A Land of Plenty

June 24, 2013

Last Thursday, my wife apologised for "the hurried and poor dinner" which she had made. I was surprised by how genuine her apology was; of her being really sorry for preparing a meal that comprised `only’ of high-grade rice, omelette, ikan bilis (anchovies) with onion and chillies, budu and tempoyak, and pickled olives. She obviously hasn’t fully fathomed the situations I had been in and the deprivations suffered over the years before I moved to Batang Kali in May 2010. Poor dinner? It would have been regarded as “deluxe, high-end meal” in some of the places I’ve been at! 

No matter how many times I insisted that I’m definitely okay with that and other similarly simple meals (like rice and sardine, and nothing else), she probably felt bad about it. On Saturday, she prepared what she regarded as `proper’:  lamb chops, fries, vegetables and dressing, and bruschetta. I’ve never even heard of the last one (top right in image below), hillbilly that I am!

 Lamb Chops

Sometimes, I do feel a bit uncomfortable when I am served a meal like this, which has become quite often (by my very low standards) due to the various invitations by her relatives and the number of restaurants nearby which we often end up at. Not to mention my wife’s own cooking, of course.

Maybe it’s due to the inferiority deep inside me, or maybe there is some guilt too of having survived and living to tell the tale while many others didn’t or haven’t. After all, it wasn’t too long ago when hunger and uncertainty were part of the normal, everyday aspects of life. Those were times when I didn’t quite know when or what my next ‘real’ meal was going to be. There were quite a number of days when I survived solely on cream crackers, a few teaspoonful of honey, plain water… and that’s just about it.

During those times, and especially at night, I would often crave for nothing more than a piece or two of plain roti canai. Things like lamb chops, lamb stew, steak, spaghetti, pasta and meatballs were not even within the scope of my imagination, for these were "of another world" entirely, not even worth thinking about. There wasn’t anything that I could do about it; not when I didn’t have any kind of transportation to take me anywhere. And that’s assuming I had money to buy the roti canai in the first place.

But at least it was better than being in the lockups and prison. I’ve heard of people saying “It should be okay because the inmates there are provided with food”, which is a really stupid thing to say. Only those who have been inside these places could really understand the kind of hunger and craving suffered by the inmates. While it’s true that no one had starved to death, in those places, you are often in a state of inadequacy, a certain feeling of "nowhere near enough". Even after a meal, you’d still feel hungry…and you wait and wait for the next one to arrive – the miserable highlights in a dreary existence.

One of the things that I remember about the lockups – besides the stench, the hard and dirty floor which you sit and lie on, and the inability to ever really sleep – is the hunger. The food was never enough. The worst was at night – dinner, often rice with a bit of fish, was handed out in packets at 6 PM. By 8 PM, you were already hungry. It would be somewhat tolerable were you able to sleep it off. But you can’t – not in an extremely uncomfortable place like that. Finally, after a very long wait and with your stomach aching from the hunger pangs, breakfast finally arrives at 7.30 AM the following morning: two karipap (the cheapest kind with tapioca inside) and diluted tea. Then it was another long wait for lunch. Tea? There’s no such thing.

However, if you were privileged enough, you would have significantly better food in a police lockup. It doesn’t take too much to be privileged – if you have money and could smuggle it inside the lockup cell, then you will be able to have access to more and better food by bribing the corrupted policemen on duty to get them for you. Not all are corrupted, of course, but there should be more than a few everywhere who would oblige. During my stay at the lockup in Pasir Mas in 2005, there was one drug pusher who managed to bring in a wad of RM50 notes. Every night, a policeman would open his cell and bring him out, purportedly “to sweep the area”. Everyone knew what it was all about, of course – that was the time when he would stuff himself with whatever the policeman had brought in. But it wasn’t cheap – two pieces of roti canai which cost RM2 outside would be RM50 in the lockup…

Food Court

Food Court at Tesco Mutiara Damansara with various types of food – I was here last week with my wife and my thoughts would inevitably go back to those days when I was deprived of access to a seemingly `ordinary’ place like this…

Over the years when I was alone, I had grown to accept the situation I was in. Not having enough food or with just the bare minimum was regarded as “normal” and I didn’t think too much about it. During my final months in Pasir Mas, I was suffering from various ailments and lost significant weight. And yet, despite everything, I didn’t do anything about it. What was I to do? If things had worked out differently, I would likely have reached the point of no return in 2010. But God obviously Had other plans for me, from my getting to know my present wife, Dr. Aniza and making the move to Batang Kali in May that year. And she, of all people, would know of how bad my physical state then was. Fortunately, through her care and attention, the situation was reversed – all it took was proper and regular food, plus old-fashioned supplements that included honey, olive oil and apple cider, which I still take every day.

Nothing much in this particular post. But it’s something that I need to write, if only to remind myself that things were never this good and to be grateful for what I now have. Had it not been for the Grace of Allah, we would have passed by each other like ships in the night, unaware of the other’s existence. And I would wonder what things would be now for me, if I were still alive that is. Batang Kali, Kepong and now Kota Damansara – these have been the land of plenty for me, and it’s all thanks to my dear wife.

[Wanted to write more but this post has become a bit too long. Nothing much actually – about just another ordinary, common day in Kota Damansara.]

 

Readers who follow this blog and have read all the posts are surely aware of one very noticeable characteristic here: there isn’t any semblance of a system in the writing of the posts here. Sometimes there might be some sort of a sequence where one post is a logical continuation of the previous. But often – and I know to the annoyance of many readers – you simply don’t know and can’t predict what the next post will be about or when it will come out.

If it’s of any comfort to the reader, I don’t know either. I don’t have any timetable or even clear objectives when it comes to this blog and there certainly isn’t any kind of “To do” list of things that I am going to write about.  But I do know why I had started this blog in the first place. No, it’s not with the noble intention “to help others”, although I’m happy to note that it had indeed been of use to some readers. Rather, my original intention, which still remains until now, is this: I simply must write about this for my own sake. This is something which I had learned from Narcotics Anonymous: We need to look back at the past, see things as what and how they were and accept them. Only then could we live in the present and move on.

Letting Go

Seeing and accepting the past for what it is… and letting go

Many will acknowledge that doing so is indeed therapeutic and it works not just with recovering addicts but also with `normal’ people who are bogged down with various personal problems and carrying the burden of past guilts, slights, grudges and “If only” and “what-might-have-been”. “You must let go of the past… ”, says the wise but it’s not something that’s easy to do. Unfortunately, there is no other way and we have a choice here: continue to carry the burdens and live with the monkey on our backs in the form of the miseries, shame and dissatisfactions that inevitably affect the quality of our day-to-day living, OR move on.

If you have read all the posts here – plus my replies, some of which could be new posts by themselves – you might feel that I have already written “ a lot”. Would you believe that there’s a lot more… that I had written only 10 percent (if that) of what I know I should write about. This is not being narcissistic, that is in having an inflated idea of one’s perceived importance. Rather, the things that I have yet to write are not actually “about me” but a combination and mixture of personal experiences that are intertwined with the people whom I have known over my life so far. There are so many events in life – the “small” ones especially – which seemed insignificant when they happened… a passing remark by someone, a person’s response to an incident, something which I expected to happen but didn’t or vice versa etc. – nothing earth-shaking but “just everyday things.”  But upon reflection and with the benefit of hindsight and new experiences years later, these small incidents add up and help to provide new insights concerning this all-important matter that is “Life”.

The posts here: there are a lot of gaps. There is one very critical period of my life which I had not really delved into so far – the period of my relapse from 1993, which was the start of the downward spiral and the inevitable collapse and almost total destruction of my life that mercifully ended with the magistrate court’s order on 31 October 2005 to undergo compulsory treatment and rehabilitation for two years at Pusat Serenti Gambang (plus another two years of supervision by the AADK upon release).

A lot had happened during this period but I have yet to write much about it. I know very well the reason for this: cowardice… the fear and uneasiness of facing the shame, embarrassment and guilt of knowing that I had failed myself and those closest… especially the innocents – my children. This was the greatest torment of all; the biggest source of self-loathing and hatred of my own self.

1993 to 2005: it’s somewhat difficult to conceptualise; to really feel the passage of time that passed. Merely writing “12 years” just doesn’t leave much of an impact in the mind as to the length of time that went by; of the 365 days of a year… and another, and another…

1993………………………………………………………………………..
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2005………………………………………………………………………..

No one starts taking drugs (AND alcohol too for that matter) with the intention of becoming an addict: it is always “to experience what it’s about”… “to just have a good time”. And certainly no one sets out to destroy his life; to lose everything that he has, including his self-worth. But it will happen when you set out on the spiral descent of addiction and when there’s no intervention to check the fall, to have the will and resources to change direction and to climb that (very) steep slope of recovery.

The addiction works in an insidious way – you simply don’t know that you are getting addicted! No alarm bell goes off; there isn’t any clear indication of the change because it is such a cunning and subtle evil. Different people may have different opinions of this but with me, the physical addiction with heroin and morphine is after three consecutive days of usage.

Given this fact, the layman might be led to conclude: “So don’t take it for three days then. Stop at two and things will be okay…” Actually, that was my thinking too, plus that of many others: this self-deluding “control your usage” which leads to a full-blown relapse again and again. From my own experience, which is verified by honest discussions with various inmates, and through observation, the truth is this: you simply can’t control using drugs – it’s drugs that will control you.  And regardless of how many consecutive days it may take for an individual to be physically addicted, it takes JUST ONE usage to be mentally addicted.

That was how I first got addicted when in Form 5 in 1976, and that was how it happened again in 1993 – the “Just this once” euphoric feeling immediately changed the mental state from “everyday normal” to wanting to be in a pleasurable state all the time; to `cheat life’ by not having to feel the boredom and drudgery which everyone has to go thorough occasionally. The stage is set for a continuation of the “Just this once”, again and again looking for that euphoria which would never come again. In this quest to seek that elusive euphoria, the physical and mental addictions grow ever stronger. And then one day – days, weeks, months or whatever -you finally acknowledge that you are addicted.

You’d try to stop by undergoing cold turkey – “Seven days clean should do it”. It should… except that you will also discover the harsh fact that you don’t have enough will and strength to voluntarily undergo the 24/7 pain and torment brought about by a narcotics withdrawal. With the body in agony, with no lying down or sitting position being `right’, and not being able to get any temporary respite through sleep, the mind torments you with this choice: “Continue with this for yet another few days to be clean and undergo yet more torture, OR bring all the pain and torment to an immediate end?” You also know that all it takes is just a dose and all the pain and torment will miraculously disappear within 10 seconds. Guess which an addict in that state would voluntarily choose 99% of the time?

And so it went for me; the days of being addicted turned to weeks, then months and then years. Along the way, life gradually took a turn for the worse, bit by bit until it went beyond repair and collapsed. As with a wooden house, it doesn’t come down just like that due to a storm. Neglect weakened the structure, and then came termites. Something could still have been done to mitigate the situation but it would have required effort and resources, which could only come about through a strong will and various support to do so. But when nothing substantial was done, the house the house inevitably deteriorated until it reached a tipping point. And then came the collapse.

If I have to pinpoint when my collapse was, I would mark it at 1999. That was the year when my previous marriage essentially ended and life was just a series of unending hostility and bitterness. That was also when I was practically unemployed, without anything and was all alone. The worst part was the hopelessness – during that time and in that state, there was nothing I could do to even try to improve my situation. And I had no one to turn to. Life was just a continuation of one dreary day to the next; of living a life where there wasn’t any hope or anything to look forward to – 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005… 

Longest Day_Book

I don’t know how I had managed to survive, to go through all those years of emptiness and loneliness. But go through I did, simply because God didn’t want take away my life just yet and I still had a sliver of akidah left so as not to commit the ultimate wrong against my own self. There were times when I was in total despair – if there was a way to give away my life to anyone, I gladly would. I didn’t see any point in living my life – there was NOTHING left in it or to hope for and that its continuation “was just a punishment from God; that the remainder of my life will comprise solely of misery and drudgery.” I was wrong, of course, and I started to see a bit of His Powers on 7 November 2005 when I arrived at Pusat Serenti Gambang; of His Signs and the opportunities He had Created for me to do something about my life, beginning with ME. That was the greatest gift of all and things gradually changed – so much beyond what I had even dared to fantasize during those depths of despair.

But I have gotten ahead of myself, going yet again to revisit those happy days at Gambang. The tipping point and collapse in 1999: like a house, it didn’t happen just like that. “Things happened” along the way – from that fateful decision that began with the relapse and the downward spiral which went unmitigated. I just hope I will have the courage to look back at it and write it here so that I will be free…  

It’s been months since I last wrote a post here. In fact, the last one was almost a year ago and I certainly wouldn’t blame readers if they were to think I’ve abandoned this blog. Some might even be wondering what has become of me; of whether I’ve come full circle and being led back to that same route which had brought about almost total destruction the last time.

The reason for my being inactive at this blog is simply this: life has become so “normal” that I doubt anyone would want to read about it! A lot of things have happened since I first started this blog in August 2008 – good things I would never have dared to hope for or even imagine.

Over the years before that, as a direct consequence of the relapse which began around 1993 and the ensuing downward spiral and total collapse, I had lost essentially everything – the house completed in 1990 with a government housing loan, a Proton Saga 1.3 Megavalve, shares of some public-listed companies (that included KL Kepong, UEM, New Straits Times Press etc.), money and whatever else of any value.

On Thursday, 11th. August 2005 – the day I was arrested – my total possession amounted to… all of RM1.00, which would have been the bus fare back from Pasir Mas town to my house. Four days later, I was sent from the police lockup to be remanded at the Pengkalan Chepa prison where I was to spend three horrible months - nobody had cared enough to put up the RM500 bail. That, perhaps, was the biggest and most bitter blow of all – the harsh reality and acceptance of my being all alone, had nothing, was nothing. It was an irrefutable reality, of my being a total zero in life. “How could things have ever gotten to be this way?!

Looking back, I would often wonder how it was that I had managed to live all those years. There is nothing worse than to have to live a life where you had lost everything, are alone and without any glimmer of hope that things could ever improve. There was nothing to distinguish the different days, weeks and months – they just melded together into one endless period filled only with misery, boredom and loneliness, with no hope that this would ever be different in the near or even far future. There was nothing else to do, to look forward to or to hope for: with absolutely no resources and no one who cared, life was just an unending emptiness.

The only thing that made it tolerable were the occasions when I somehow managed to scrape just enough money – RM12 or so – for a shot of morphine. Strange as it may sound to those who have never been addicted, the continued use of morphine was the only thing that prevented me from having a mental breakdown, besides somehow giving me the will to “just live another day – things might be better tomorrow…”.

If that’s how it was with me, perhaps it could also help to explain why many addicts continue to use drugs; and of why many – even after seemingly having kicked the habit after being in lockups, prisons and rehabilitation centres, or simply by detoxing themselves – keep returning to drugs? It’s so very easy for many people in society to ride a high horse and dispense with this advice of “You must have willpower…”. And what’s to sustain this willpower? It might last a few weeks or months for most and perhaps a few years for some, but often this willpower would dissolve due to one basic factor – the situation, circumstances and environment remain the same. And I know I would have gone down the same route again after being discharged from Pusat Serenti Gambang had it not been for the Grace of God and His Mercy…

Monday, 18 December 2006 – 16 months after the arrest, and having been incarcerated in a lockup, prison and a government rehabilitation centre, the day finally arrived - the much vaunted and much talked about “freedom”Bebas: Go to any lockup, prison or centre, do a simple survey or just listen and you’ll find that this is the most oft-repeated word. For most inmates, everything is centred around this; the day when “everything will be okay again.”

I was no different, of course. From the day of arrest, and especially on 31 October 2005 when I received the despairing order to undergo compulsory treatment and rehabilitation for two years, all I wanted was “freedom”… to go back to where I came from and do what I want. But things had gradually changed since then, and my concept and desire of this so-called freedom became different from most of my fellow inmates and friends.

pusat_truck

This image from The Star of inmates from a centre going somewhere in an AADK (National Anti-Drugs Agency) lori ayam truck: I had been in one quite a number of times during my stay at Gambang and had worn all the four colours of red (newbie), yellow, green and white (senior)… plus the much-coveted and prestigious Pengawas (Prefect) uniform of white with blue collar t-shirt, blue and white cap, plus blue pants (as opposed to trackbottom) and canvas belt — and I had gone from despair to full of optimism and hope after 13 months at that glorious centre. That was one of the Glories bestowed by Allah – who could have imagined that something which I had previously dreaded, i.e. in being sent to pusat, would turn out to be one of the happiest and most meaningful periods of my life!

Bus Ticket 18-12-06

This ticket – where and what would it lead to? The novelty of “being free” wore off fast. So there I was, back at where I was in Pasir Mas before the arrest; in an environment, situation and circumstances that were practically the same as they were before. I had learned a lot of things, with a vastly different mindset and attitudes, and I had plans. But the atmosphere and situation were oppressing and I was worried that things would deteriorate sooner or later (They did). It doesn’t matter “whose fault” it was but the fact is that I simply couldn’t adapt to the people and environment there and the loneliness began to creep in again.

The only thing I had looked forward to were the monthly compulsory reporting and supervision at the AADK office, although for most of the other former inmates, it was a drag. For one thing, many feared a urine test and the possible consequences of turning in a positive result. But for me, it was the only place where I could find people that I could relate to – the former inmates and the AADK officers were my only connection to the world. “Home is where the heart is”, and my heart was in Pusat Serenti Gambang. If that was `freedom’, then give me back my incarceration, please!

I would have been happy had it been possible to just spend the rest of my life in Gambang. But God obviously had other plans for me, this one I was/am sure of. Things started to improve again for me, ever since my sister presented me with a much-needed laptop and access to the Internet in July 2008. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet, with various problems threatening to pull me down again. Deep in my heart, I knew that I had to leave my environment. But how do you pull out your roots, leaving a place where you had been for 25 years? There was the fear of the unknown, and where was I to go?

Then, a former fellow inmate at Gambang – Nasarudin – a young guy who later became one of my good friends when we were discharged, suffered a relapse, was arrested and spent another period in the prison while awaiting the court’s decision. I knew how that had come about: for him, and with so many of those whom I had known, it was due to the return to the same environment and situations. The results were somewhat predictable. If it could happen to them, what was so special about me? I had to move, but I simply couldn’t make the decision or take the action. And again, through the Grace of God, He made it very easy for me…

On 24 May 2010, the day I left Pasir Mas and made my way by train to Batang Kali, Selangor – months later, I learned that on the very same day, Nasarudin had received a court order to undergo yet another period of treatment and rehabilitation; this time at Pusat Serenti Muar. And he was there until July 2011. It’s something that made me sad and it’s easy for others to say “It’s his fault and he deserves it”. But do they know what he (and others) had faced after being discharged the first time (and second or third time for that matter)?… of the society and environment there, whose negativity had also played a major part in the whole thing? This is one aspect that I know very well – something that would have pulled me back in too had it not been for the timely intervention of Sherry Nor Jannah, Nazmi and, of course, my present wife, Dr. Aniza whose part in helping me has been huge. Had they not been there and not done what they did for me, there is the very real likelihood that I would have fallen by the wayside too.

As mentioned earlier, there’s a limit to this “willpower”. Even with this and the right attitudes, given the same environment, situation and circumstances – and the same mentality of society – the same results will happen again and again. And I doubt this will change. After all, it’s far easier to look at and find faults with others – with this society in general, it’s always other’s fault, never theirs.

I’m no better than the others who were with me but I was more fortunate – I had various people coming in at crucial times to encourage and help guide me towards better things. And for this I’m grateful. But most of the others didn’t. You can change the laws, enforcement and whatever else but the results will be the same. And it will repeat like an infinite loop… until the core variables change, as they did for me.

UPDATE 25/12/2012 6:57 PM – I forgot to also include this earlier — My parents – if it had not been for them, for their doa (prayers), I just know I wouldn’t have gotten what I have. When I was at Gambang, and when I saw how things were clicking for me (but not for some of my friends), I wondered why it was so – why was God giving me so many things?? The same happened later when I was discharged – somehow, even when they didn’t look like so when they happened, they would turn out to be to my great benefit. What was so special about me?? Maybe this: I’ve gotten these not because of my doings but because God was/is Granting what my parents have wished for.

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