1993 / 7月
Chang Chung-fang /photos courtesy of Cheng Yuan-ching /tr. by Phil Newell
After the discovery of a drug cache worth an estimated NT$10 billion in Tungkang in Pingtung County unveiled the depth of the drug problem insociety, the fight against narcotics has become the latest "citizens' movement." Amidst all the discussion, one aspect of the problem is getting little attention: most instances of successful rehabilitation are connected to religious faith.
Who planted the poppy by the roadside/To let its fragrance drift as it will in the breeze/Pure in his heart, he knew not the dangers of the flower/And he drifted deeper into its curious fragrance/Taking it/Goodness and vigor are soon lost/Taking it/Health and happiness disappear/Burn the flowers and let them not grow in the ground/The poppies every where lean toward the light of the sun.
Each day, morning and evening, the twenty drug-dependent patients in the "Operation Dawn" drug rehabilitation village sing morale-building songs like these under the direction of the priests.
They look no different on the outside than anyone else. Their look of sincerity as they go through the songs and psalms makes them look like boys and girls in a church choir. In fact, they are all "severe-case" addicts who originally had no interest in religion; they only came to this religiously- affiliated drug rehabilitation group after all other efforts had failed, giving God his chance.Addicted for a day, in rehabilitation for life:
Chu Tsung-ling, now 37, comes from a family of status and is not without talents, yet already has a 24-year history of drug addiction. He began taking drugs as a second-year middle school student, out of curiosity. He took anything and everything that could make a person high. Once he swallowed sixteen pills at once, and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment; he regained consciousness only after eight days. He married three times, each time ending in divorce. He tried to kill himself twice. His brothers and sisters didn't dare tell him when they moved to a new address, fearing that he would show up at their door to beg or cheat money to buy drugs.
Over the past twenty years, Chu has been in and out of rehabilitation centers, private facilities, and psychiatric hospitals no less than 30 times. "As soon as I went in they tied me up and gave me a shot to make me sleep," he states. The first thing he did upon getting out was invariably to get a fix.
The last time Chu went to the rehabilitation center at the Veterans' General Hospital. After a two-week rehab period ended, Dr. Yeh Hung-hsiu, head of the "Drug Rehabilitation Team," told him: "Only Operation Dawn can save you now." Feeling anything was worth a shot, Chu came to the Operation. So called "Gospel rehabilitation" means relying on the power of religion, prayer, scripture- reading, and discussion to help people kick narcotics. Many people once adrift in the sea of drugs have successfully reached shore with these techniques. They tell of their own experience, and they use similar methods to help people with the same problem as themselves. Operation Dawn priest Simon Liu is a case in point.Looking back to help his brothers:
Simon Liu joined a gang in Hongkong when he was 15, where he began taking drugs to behave like the gang leader. When he discovered half a year later that he had become addicted, he immediately thought to quit. "I was quitting for ten years, and taking for ten years, and my mother shed ten years of tears," he recalls. He tried locking himself up, signing on for a stint as a crewman at sea, coming to Taiwan to study.... none of these worked at thoroughly curing him of narcotics. Under his mother's repeated entreaties, he finally went to Hong kong's Dawn Island, where a group of Christians was running a program specially designed to help drug addicts. There he accepted Gospel rehabilitation.
In his seven years at Dawn Island, Simon Liu not only ended his drug dependency, he also found dignity and meaning in his life, and began to "look back to help my brothers." In 1984 Liu brought a missionary to Taiwan to undertake Gospel rehabilitation work and established "Operation Dawn." Over the past nine years, the "Sisters' House" (in Taipei) and two "drug rehabilitation villages" (in Miaoli and Taitung) have been set up.
Other groups, like the "House of the Lord's Love" in Hualien, the "House of God's Grace" in Pingtung, and the "Christian Drug Rehabilitation Association" in Kaohsiung all likewise are institutions using the Gospel rehabilitation method.
"Can listening to the Gospel cure one of drug addiction? You must be kidding." "If quitting was that easy, I would have quit long ago." Those who have failed repeatedly trying the alternatives always are sceptical when they first hear that faith can help one to reject drugs. some ever sneer. It is said that if one is "addicted for a day," then one is "trying to quit for a lifetime," so many wonder how faith alone can succeed in taming addictions that the users, friends and family, and doctors could not.The road to rehabilitation:
According to a study by the Taipei Municipal Anti-Narcotic Center (ANC), only 16% of those who leave the center have not again taken drugs within four months of their release. Who knows how low the figure gets after four months.
Why is it so hard to reverse addiction?
Drug rehabilitation includes the two stages of physical and psychological treatment. In terms of physical rehabilitation, there are basically three varieties in use around the world. The first is "drug substitution." This method uses opium derivatives like Methadone to substitute for the drugs. Because they are relatively nontoxic and of long-term effectiveness, addicts can kick their habit by gradually reducing intake over time. The advantage is that this method is less painful and more humane, and it can stabilize the lives of addicts and reduce crime. Its weakness is that the rehabilitation period is ex tended, and there are concerns of excessive use of or addiction to the substitute product.
Right now this method is used in both the United States and Hongkong. It cannot be adopted in Taiwan because items like Methadone are still controlled substances.
The second method is "symptom treatment." This is to prescribe medications for the various symptoms of different types of narcotics, employing tranquilizers and painkillers to help patients get through the trauma of short-term withdrawal. On the plus side, the rehab period is short -- usually about one week. On the down side, it requires on-the-spot care, and it is also more painful for the addict.
Currently the ANC and public hospitals use this approach.The body is willing but the mind is weak:
In general, private hospitals generally use the most convenient method--curing drug dependency through induced sleep.
This method relies on sleeping medications and tranquilizers to permit the patient to pass through the withdrawal period in a soporific state. This approach is by no means consistent with treatment principles, because it is easy to use excessive amounts of medications; moreover, there will be discomfort after the use of the tranquilizers.
The first stage of drug rehabilitation is not all that hard. It's the second stage--psychological treatment--that is most demanding. Huang Heng-hsing, a physician at the ANC, argues that drug ad diction is a chronic behavioral problem, and requires extended psychological guidance to rectify. Doctors can only undertake short-term emergency treatment, and the next stage should be taken over by social workers.
Wang Hao-wei, a doctor at the Tsu-chi Buddhist General Hospital, who is currently undertaking a study of cases at the "House of the Lord's Love," contends that the reconstruction of the addict's psychological, social, family, and interpersonal structures is a major project. The focus of rehabilitation work should really be on how to get those who have accepted physical treatment to reject turning back to where they came. The reason why rehabilitation work has not been very successful to date is that this second task has not been properly attended to.
"When doctors can only do so much, and one cannot rely on one's own strength, using faith to compensate is an effective method," says Dr. Wang.Who made my son so fat?
One mother who went to the rehab camp to look for her son almost didn't even recognize him when he was standing right in front of her face. Her son had degenerated into a mere skeleton while taking drugs, but in three short months had gained more than ten kilograms. And it was not only his exterior that had changed--his whole attitude had moderated.
Can faith really change a person? Father Liu states that Gospel rehabilitation uses the word of God to help people reconstruct a healthy philosophy of life. Only in this way can addicts truly release themselves from the bonds of dependency, and not end up on the same old street.
This approach does not employ any medications, but depends only on prayer, scripture reading, and the comfort and encouragement of the priest and other patients to get through the painful withdrawal period.
Some wonder whether this approach is humanitarian. Yeh Hung-hsiu believes that although the initial withdrawal period under healing-through-faith can be uncomfortable, it is not life threatening. Anyway, due to the limits of medications, the method currently used by his hospital can only lessen, and not fully eliminate, the pain.
Further, it is by no means impossible to stand the pain of the withdrawal period. Taking anesthetic drugs like morphine for example, Dr. Huang says that giving up drugs of this type will cause symptoms like anxiety, yawning, goose pimples, cold sweats, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramps during the withdrawal period. "The whole process is like having a bad case of the flu, and the patient will begin to feel better after three or four days." However, notes Dr. Huang, the sense of fear and helplessness in this period may indeed feel like "being on the edge of death." At this time, the support and encouragement of friends and of those who have been there can be very useful.God begins where man leaves off:
Prayer can be a source of strength.
Simon Liu takes every opportunity to lead people in prayer. Before the three meals, at bedtime, at the beginning and end of class or meetings, there is always a period of prayer. Chen Ping-chun, a recovering addict, states that he really wanted to run away at the beginning, "but the others here continually encouraged me and a group of people surrounded me in prayer. I was so moved I began to cry." Chen recalls that it was this force that helped him through the painful period of withdrawal.
Furthermore, those who have been through the experience before play an important role. Father Liu states that he himself was addicted for ten years and so has a good idea of how addicts feel. He points out that the common features of addicts include laziness, deception, cheating, grandiose ambitions, inadequacy, boastfulness, insecurity, a lack of trust in others, an inability to overcome disappointment, and an inability to succeed.
"Taking drugs itself is not a crime, but the things one does after becoming addicted are criminal," says Simon Liu. In order to get money to buy drugs, girls do not stop at selling their bodies, and boys will do anything to lie, cheat or steal
Addiction completely distorts a person's thinking and value systems. "The only way to rectify these deviant views is to rely on experience and time to work through with them." Father Liu explains that in this period the experience of those who have been there is the best tool.The individual has to walk the path:
Reading scriptures also has an unexpected effect on many people.
Hung Mei-ying, who has been in treatment at Operation Dawn's Sisters' House for one year and three months, says that the words in the Bible give her a great deal of confidence and power. The Bible says "something to the effect that people may know what they want to do but still be unable to do it. "This idea is really on the mark and is a perfect description of all addicts," states Ms. Hung. It's not that those dependent on drugs don't want to get better or don't want to quit, its just that they can't do it "We are willing to do anything for that needle or for that pill. We've already lost all dignity and all humanity," she says. Many people draw strength from the idea of a god who understands their weaknesses and sacrifices himself for their sin.
Although the method of rehabilitation through faith has been affirmed by most people, it is not successful for everyone.
Faith is not something that can be forced. It is said that "the priest can only lead the way through the door but it is the individual who has to walk the path." Some people gain confidence and strength from faith after only three or four months while others still have no comprehension after seven or eight.
"I see this as being like hard labor," says Luo Su-lan, who has been here four months. Up to the present she has still not felt any great revelation and she is still looking for the meaning to life. "Until I've found it I don't dare to leave; otherwise I'll end up in the same old rut," she says.The road to rehabilitation is rough:
There are not a small number of cases like Ms. Luo. And there are even more cases of those who fail along the way. Simon Liu points out that there have been 400 admissions to Operation Dawn in the last nine years, but the vast majority quit before finishing. Less than a fifth stayed the course. And among those who remained, less than one third were truly able to give up drugs for their whole lives.
Furthermore, because of the risks involved in giving up some drugs, rehabilitation through faith can not completely replace physical therapy. For example, during the withdrawal period from ethyl alcohol or sleeping medication, some patients may suffer cramps. Those on amphetamines may have hallucinations or other psychological symptoms.
However, the rehabilitation villages are not medical institutions and cannot employ medications. Some religious rehabilitation centers have already planned to work with psychologists in hopes of treating the symptoms created by amphetamines.
Father Liu also suggests to those who wish to kick the habit that it is best to first go to a hospital to undertake physical treatment, and then go to the rehabilitation villages for psychological treatment.
Perhaps leaving the treatment of the body to doctors and turning psychological dependency over to civic groups is really the best method of drug rehabilitation.Too many monks and too little rice gruel:
Rehabilitation through faith has become so accepted that even the Ministry of Justice has listed it as a type of psychological treatment. But with the vast demand that exists, existing institutions provide an inadequate supply.
Because they insist that staff must be former drug addicts who have been in this situation themselves, Operation Dawn's Miaoli and Taitung centers can only take about 20 addicts each. Meanwhile, there are two or three hundred people waiting in line to enter the centers.
At present, Buddhist organizations are preparing similar institutions. The newly established Tainan City Drug Treatment Association has been set up by a Buddhist group. Mo Su-fen, a social worker, indicates that the association, which is still preparing its facilities, had originally planned to begin accepting cases in 1995. But the preparatory office now receives three to four calls per day on average, "and with so much demand, this is pushing us to quicken our pace."
Mo Su-fen says that the association will accept all types of religion so that the patients themselves can choose the method for saving their own souls.
Given the current situation of "too many monks and too little rice gruel," some centers are facing a crisis of overly rapid expansion and inadequate staffing. Dr.Yeh Hung-hsiu says that if too many new people enter at once they will have a bad influence on each other and the impact of the other more seasoned residents will be limited.Anyone could become drug dependent:
Today, as the threat from drugs increases, anti-drug slogans fill the air. Yet very few people truly under stand the terror of drugs, the difficulty of quitting drugs, and the need to feel concern for those addicted.
Fortunately, drug dependent individuals who have in the past been seen as criminals are today being treated as patients. Some people have already been working at saving the souls of these addicts for many years. Nevertheless, this type of work requires even more understanding and support.
Most importantly, society should not underestimate drugs. "Anyone could become dependent on drugs,'' says Dr. Yeh. Only if everyone has this knowledge and rejects taking the first bite can the war against drugs have a hope of victory.
The patients at the rehabilitation village still have tears in their eyes as they sing the song "No Looking Back."
Some songs can be sung repeatedly/Some things can be done over again/But don't go back onto the road of addiction! Don't look back/Going back is a stain that is hard to wash away/Don't look back/Going back is a blind and desperate struggle/Don't look back/Going back creates hatred from which it will be hard to break free.
When all human efforts to treat drug addiction have failed, maybe faith can lend new confidence and strength.
It's not only drug addiction that requires rehabilitation--cigarettes and alcohol are addictions too. The "House of God's Love" is relatively lenient, however, occasionally letting residents light up a smoke.
A family visiting their daughter who is undergoing rehabilitation brings her favorite flowers and food along.
The environment at Gospel rehabilitation is quite different from the Taipei Municipal Anti-Narcotics Center. Entering the religious rehab village is like entering a big family home. (photo by Liu Wei-chun)
At Operation Dawn, those who have already successfully been through pass along their experiences to others. With confidence, you can kick the habit! (photo by Chang Min-yi)