How did you make it through National Service? Given the regimented environment, I don’t suppose there were many opportunities for you to get high.
The power of influence is amazing — two years in the army as a combat engineer, I think I took drugs fewer than five times. While my campmates drank and smoked, they didn’t like drugs, and would give me a scolding whenever I did so. And that’s how I steered clear of drugs, because again I wanted to feel like I belonged to a group.
When we were young, our parents would caution against mixing with bad company, and this piece of advice would fall on deaf ears. But the people we befriend impact our behaviours and lifestyles. If you mix with people who break the law, sooner or later you will join in their shenanigans. You’ve got to be careful about whom you call friends.
Tell us about the definitive moment you wanted to turn over a new leaf.
I was thirty-three years old — at the time, I could inject fifteen tablets of dormicum and still be sober enough to drive, whereas half a tablet would knock someone else out. I had become tolerant to drugs, and so I had to take more to achieve the same pleasurable kick that I experienced the previous time. Years of drug abuse had caused the veins in my arms to collapse, and so that one day, I had to use the veins in my neck. It was then I finally saw myself in the mirror. A long hard look. I was shocked by my own reflection: I was so frail, and I had sunken eyes. I couldn’t recognise myself.
It was then I called a pastor I knew was helping out at a halfway house. I had lied to him many times before, asking him to lend me some money under the pretence of getting medicine to quit drugs, and I’d bail on my appointments with him. I wasn’t expecting him to answer my call, but he did, and I told him I needed help. He said something that touched my heart: “Where are you? How can I help you?” It was then I decided to do something with my life.
Quitting drugs must not have been an easy journey. Could you describe your experience?
The toughest period was when I went through twenty-eight days of withdrawal symptoms: Because I had injected drugs, I took more time than those who inhaled. The entire time, my eyes were watery, my joints were stiff as if they were screwed together, I had a runny nose, and I slept no longer than five minutes for eleven days. On the ninth day, I began hallucinating — I remember vividly once I thought that I had put on a really long pair of legs like stilts, and was walking around in that pair of legs.
But even after this episode, I didn’t quit drugs. Whenever I was allowed home leave, I would sneak off to smoke cigarettes. It had become a habit I could not kick. Research has shown that cigarettes are the gateway to drugs — this was true for me, and after smoking I kept slipping back to drugs.
A few months later, a good friend of mine at the halfway house was planning to head to Taiwan to study. Before he left, he urged me to head to The New Charis Mission (TNCM), as he knew I wasn’t doing so well in my journey. He challenged me to turn my life around. At the time, I asked myself, “What’s the point of transferring to TNCM if I was going to repeat the same mistakes, the same pattern of abuse?” And so I made a decision for myself — I still remember standing at the entrance of TNCM with my friends, and I told them: ‘This will be the last cigarette I smoke’. When I was done, I stubbed my cigarette, threw away the butt and never smoked ever again.