“Drug users suffer, but their families suffer even more,” said Zeng Ming Di. Her two younger brothers, enslaved by drugs a good part of their lives, suffered tragically. Their parents, worried and living in fear for their sons’ sake, felt like they had been dragged into hell.
It has been my wish since I was young to get married, have two kids, and establish a happy, warm, harmonious family. I told myself I’d arrange my days so that they were pleasant, fulfilling, and wonderful. But that dream evaporated when I succumbed to the vile habit of using drugs. I felt like I’d fallen into an abyss and was powerless to stop my descent.
I vow that this will be my last time in prison. If I do drugs again after I’m out, it will be my death penalty. I’ll take my own life if I so much as lay my hands on drugs. I’ll put an end to my pitiful life and not drag my family down with me again.
A-liang wrote those thoughts in a journal he kept while in prison. Having been in and out of prison for five years, he vowed he’d never touch drugs again. He sketched out his hope for a better future in the words of that diary. Yet tragically, things did not pan out as he had hoped.
The next year, early in the summer of 1991, A-liang’s older brother A-chang was put behind bars on charges of drug use. Later that same year, their father, physically and mentally exhausted from dealing with his sons’ drug problems, died of illness. A-liang was out of prison by that time, but he had not successfully given up drugs as he had vowed. He felt ashamed that he had not cleaned up his act in time to allow his father to see him turn over a new leaf. Now it was forever too late. Deeply remorseful, he committed suicide one year later. He was only 31 when he died. When his sister Zeng Ming Di (曾明諦) rushed home that night after receiving a call from their mother, A-liang’s body had already gone stiff. Devastated, the whole family cried in agony.
A-liang’s suicide note read, “Drugs are too difficult to quit. I’m sorry I dragged you all in, so I decided to take my life to end all this misery.” For A-liang, sniffing glue gave way to taking pentazocine, then amphetamines, and finally heroin. He went on a downward spiral until eventually he was drowned in a sea of drug abuse. Along the way, he caused his family endless pain.
All this happened more than 20 years ago. Zeng’s family has chosen to bury this painful memory deep in their hearts and rarely mention it. Even A-liang’s room was converted into a storage room long ago. Zeng has never had the courage to ask her mother how, on that tragic night, she managed to lower A-liang’s heavy body from the rope onto the floor.
A-liang left behind his journal, allowing his family to discover his inner pain. Zeng dissolved in tears as she read through it. The journal revealed that her brother had long ago made the decision to take his own life should he touch drugs again. Learning about his struggle, Zeng was sad and moved at the same time. “He still had a good heart.”
One of A-liang’s journal entries read: “A mother’s love for her children binds her to them forever. It’s like being sentenced to life in prison without any possibility of parole. I’m so indebted to my mom that I’ll never be able to fully pay her back. After I rejoin society this time, I’ll do my best to fulfill my duty as a son.” When A-liang was still in prison, their mom sent him three to five thousand NT dollars (US$100 to 165) every month for him to use. A-liang felt bad that he not only caused his mom to suffer but also had to take money from her.
Zeng said that both her parents loved A-liang and A-chang deeply, despite their drug habit. Before her dad passed away, he told Zeng again and again to never give up on her two younger brothers and to do what she could to help them kick their habit. His love for his sons, in spite of the pain they had brought him, was heartrending and touching.
He had had quite a good career. He and his wife had two daughters and three sons, all of whom they loved dearly and were very protective of. Zeng remembers that their dad was so protective of them he would not let them engage in any sport that might pose the least bit of danger. When A-chang was in junior high, he began rebelling against the protectiveness of his parents, which he deemed restrictive. He fell in with bad company and started going astray. Their dad, to cut off his son’s ties to those bad influences, moved the family twice. However, even such measures could not stop A-chang from continuing to go down the wrong path.
In 1975, Zeng graduated from a teachers college. A-chang was in a juvenile detention house by then. Zeng kept trying to talk sense into her brother and persuade him to return to the right path, but to no avail. Even worse, their younger brother A-liang began using drugs too.
A-chang did not come to his senses until their dad had passed away and A-liang had committed suicide. He broke his addiction, landed a steady job, got married, and started a family. Sadly, he was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Weakened by his long-time drug habit, he found it hard to bear the pain brought on by the illness. To dull the pain, he began taking drugs again. Within a short month, he spent hundreds of thousands of NT dollars on heroin.
When the drugs caused hallucinations, he asked Zeng to accompany him to a hospital to help him break his addiction. Unfortunately, he eventually lost his fight with cancer. Before he died, he held his mom’s hand and repented of his wrongs in tears. He said he hadn’t gotten a chance to fulfill his filial duty to his dad, and now he couldn’t even continue to take care of his mom, let alone see his own daughter grow up. He was sad that in his 46 years of life, he had wasted 18 years in slavery to drugs. He asked to be buried with his dad so that he could ask for his forgiveness.
A life-long tug of war with drugs
At A-chang’s funeral, his mom was given a cane to hit his coffin three times. This is a Taiwanese tradition observed when a child dies before his or her parents. It symbolizes a reprimand to the child for breaking his or her parents’ hearts by dying before them. But his mother could not bring herself to hit the coffin. She cried and said, “He tried to clean up his act. He wasn’t a bad son. He was my beloved darling.” Then she dropped the cane and cried inconsolably.
Zeng said that though their parents loved them, they never doted on them. To help her two brothers break their addiction, they even asked the police to place them into juvenile detention houses. When that failed to reform them, they later checked them into private rehab centers and other similar facilities.
When her brothers came home, their mom kept a close eye on them almost 24 hours a day. But when a craving hit, her brothers’ eyes would glaze over, they would talk incoherently, and all they wanted to do was rush out of their home to get a fix. Drug dealers that would satisfy their cravings were never far away. “It was impossible to stop them from going out,” Zeng recalled. “I’d often think to myself in frustration: ‘We’re doing our very best to help them. How can they keep on like this?’”
Her brothers would steal gold jewelry or cash from home to buy drugs. When they could not get their hands on any money, they would raise such a racket that even their neighbors could hear it. They even lied to swindle money from their family, saying they were starting businesses with friends and needed some capital. Their father knew that if he gave them the money, they would just use it to buy drugs, but he still gave it to them because he didn’t want them to steal from other people to pay for drugs. He was helpless and deeply disappointed in his sons.
Zeng and her family were most afraid of receiving phone calls telling them that A-chang or A-liang had been sent to a hospital or police station again. Sometimes they were arrested because their friends had given them firearms for safekeeping, or they had been found in possession of stolen goods. Sometimes they were sent to hospital because they had been found lying on the side of a road injured or unconscious from taking drugs. “At times like those, we had to drop whatever we were doing and rush to where they were to take care of things for them,” said Zeng. “We were constantly on pins and needles; there was no peace for us.”
When A-chang or A-liang were incarcerated, their family would visit them regularly no matter how far away they were. Ironically, it was only when they were serving their sentences that their family could get a breather. But going to prison never did the two brothers any good. In prison, they got to know more drug dealers or made more wrong friends, and when they got out they just fell back into their old ways.
One night, Zeng, having married and moved out of her parents’ home, visited her parents. In the living room, her mom and dad sat silently across from each other. They sighed and cried, saying to her, “We’re so miserable. Our two sons can’t quit drugs. We feel like we’re living in hell.”
A-liang recorded his feelings, thoughts, and regrets in his journal in prison. His entries show how badly he wanted to reform and atone for his past wrongs, and how much he missed his family. The red underlines were made by Zeng Ming Di, A-liang’s older sister.
Save at least one
People often look at drug addicts with leery eyes, but Zeng knew that her two brothers were not bad people. They were kind at heart, but it was just that they were “sick.” They needed help from society.
She says that whether people can successfully kick their drug habits depends a great deal on their willpower, but that it would have really helped her brothers if there had been some sort of halfway house to help them transition back into society after they were released from prison. “Many former prisoners revert to their old ways because they find it challenging to readjust to society.” Some have trouble holding down regular jobs because they cannot stand how people look at them because of their past.
Zeng admitted that back when she was still a teacher, she avoided talking about her two younger brothers to outsiders because she felt they were a shame to their family. Her parents felt the same way. They blamed themselves but could not figure out what they had done wrong as parents. “We’ve never done any evil. How did our sons end up like this?”
Zeng’s experience as a member of a family with drug addicts has allowed her to know the pain drug use can cause. To help prevent people from falling victim to drugs, she has bravely stepped forward and joined Tzu Chi’s anti-drug campaign. She shares her story in public, even though every time she does so she relives the agonizing pain she once felt.
“Anti-drug education is really important,” Zeng reiterated. “It brings to people’s attention the terrible consequences of doing drugs. It’s like giving inoculation shots. Even if we can save just one, at least that’s one. We must keep kids from touching drugs.” She knows how difficult it is to wean someone off drugs. Once you get on the road of drug abuse, it is hard to return. She does not want anyone to be enslaved by drugs again or go through the pain she and her family went through. “Drug addiction is so difficult to kick, it’s like you’re possessed. Never try it out of curiosity. You must love yourself and your family.”