Salvation Army in 1999 as he was trying out different churches. When The Salvation Army church opened in Barrhaven, a suburb of Ottawa, Andre started attending full time.
A Brother’s Loss
“I had 13½ years of sobriety but I fell off the wagon after the death of my two brothers, which came just six days apart,” he says. He was particularly close to Emile, who was disabled. “When I lost him, it took Emile four days to die. I couldn’t even go to my other brother Albert’s funeral because I was holding Emile’s hand.”
Having looked after him most of his life, Andre felt empty after Emile died, and the grief and pain stayed with him. “It wasn’t until I got into The Salvation Army that I started feeling better about myself and I stopped feeling alone.
“The Salvation Army church family in general, and Major Chris Rideout in particular, were there for me,” says Andre. “We became good friends and he came over in the middle of the night a few times when I needed someone.”
Andre continues to go to AA meetings and has shared his story with his church. He volunteers his time by maintaining the Salvation Army building in Barrhaven.
A New Life
Now 67, Andre has been sober just over a year, but is facing another battle. He was diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancer, and his doctors gave him just four months to live.
“My world didn’t fall apart,” he says. “I had all these people praying for me, and I’ve been able to maintain a positive attitude. I know that in my alcoholic world, I would have died. It’s been a year and I feel better than I did when I was diagnosed. I have my oncologist scratching his head. My cancer is stable; I call it a miracle!
“A lot of people just lie down and give up, and then they die. I don’t know what God’s will is for me but I guess He wasn’t ready for me in heaven. Maybe God wants me to do something, so every time I am asked, I do it. I really don’t know what I would have done without The Salvation Army.”
(Editor’s Note: Sadly, Andre lost his battle with cancer and passed away on January 22.)