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Blind men helped me see

After 25 years as an alcoholic and drug addict Alan Murray says a group of blind men helped inspire him to see a whole new life.

One day, just before I cleaned up my life, I walked past this record store and saw a CD cover. Something said, ‘go back’, so I did. It was an album from The Blind Boys of Alabama, singing gospel and contemporary songs about faith. I bought it and did some research on them. I thought, these guys are blind, but they’ve had this amazing life. What’s to stop me living a great life?

Since I left The Salvation Army’s addiction service, the Bridge, in 2004 there’s been a life buzz. I think I’ve lived more life in 12 years than I did in the 44 prior.

In early recovery, it’s a tricky question, ‘What are you going to do to replace drugs or alcohol?’ My caseworker suggested, ‘Allow yourself a year to get to know yourself.’ In some ways I was meeting myself for the first time.

I used to walk around, just looking at life, watching people, learning how to be a person again. I taught myself to garden and did bits and pieces for the Bridge. After a year, I got a job at a printers and later came to work at Wellington Community Ministries.

In the past, when I was lying in a gutter drunk or stoned, sometimes I’d have this moment of clarity and think, ‘If you weren’t drunk or high you could be sky diving or scuba diving.’

So, in 2011, I went to Cairns to learn to scuba dive, and while I was there I went sky diving too. I decided to do the highest jump, from 14,000 feet. I did another jump an hour later. That taught me about faith and trust. Faith that the guy I was strapped to, who I’d known for 45 minutes, would get me to the ground safely—and then the moment we hit the ground was when I trusted him enough to say yes to jumping again. I’ve also fed sharks twice in Fiji.

I work as intake coordinator at Community Ministries. I interview clients and provide food parcels or furniture, or refer them for other help. Often you have people in tears when you say, ‘Yes, we can help you.’ I had a big fellow, ex-gang member with a full face moko, sitting here crying because I got him furniture to move into a flat.

I also work with the Wellington Street Outreach, with people from 20 to 30 social services and the council who go out in pairs and talk to street people. It’s a real privilege because you hear stories they wouldn’t trust anyone else with, and it’s making a real difference. I also work as a Bridge Consumer Advisor, talking to clients about how the programme is working for them and if there are things that could be done better. That’s great because I’m using my experience to give back to the clients.

One of the bonuses of the job is after you have helped people, you see them later and they’re smiling. To see someone who for a year didn’t know how to smile and see them smile, their smile is like a sunny day—and there’s a lot of those sunny days now.