“I went to a Christian drug rehabilitation centre because I had an addiction problem. Not because I wanted to know God.”
Those were the words of Chris Sekar, who nonetheless said spirituality helped him turn over a new leaf.
Popping pills and smoking marijuana since the age of 14, Chris, now 68, has been clean for 41 years. He cautioned against using the phrase “recovered addict”.
“In the world of addiction, we do not say ‘recovered’ addict. It is always ‘recovering’,” said Chris, who practises total abstinence – no smoking, no drinking alcohol and “no visits to dodgy massage parlours”.
“The analogy I can give is that it’s like being a diabetic. You can never be nondiabetic. You have to be careful what you consume.”
Since turning his back on narcotics, Chris has had a new lease on life.
He earned a pastoral degree from the Malaysia Bible Seminary, where he was the first recovering addict to be the president of the English department and a valedictorian.
He then did his post-graduate studies in counselling psychology and earned a Masters in counselling from De La Salle University in Manila, the Philippines.
For the past 20 years, he has been the addiction therapist at Gleneagles Hospital Kuala Lumpur.
“I was offered the position by Fred and Susan Moeller, who started the Behavioural Counselling Centre for Gleneagles,” said the certified substance abuse therapist.
“It was something new. I was a fish out of water. I had to learn a ‘new language’. I knew street talk. We tell addicts their brain is hijacked.
“But in the clinical language, it is neuro adaptation. Initially, it was a struggle, but Fred and Susan guided me for six months. From there, I flourished.”
But it could all have gone so wrong.
Chris was born in Sentul, but his family moved to Ayer Panas in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, in his teens. There, he found ganja was as common as cigarettes.
“Everyone was doing it. If you go to the roadside stall, you would get roti canai for 10 sen, hot tea for 10 sen, and a roll of ganja (marijuana) for only 50 sen,” said the father of two boys.
“It was a thing in many kampung (villages) back then. No one gave you a second glance if you smoked marijuana.
“No one forced me into it. When we did drugs, none of us had the cognitive capacity to understand why we did it and what harm it could do. Some lessons are learned retrospectively.”
Chris said everything was under control until heroine came into the picture. That was a disaster, as it is highly addictive.
“It happened when I was in Form Five. Soon, I was dealing in narcotics, sleeping in abandoned buildings, and passing out in weird places.
“It went on for more than 10 years.”
He said his mother sent him to several private and government rehabilitation centres. They even saw a bomoh (shaman), tried acupuncture, visited temples, and self-medicated.
Nothing worked. His mother suggested that as a last resort, he should try a Christian centre.
“I ran away twice! I was not convinced, as it was all Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Et cetera, et cetera.
“I told them if God really wanted to save me, how come he did not appear and stop me from putting needles in my arm?” he recalled with a wry smile.
It was a passionate plea from his mother – who told him that she wanted to see his “real face” before she died – that finally pushed him to kick the habit.
“She told me she did not recognise her son. And it pained her to see me like I was. Her words hit me hard.
“So, I decided to return to the centre. I knew it was my last chance. If I ran away again, they would not take me back.”
He returned to Rumah Cahaya, and was impressed with the leader of the centre, Edmund de Souza, a pastor from Singapore.
De Souza was willing to lend a helping hand. He listened and found solutions.
One night, on Sept 29, 1981, Chris knelt and prayed. He recalled saying: “Lord, this is your last chance to catch me. If you do not, I will run away again. And I will die with a needle in my arm.”
The next day, his craving for narcotics vanished.
“My life took a total turn. I was surprised and wondered, ‘is it real, or is God playing tricks with me?’ ‘Would I go back to my old habits?’
“Fortunately, it was real. Until today, nearly 41 years later, I have not had a drop of alcohol or the craving for heroin or other drugs,” said Chris, an avid watch collector.
“After that, I worked at the centre, later, at a children’s centre, and then, a drop-in centre in Chow Kit, where people could come in for a free wash, treat their wounds, and get a free meal.
“I encountered some of my old ‘friends’. Some of them offered me drugs and women.
“I told them no, and that I had changed. Some turned away. Others wanted to listen.
“It is a fact that 97 per cent of addicts will not ask for help. So, we do what we can.”
That has led to Chris writing a book about his struggles, entitled ‘Daily Devotions for the Recovering Addict’.
“I read quite a lot, and there are quotes I like from Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Fandi Ahmad, Bob Dylan, and many more. I tried to put as many quotes as possible in the book,” said the Pink Floyd fan.
“The book will be launched by (Segambut MP) Hannah Yeoh next month. The book is in English, and I’ve been asked to translate it into Tamil.
“I also plan to set up a YouTube channel, so those who do not have the book can watch the videos related to it.”