Hope and Life beyond drug Addition by William Wan
The Straits Times April 1, 2019
Addicts can turn their lives around by living for a purpose, supported by the forgiveness and acceptance of loved ones and the community
There is life beyond a drug addiction.
DJ Tenashar, who was sentenced to 18 months' jail last Tuesday, joined thousands of others who are in jail for drug offences.
It was reported last year that 73.6 per cent of the 10,245 inmates in prison and drug rehabilitation centres in 2017 had committed drug-related offences.
DJ Tenashar, whose full name is Debbie Valerie Tenashar Long, is a former FHM Singapore cover girl. Because of her celebrity status, she is a reminder that drug offenders are not just a statistic.
She is a 33-year-old single mother of a 12-year-old girl.
When I read her story, my mind was transported back to 26 years ago when our middle child, Li-Lynn, was a teenager.
We were living in the United States then, where I was a pastor at United Methodist church in Washington DC.
She had dropped out of school and left home to live in Canada. It happened so suddenly. Drug consumption has away of turning one's life upside-down. She was only 16.
She had grown up in a middle-class suburban home, attended one of the best high schools where many students went on to Ivy League schools.
Li-Lynn was surrounded by love and affection and had everything she needed. But drugs affected her mind and body, and contributed to her making very bad choices.
Unlike DJ Tenashar, she was not convicted and did not go to jail.
But she was in her personal jail, nonetheless. For seven long years, her mind and body were imprisoned by the drugs she consumed.
She ended up pregnant, poor and desperate. At 20, she sought our help for the first time in years, by asking me to solemnise her wedding in Canada and gave birth to our grandson the same year.
Thankfully, he was born healthy.
Li-Lynn soldiered on for three years before she divorced and turned her life completely around.
"Dad," she called long-distance on her 23rd birthday. "Your grandson is doing well. I am sorry for the wrong choices I made. I want to make a life for my son and me. And I want to make you and mum happy."
With that resolution, she went back to school with her son in tow and completed her tertiary education, culminating in a PhD in social history. We were so proud to be at her graduation.
She went on to teach at her alma mater for a couple of years and, after consulting us, decided to go back to her first love - pottery.
During her teenage wilderness years, she had spent some time with a master potter learning the craft. She had sufficient talent, entrepreneurship and gumption to initiate a start-up.
Today, she is the proud owner of WaterDragon Pottery and is making a name for herself in Halifax, Canada.
Come next month, my wife and I will be in Halifax to witness our grandson's graduation from university. He will be receiving a degree in mechanical engineering from the same school his mother graduated from and used to teach at.
All's well that ends well.
And what can be learnt from this very personal story?
First, there is life beyond drug addiction, even for those like DJ Tenashar, who are convicted and sentenced.
There are many examples of successfully recovered individuals who are now contributing to society as entrepreneurs, professionals and just plain responsible citizens.
It is important for us to keep their hope alive by not stigmatising or rejecting them.
Second, the power of unconditional love and support given by those of us who are parents is not to be underestimated.
When Li-Lynn left us at 16, we had no idea whether she would ever turn around and turn back. But we decided to give her the love and support if, and when, she asked for it.
We told her that our hearts and our home remained open to her. And that made a difference. We kept in touch through phone calls, mail and other means. We waited patiently until she wanted to reconnect. And reconnect she did. Today, she is the most affectionate of our three children.
Third, though drug addiction damages mind and body, healing is possible.
Counselling and therapy are available. For some, it will take that and the touch of a higher power that they reach out to. For others, it is willpower to live for a purpose, as in the case of Li-Lynn wanting to change for her son's sake and ours too.
Mostly, it is a combination of many factors, not least of all the forgiveness, acceptance and support of loved ones and the community at large.
Minds and bodies are resilient and can be healed. Therein lies our hope.
Dr William Wan is general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement.