The Philippine’s war on drugs is in full swing now several months after the election of their new president, Rody Duterte. He was elected in a landslide victory on an election platform that was largely focused on the end of criminality in the country which he claimed was rooted in the proliferation of the drug trade. Previously President Duterte was the mayor of Davao City and during his term in local office, he boasted how he had solved the city’s criminal problems through the execution of its drug trade personalities. During his election campaign, he promised more of the same except on a much wider national scale.

Well he seems to be clearly delivering on that promise as the death toll mounts on a daily basis due both from police killings of suspects that were allegedly resisting arrest and even more disturbing, apparent vigilante squads where victims are killed execution style with the tell tale “cardboard sign” identifying the victims as drug personalities. Whether these people are guilty or innocent will never be known, as they were never given the benfit of defending their innocence in a court of law.

Putting aside the whole question of human rights for a possible future article, I felt a desire to share my humble opinions, for the little they would influence the events as they are currently unfolding. I do so from a somewhat unique perspective, because I myself am what I refer to as a “recovering drug addict and alcoholic”.

To clearly understand my perspective on the Philippine’s war on drugs, I have to give you some background on my own personal experiences.

I started using the most common drug of all, alcohol, at an early age. I took my first drink under “peer pressure” trying to fit in. It immediately gave me something by removing my inhibitions, shyness and insecurity. It made me feel great and help me feel like I belonged. After several years of social drinking, I was introduced to a new drug called cocaine which at that time in the eighties was considered a cool, rich man’s drug. Everybody seemed to be doing it and the more you had, did and shared, the more people wanted to party with you. Celebrities were doing it and upbeat songs were making it sound exciting. To be absolutely clear, I NEVER started drinking or doing drugs to become an addict or alcoholic and had NO clue that one day my use would turn into a nightmare. None of us addicts or alcoholics ever do.

The nightmare began in my mid twenties and very quickly I spiraled down into a hell where, as the saying in recovery circles go, “one is too much and 1000 is never enough”. I lied , cheated and stole, and traumatized any person I came into contact with. My binges lasted weeks at a time, and when I finally came out of my blackouts, only because I could not get any more, I was usually in jail, hospital, detox, or simply lying somewhere in a ditch by the side of the road. I lost everything including family , friends , business , but worst of all I lost all self pride and hope. I would always come to feeling great shame at the people’s lives I had damaged, and deep remorse and regret how I had ruined my own. After several days or sometimes weeks, I was usually able to clean myself up, put my life back in some semblance of order but then the pain of the nightmares would fade and I would pick up that first drink or drug again, though knowing full well that I was doomed to repeat the same hell all over again one more time. That, I have come to learn, is the definition of insanity. “to do the same things over and over again expecting a different result”. I have no doubt in mind today that my drinking and drug us was just that. Insanity.

So is addiction simply a weakness of moral character?

For centuries it was thought so, but as the alcohol and drug scourge became more and more prevelant in society more medical research was done to try and understand addict’s seemingly insane desire to totally destroy themselves. With medical advances over the the past few decades, Doctor’s and researchers were able to determine that addiction is in fact a physical disease, as much so as any others like cancer or diabetes. In as simple laymens terms as I can use, there is approximately 10% of the world’s population that is born with a gene that givers them a predisposition to addiction. Once a person with that gene uses enough of an addictive substance ( or behavior such as gambling), a certain switch is flicked in that gene and whenever that person uses a drug, their brain produces enormous amounts of a chemical that cause such an immense craving for more. That craving is so intense very few people can resist it. This obsessive “craving” is impossible to explain or describe to anyone who has not experienced it themselves, and most non addicts or alcoholics can never have even the slightest perception of what an addict goes through or why it is so hard for them to stop. This “physical disease” is also progressive and chronic. Again in layman’s terms, this means that the more times the addict uses the worse the symptoms get, and that there is simply no cure. Once an addict or alcoholic, always an addict or alcoholic. The disease however can be treated and that treatment in itself is simple (lol not necessarily easy though). Total abstinence. As long as an addict is not using he is in remission or “recovery” however the first time he would ever put any drug into his body his disease becomes immediately active again and always right from the point he left off. any and all mood altering drugs trigger this physical reaction in the brain of potential addicts, the only thing that differs from drug to drug is how quickly the predisposed person turns into a full blown addict. Alcohol may take years while something like Methamphetamine(shabu), cocaine or opiates may take only days, weeks or months.

Can an addict or alcoholic ever stop using and live a normal, happy and productive life?

The answer to that, and I am living proof is, yes. However an addict very rarely recovers unless it is he himself that wants to recover and is willing to do all the very hard work it takes to recover. there are very few cases where an addict is made to recover. Family , friends, doctors, government, police,courts or society in general have had little success forcing addicts to recover. The recovery starts from within if and only if the addict himself is willing. Only once an addict is willing can he start the long, hard and painful process of recovery. Only then can outside forces be of help. Recovery from addiction is basically broken down into two distinct components.Physical and psychological. The physical side means total abstinence from drugs and the psychological side is dealing with the reasons an addict picks up that first drink or drug. An addict who does not understand and deal with the reasons for picking up, almost always pick up again and then the physical component of the disease kicks in.

Back to my own personal story and how it affects my perception of the Philippine’s war on drugs

I visited a hell that few of the people reading this could ever imagine in their worst nightmares. I pulled many people into that hell and terrorized them. Though I believe i am a good person , I did despicable things to boith myself and others. In the full throes of my addiction nightmare, there were many times I prayed to die. I never had the courage to end my own life, but almost on a daily basis I wished and prayed for some one to do it for me. I hazily remember my last night drinking, standing in the middle of a downtown Ottawa street, facing off against a dozens cops, daring them to put a bullet in my head to save myself and everyone around me from one more minute of misery. Instead of killing me, those cops saved me. They were not guided by a leader who told them all drug users were scum of the earth and the cause of all society’s ills, nor were they egged on by a populace who were so fed up with the condition was in that they needed an easy and visible scapegoat. Those cops were real heroes in my mind, and they took a chance on some one who had run out of of all rights to ask for another chance.

They allowed me to live.

The chance they took on me could have been wasted though had it not been for the help that was available to me once I finally came to that stage that I was willing to accept the help. I was fortunate to be in Canada, where there were the resources in place to give me the help I needed and wanted.It was not easy and I was NEVER an stellar patient. I went through treatment and never once was I coddled. They made it clear that they were not there as a shoulder to cry on. I had a disease and if I wanted to get better, it was me and only me who was responsible for doing the work to achieve it. It was made very clear to me that once off drugs and alcohol, it was my choice to be a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, or go back to the pain and misery I had been rescued from.

I chose a better life. As I said earlier, there is NO CURE for addiction only a respite from its effects, and thast respite continues through constant hard work. Today though I wake up drug and alcohol free. I experience joy in my life, and I think I bring some small amount of joy to others. I am a productive member of society who loves myself and others and who is surrounded by people who love me.

So how do my experiences affect how I see the Philippine’s war on drugs as it unfolds around me?

It is difficult to watch. It brings back many ugly memories of the nightmares I experienced and I vividly recall those times when I myself wished for death to free me from my hell. At the time I was that pitiful drug addict without hope, I would have welcomed President Duterte’s soldier of the Philippine’s war on drugs, but that was when I did not know that I could escape from the hell. It was a time when I believed I deserved to die, and it was a time that I could never envision the life I live today. Once I am able to clear my mind of those ugly images of my own nightmare, and start thinking about the most recent dead addicts lying in blood on the street, I wonder if they had been given the same chance that I was given, would they have gone on to live a life similar to the one I now have?

Can I do anything one way or other about the Philippine’s war on drugs? Probably not, but I feel I would be wasting the wonderful gift I have been given if I did not say this one last closing thing.

To any of you who are there ready to pull the trigger on a despicable drug addict, or any of you out there egging them on thinking it is the only way, think of me and the life I have because some heroes gave me the chance to live and change. Knowing addiction as intimately as I do, I know that if you chose to to give a chance instead of taking a life, in most cases your compassion will not be rewarded. Most addicts will squander the chance you give them. But,, if you save only one life that ends up like mine, you will forever be be a hero!

The Philippine’s war on drugs CAN produce heroes instead of killers. Which one do you want to be?

Some references which might be helpful when thinking about the Philippines war on drugs