I met Duy Anh for the first time in 2003 when he walked into the office of a program in Saigon which helped young drug addicts get off heroin. He was tall and slim, with light skin. He dressed in a light blue shirt and cream slacks. His hair was neatly cut and parted in the middle. He spoke politely in nothern Vietnamese accent, and had a bright and ready smile. His appearance and demeanor were much different from many young addicts his age who often looked hard and tough. The only sign of his toughness was some scars on his forehand as a result of trying to erase a tattoo with a cheap chemical called “thuốc tím”. As I was observing him, I thought to myself, I’d never suspect that this kid would be a heroin addict just by looking at him. But I was wrong. Duy Anh had been addicted for over three years, and what was worse than that, he was already infected with the HIV virus as a result of sharing needles with his friends.
The drug rehabilitation program accepted Duy Anh and tried its best to help him quit. During those times, I also tried to accompany and counsel him in the hope that he would get off heroin once and for all, so that he can live a healthier life. But helping heroin addicts is never easy. My effort was barely enough. After leaving the program, Duy Anh found his way back to the thing that had brought him and his family nothing but pain and misery.
But an important incident in Duy Anh’s life affected him in a profound way. After his father’s death in June of 2004, Duy Anh decided that it was truly the right time to say good-bye to a life of lies, deception, and self-destructiveness. I was not sure if he could do it, and people around him were doubtful that he could. But in June 2007, when I met Duy Anh again in Vietnam, he told me that it had been exactly three years since he got off drugs. Now, he is taking medication everyday in order to push back the effect of HIV and to prolong his life as much as possible.
But being able to get off drugs doesn’t mean life would be easier for Duy Anh. He still has to live with the consequences of his mistakes. And he struggles to make the best out of his situation, even though he is faced with many obstacles. Recently, he decided to write down some of his spontaneous thoughts about his life and experience and shared them with me. I asked Duy Anh whether I could share his thoughts with others, and he said I could do whatever I wanted, if it would help others not to make the same mistakes as he did.
I hope that these words from a young person will help you to look at your life in a different way. Perhaps it will help you to appreciate your family and your health more. Perhaps it will encourage you to change your ways if you find that you are also heading down similar paths as Duy Anh. Perhaps it will help you to value the good things that others give you, but you never really considered it. And perhaps it will remind you that the things we do have consequences. Sometimes, the consequences are not great. They will not affect us or others a great deal. But sometimes, the consequences can be overwhelming and very painful. So let us always consider carefully about what we do before we even do it.
Taking things for granted
“I was born and grew up in a family that wasn’t rich, but I was the youngest boy, so my parents always gave me a lot of love and attention. When I was going to school, whatever I needed was always given me by my family. I was very proud to my friends that I lived in such a loving home. I always took this love for granted. Drugs came to me for the first time when I was offered some by a friend in high school. That first time turned into many times and soon enough I became addicted without knowing it. When my mom found out that I was addicted to drugs, she cried a lot, and encouraged me to go into rehab.
“I listened to my mother and went into rehab. I also took time to sort out between right and wrong. Even though I felt like the best years of my life had already passed by, somehow, love came to me during this time. And I began to have dreams such as having a happy family and a good life. But those dreams were not powerful enough for me to say “no” to drugs. And I relapsed into my old ways….
Mistakes and consequences
“In life, everyone falls down once in a while. We fall down when we first learn how to walk. We fall down when we try to make it through life. Each time we fall down, we get up and the steps after that become more confident and sure. But as for me, after falling down, each step that I take afterward seems to be painful, and more difficult than ever.
“Those days of playing without any care has brought to me a disease that everyone in society despises. It was that carelessness that caused me to lose everything, including the girl that I love. My heart becomes stricken by pain every time I think back on this relationship. In life, it seems that when we have something, we always take it for granted, until it’s gone….
“Sometimes I become too tired to think further, so I tell myself to forget everything. But that’s just a temporary solution. Even just a small incident, a passing word from someone, a song, or something that I see brings the pain back into my heart. Some people tell me to stop looking at the past, and to start looking forward into the future in order to live. They tell me I’m too weak when it comes to relationships. Perhaps they are right, but what can we do when we believe that we have already met the person whom we LOVE?...
Pain and regrets
And some hope…
“But the months and years that I have left, I promise you that I will live well. I will do whatever I can, even though I know that a lot hardships and obstacles lie ahead of me. But fortunately, you have taught me how to be enduring and patient. And you have continued to give me your love. So I will try to do all that I can. I only hope that you will not worry more about me, so that it would not make your health worse.”
Nowadays, Duy Anh is a willing volunteer whenever he is asked by doctors, priests, or sisters to go share about his experience to other young people in Saigon. Let us pray that Duy Anh and other people like him find the grace and the strength from God to change their lives and live each and everyday that they have with confidence and hope. And may they also find love and support from family, friends, and society.