Drug addict kicks his habit, gets his family into the act

By Nhat Minh   July 4, 2020 | 05:31 am PT
Drug addict kicks his habit, gets his family into the act
Vi Van Thanh serves food after cooking it for15 patients and staff at the rehab center in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga.
“Your father is screaming, cursing and threatening to kill you!” Vi Van Thanh just laughed as he stirred some potato stew.

Thanh, 32, who beat a 15-year drug addiction, was cooking in the small kitchen of a drug rehab facility in Hanoi's Phuc Tho District, when an employee rushed in and reported his father’s threat.

Thanh laughed, wiped the dripping sweat from his face. He was not perturbed. "Now he is struggling with the addiction, so his mind is not stable. A few days later, when he wakes up, he will understand that I am doing this for his own benefit."

The young man understands what his father is experiencing, having gone through similar withdrawal pains two years ago. Once he beat the addiction, he turned his attention to his relatives, and brought his father and two uncles to the capital city for treatment.

Thanh and his relatives are members of the Thai ethnic minority community who live in Thanh Chan Commune in Dien Bien District, Dien Bien Province. The district has a border with Laos, from where a lot of drugs are trafficked into Vietnam.

A 2018 survey found all 25 communes in this district having a fair share of drug addicts.

When he was just a kid, Thanh witnessed his mother being beaten and tortured by his father, who was, and is, addicted to both alcohol and drugs.

"Many nights, my mother took my sisters and me to my grandmother’s to sleep because my father would be cursing loudly," he recalled.

His father’s behavior left Thanh depressed when he was a bit older. When he went to hang out at the houses of some of his friends in the neighborhood, they comforted him, saying: "Don't be too sad. Just come here make a few sips of wine. That will make you feel better." He was just 13 then.

Addiction ran deep in the family. Two of Thanh’s four uncles died of drug abuse and the surviving two are heavily addicted as well.

At 15, Thanh dropped out of school and followed in the footsteps of his relatives. The tears of mother and three sisters could not stop him.

Things in the house, including furniture, began disappearing one after another. When there was nothing left in the house to sell, the 15-year-old boy became a thief.

Once, seeing his sister accidentally leave the key in her motorbike, he drove it off and sold it to get money to buy drugs.

His addiction obvious, he was shunned by people. He still remembers an instance when he gave some candy to one of his neighbors’ cute kid, but the mother pulled the child back and scolded it: "Why are you playing with him. He is an addict."

In the neighborhood, whenever something was lost, Thanh was always the first suspect.

"Whenever I went out, I bowed my head and did not dare to look at anyone. My mother did the same since she was so embarrassed," he said.

His addict father taunted him, too. "My father always said: ‘If you can quit, I will follow you,’" Thanh recalled.

Thanh was tired of his dependence on drugs and being ostracized and discriminated against. He really wanted to quit. He even chained himself, but the pull was too strong.

In a raid by Dien Bien Police in 2013, Thanh was one of many drug addicts in his commune who were taken to a rehab center. A year later, his dad came to the facility to take him home.

But the first thing he did on reaching home was to ask his dad for some money to "buy wine as a gift to send to my friends in the center." The father refused and he begged his mother for it.

His mother knew the truth since he kept asking for money day after day, for more than two weeks. "My mother said nothing, but her eyes filled with tears. After I took the money, I quickly turned away and did not dare to look her."

Chastised by his mother’s grief, Thanh returned home and chained himself.

Moment of epiphany

His four-year-old nephew came up to him with a piece of candy. He placed it in the palm of Thanh’s hand and said: "Uncle, keep fighting."

That was a moment of epiphany for Thanh.

"I was enlightened in that moment, realizing that family was the only one there for me when all of society had turned its back."

However, his determination faltered yet again. After 10 days, he removed the change and returned to his habit. A tormented existence continued, swinging between longing for the high of the drugs and repentance for his actions.

In 2017, one of Thanh’s cousins returned from Hanoi and recommended that he gets himself admitted at a rehab facility in Phuc Tho District. Thanh was afraid . He had never left Dien Bien. His sister shouted: "Now there are only two paths, either to the rehabilitation facility to find a way to live, or to stay here and die...."

The cousin encouraged Thanh, showing him clips of activities that patients in the rehab center engage in.

Undecided, Thanh left the house and did not return for two days. On the third day, he called his sister.

"I think it is over, I want to live."

At the rehab facility, Thanh struggled like others to overcome the craving for alcohol and drug. But this time, he endured the suffering. He knew that if he quit now, he would have squandered his last chance.

Unconditional care

Thanh was immeasurably helped by the center’s staff to fight his demons.

"I have never been anywhere else that people have been so kind to me. They stayed up all night massaging and giving me acupressure treatment to relieve my body aches. They kept encouraging me through my most difficult days."

After five months of compliance at the facility, he was allowed to visit home for five days.

Bui Ngoc Minh, manager of the rehab center, said: "Just like other people who used to be addicted, when he returned to his hometown, our staff in Hanoi waited anxiously. Although Thanh made a very good impression, my faith in him was only about 50 percent."

The first thing Thanh saw on returning home was something shocking. His father and two uncles taking drugs. One of his uncles invited him: "Want to have some?"

Thanh shook his head, saying: "I have given it up. I don’t want to use it anymore."

The polite yet definitive answer surprised the three adults.

The next morning, Thanh borrowed his sister's motorbike. To test him, his sister counted some money and put it in the trunk of the vehicle. The money had not been touched when he returned in the afternoon. For five days in the countryside, he only ate meals with his family and visited relatives.

On the day Thanh returned to Hanoi, his mother voluntarily gave him money for the first time, but he refused.

After a few more trips back to his hometown, his neighbors started seeing that Thanh was no longer an addict. One neighbor said: "He looks stronger and more handsome lately." The woman who pulled her child away from Thanh also began trusting him.

Now, his mother fondly and proudly tells people her son’s recovery story. She has begun enjoying going to the market again and visits places around the village instead of going straight home with a bowed head.

"Relatives in my family have seen and are praising my brother for being able to kick the drug habit," said Huan, also beaming with pride.

Thanh lifts weights, demonstrating his return to good health. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga.

Thanh lifts weights, demonstrating his return to good health. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga.

Sharing the cure

Thanh told his uncles about the changes that have happened to him and advised them to follow suit and regain control of their lives. After a near-death experience from a drug overdose two months ago, one of his uncles went to Hanoi.

Thien, 52, Thanh's uncle, said: "After I came down here for two months, I have gained 4 kilos and am eating well. My mind is clear, too. I am older, but I am glad I listened to my nephew."

If he can completely withdraw from drugs, he will encourage his children and other relatives to avoid drug abuse and if they have started, to stop it, the uncle said.

A few days ago, Thanh returned to visit his family. His father had broken the promise he made to his son and returned to alcohol and drugs.

Afraid that he would he would lose his father to drug addiction, Thanh urged him and the other uncle to go to Hanoi and get detoxified.

His uncle agreed, but his father refused.

Unable to persuade his dad, Thanh and his sister organized a trip to Hanoi to go around the capital city and visit relatives. This was a ruse to get his father admitted to the rehab center.

Today, Nhut, his father, is under treatment. His mind is not alert and he often curses his son. So the manager had to move him to another facility about 12 km away to temporarily separate the father and son. Every day, Thanh asks the staff about his father's health.

"Please tell him that when he is fine, I will take him wherever he wants to go," he said.

Head held high

Thanh is completely cured, but he has not left the facility.

He is so grateful for what it has done for him that he wants to help others through their addictions. Every day, he goes to the market to buy food and cook for about 15 people, both addicts and staff.

At night, according to the shift he is on, he wakes up to massage and take care for patients who are experiencing what he had gone through.

Explaining his staying on at the center, Thanh said: "I want to thank the people who had saved me."

He said that when he returns home for good, he would grow vegetables and raise chicken or get some vocational training, get a job, get married and have children.

"I will live a better life so I will never have to lower my head when I go out again."

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