At midnight, the light is still on in a rehabilitation center in Phuc Tho District in suburban Hanoi.
A drug addict is in withdrawal again, so Bui Ngoc Minh, 43, has to hold him together with three other people. The addict screams and struggles for a while before calming down. He lies down, silently.
That is a common scene for Minh, a staff at the rehabilitation center. Having been an addict himself, he knows what they go through. He has not forgotten his own condition 10 years ago.
Minh is the only child of two government employees in Hanoi. His parents were very lenient with him, and he went wayward. When he was 14, he left home and lived on the street, robbing people. His addiction to drugs began about five years later.
He did not go to college and the family ended up spending a lot of money on his addiction. Soon Minh became a street gangster, and got involved in prostitution and selling drugs.
To no one’s surprise, he ended up in prison. In 2002, Minh’s mother went to visit him.
“It was raining. She had a pair of slippers, a bag of noodles, and a shoulder bag of food for me,” Minh recalled. “But when my mother came, I just asked, ‘where is the money to buy drugs?’ She kept running after me, crying and begging me to receive the food bag but I didn’t take it,” Minh said.
In despair, Minh’s father bought an area in the cemetery for his grave. He was afraid that after the parents died, Minh would die and no one would bury him.
Minh was 32 when he was released from prison, still an addict and afflicted with tuberculosis.
“I was grumpy and hated everyone. I thought everyone was disgusted and would try to stay away from me.”
Weak and unhealthy, Minh lived a despondent, lonely life, until he heard about a neighbor who had succeeded in beating his addiction.
“He had become very energetic and happy, so I was surprised,” Minh recalled. “I agreed to follow him and go to rehab since I had no other way.”
Minh followed the neighbor to a rehab facility run by the Ezekiel Evangelical Church in Phuc Tho District, Hanoi.
He suffering a lot for the first three months, wrestling with the craving for drugs and the debilitating effects of the tuberculosis.
“I had been to many rehab facilities, but nowhere else did people sympathize and encourage me as much as here,” he said. “At this time, when every relative was indifferent, my mother still visited me. I was grateful and guilty. My motivation to stop taking drugs got even stronger.”.
After six months, Minh met a fellow addict who showed signs of withdrawal, but he did not feel the cravings.
Three years later, Minh returned home. His neighbor greeted him warmly. “Minh, you look so handsome now.” Minh was not impressed. He shrugged off the praise, saying he was still a drug addict, but the neighbor insisted: “Everything has passed, you’re not a drug addict anymore”.
At that moment, Minh realized he had won the battle against himself, and that others also recognized it.
Back to rehab
Since 2009, Minh has been working for the rehab center, and been promoted to a management position. Together with his colleagues, he has supported about 100 people to quit drugs. The students Minh meet every day are from different walks of life, and Minh always treats them with kindness and sympathy.
For Nguyen Duc Huy, who was supported by Minh in quitting drugs 8 years ago, Minh is both a brother and a teacher.
“For 7 consecutive nights, when I struggled with the thirst for drugs, Minh stayed up the whole night, giving me massages, acupressure and encouragement with patience. He was neither a relative nor an acquaintance, but he took care of me like a family member, helping me to live my life again,” said Huy, who had been addicted to drugs for 20 years before quitting.
At home, Minh takes good care of his children. He bathes his children, picks them up at school, cleans the house, cooks and helps his wife. “From a very reticent person, he is now more open and caring,” said his 32-year-old wife, Nguyen Thi An. He has stopped cursing, drinking beer or smoking. The objections of her family and neighbors when she married him 9 years ago have disappeared.
Sometimes in Phuc Tho District, locals would see a team of people from the rehab supporting them in laying roads and digging culverts. “First we are afraid of getting robbed. But, for the last 10 years, the rehab has been managed well. I have seen many skinny, sick people go there and return in a healthy, happy condition,” said Khuat Huu Khoi, head of the Buom Village near the rehab center.
“I have realized that self-determination on its own is important, but the family’s tolerance and people’s sympathy help a lot,” said Minh.
“I still tell people when they leave the rehab, if the life out there is too suffocating, then come back, I’ll always embrace them.”