Ex-drug addict blames herself for family’s struggles
While outsiders have doubted her, Nina's family has become her biggest motivation, source of support
"Uncle, please don't take my mother away."
These words were uttered by Nina's (not her real name) daughter, who was about four then as she pleaded with the policemen to not arrest her mother.
With 73.6 per cent of prison inmates being drug offenders, The New Paper met a family where both parents had either been in jail or drug rehabilitation centres (DRCs).
The family described the struggles they faced and how the four children had to be cared for by others.
Nina told TNP that memories of the day the police arrested her at home for drug-related crimes continue to plague her daily, even though it happened almost a decade ago.
The 53-year-old former drug addict and trafficker, who has spent more than 20 years in and out of prison and DRCs, said she fights temptation every day.
She said: "Triggers are everywhere. They are in familiar places and people. Stress can also be a trigger. I have to constantly be alert to catch myself."
THE URGE: Triggers are everywhere. They are in familiar places and people. Stress can also be a trigger. I have to constantly be alert to catch myself.
Nina on fighting temptation
Her husband is a former addict too.
When TNP visited Nina's two-room rental flat on Oct 24, the family home was sparsely furnished, with just one armchair in the living room. But hanging proudly on the wall is a photograph of her oldest son winning an award at school.
There have been times when both parents were in prison, leaving their four children, now aged 18, 16, 12 and 10, in the care of relatives.
One of Nina's biggest regrets is about being separated from her husband and children.
She told TNP: "My children have had to deal with it because at school, their teachers and friends know about it.
"People look at us and say hurtful things."
THE HARDSHIP: My children have had to deal with it because at school, their teachers and friends know about it. People look at us and say hurtful things.
Nina on going to jail
She said people have called her "hopeless" and doubted she could ever turn over a new leaf and support her family.
They regarded her a failure of a mother and person. But her family has become her biggest motivation and source of support.
Nina got teary-eyed as she recounted the day her second son was invited back to school to give a speech after he had successfully passed his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) after two tries.
She recalled him saying: "When I needed my mother most, she was not there.
"But after everything, I do not regret having her for a mother. I look at my parents and I see they are really trying their best. I am proud of them."
Nina, who was released from prison in 2015, said her children are aware of their parents' troubled past and are supportive of their recovery.
THE REGRET: Through this, I have lost everything – my career, family, friends and freedom. My biggest regret is disappointing my mother.
Her second son, Kane (not his real name), now 16, told TNP: "I missed my mother a lot. We were separated and living in my aunt's home. I knew I had a family, but we did not live together.
"What I really wanted was to know what it would feel like to be with my own family."
He recalled an incident that occurred when he was around seven, after his parents had been arrested again.
He said: "My sister was three then. One day, the electricity was cut off. My parents were not there, and it was dark and scary. I did not know what to do, my mind went blank."
He failed his PSLE the first time after constantly playing truant.
Kane said had his mother not forced him to return to school after her release, he would not have changed.
He told TNP he hated going to school because he got bullied over his family troubles.
Said Kane: "I don't remember the bullies' names. But I remember they would make fun of me because once, CNB (Central Narcotics Bureau) officers came to school to pick me and my brother up.
"I hated going to school and was angry at the circumstances. But now, it inspires me to work harder. If my mother can (overcome her difficulties), why can't I?I will prove (the bullies) wrong with my studies."
While her family is supportive, Nina still blames herself for their hardships and told TNP she regrets what her children have had to suffer.
She said she picked up drugs in her early twenties after being introduced to them by her former husband. She has tried them all, from heroin to Ice and marijuana.
But Nina does not blame anyone but herself.
She said: "Maybe, I can say I was innocent and easily influenced that first time. But after that, I made those choices (to take drugs).
"It is easy, after going through all the struggles, to just give up on myself and think that this is just my life and go back to drugs. But I never want to go back inside (prison) again."
Before she got addicted to drugs, her life was going well and she had a stable government job, all of which she lost.
Nina added: "Through this, I have lost everything - my career, family, friends and freedom. My biggest regret is disappointing my mother."
She added that after many years of being separated from her family, the first Hari Raya they celebrated together was special.
Now, she tries to make sure she puts something special together for her children, no matter how little they have.
She said: "They told me they were so happy to be able to eat food made by their own mother and it really touched me."
"When I was inside, I thought about them so much. Not hearing news and not knowing how they were doing was so painful. I was afraid they would forget me."
‘Anything can be a trigger’ for ex-addicts
Experts said one of the reasons the numbers of those incarcerated for drug-related offences is relatively high could be because of the nature of addiction, which makes re-offending more likely.
Psychologist Lawrence Tan told The New Paper there are multiple reasons why former addicts fall back into the habit. These range from social and the emotional to the physiological.
And the challenges they face can be difficult to overcome, especially without proper treatment, he added.
Mr Tan said: "It's a vicious cycle. After having been incarcerated for a long time, they come out and are not prepared to re-enter society.
"With the stigma and lack of support, it is easy to give up on themselves and fall back into old habits or old company."
Like Nina said earlier, everything can be a trigger.
Mr Tan added: "Even an old job, with the people they used to know or where access to drugs might be present - anything can be a trigger."
He said for many addicts, the brain has also become wired to require specific types of highs.
And they might find daily pleasures such as meeting friends or a good meal no longer adequate in providing happiness.
Mr Tan added the isolation they feel adds to the risk.
He said it is usually those who stay close to their support systems and recovery networks such as counsellors who are more likely to recover.
He added the type of drug the former addict used to take can affect the process of recovery.
National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser told TNP the impacts of such disorders can be far reaching.
He said: "First, drug abuse has a negative effect on health, which could impair a person's capacity to function normally.
"This could, in turn, affect the drug abuser's capacity to hold on to a job and be able to contribute as a responsible member of his or her company, family, community, and society."
Associate Professor Tan added that drug abusers are likely to become a liability to the people closest to them.
He said: "They may also end up committing crimes to feed their addiction, and eventually leading to incarceration or even suffer capital punishment.
"This would likely have a traumatic effect on their families and children, if any." - CHEOW SUE-ANN