It is easy for us to say drug addicts “brought it upon themselves”, or that they do not have any willpower to beat their addictions. Should addiction be seen as a “disease”?
That is what psychiatrists believe. In Singapore, drug addicts who want to go for detoxification will have to enter into Institute of Mental Health’s National Addictions Management Service. For me, I see it as a bondage. My friend shared with me that while on a mission trip, he learnt that a drug lord and his captain would chant and pray over the opium and heroin that they trafficked. I believe that there is a hex cast upon the drugs, and as such there is a bondage. A bondage that only God can set free. It was only after I found religion that I had the strength to quit drugs.
You had been in and out of rehabilitation a few times. What was so different this time that you managed to quit drugs?
I came from a Christian family, so I was always a believer of God. When I was young, I didn’t want to go to Sunday service as that was the time when the best cartoons would be on TV. The first few times I was in living in different halfway houses, I felt His presence, and I saw many miracles in my friends who were like me but had managed to transform their lives. However, I was not willing to come before Him in total surrender. I held on to my sinful desires and deeper issues such as anger and selfishness. Because of their pride, gang members tend to be very short-tempered, getting riled up by the littlest of things, and I was like that as well. It was only when I surrendered completely to God that I managed to quit drugs.
What have drugs wrested from you?
My youth. I missed my learning years, and even though I wish to go back and study right now, it’s very tough.
Though if not for your life journey, you wouldn’t have found your current calling, which is very meaningful work. Could you describe the work you do at TNCM?
Here at TNCM, we don’t just teach the residents; we model and set examples, and we journey together with them. The residents will go through a one-year programme that involves counselling, family reconciliation, and more; we also help them to reintegrate into society. After a year, they will get to work at our social enterprise, which provides moving, maintenance, painting and delivery services to companies and churches. They will receive a salary of up to fifty dollars a day, and their meals and transportation are provided by us.
Since 2016, TNCM has been organising the Unlabelled Run, which advocates removing the labels we place on not just drug addicts and at-risk youths but everyone in general. Tell us about the impact of labels.
I was a drug addict for twenty years. My teachers used to place me in the ‘cannot-study’ box and didn’t bother about me — this was back in the eighties so society wasn’t as progressive then. Because of my drug use, my self-esteem dropped, I couldn’t hold a proper job, and I didn’t dare to look someone in the eye and hold a conversation.
People label drug addicts as hopeless, good-for-nothing… I think this is not true. For those of us who have transformed our lives, we don’t just live drug-free lives; we contribute to society by helping at-risk youths and inmates. For us at TNCM, we have noticed that many youths are labelled because of their single-parent family backgrounds, appearances, behaviours, addictions and more. Because of constant mocking, they slip into depression, and some don’t even dare to return to their schools. We want to advocate for all of these stigmas to be removed. When we label someone, we bury his or her potential. Yes, drug addicts have a chequered past, but they need someone to give them that opportunity to change.