Eric Sison: Reclaiming my life from drugs
In a café along Magsaysay Avenue, the late afternoon sun hits Eric Sison’s knuckles, which are tattooed with the letters H-A-T-E.
But today there’s nothing hateful about Eric. In fact, he exudes a warm and friendly aura that makes anyone interested feel welcome to listen to his story, and take a page from what he has learned.
Clad in a grey polo shirt with the Dangerous Drugs Board Logo, there are little signs that the 45-year-old was once deeply hooked on drugs. Now, he works with the government to encourage others to give up drugs, as he himself did after he resolved to wage war with his own addiction.
BICOL STANDARD sat down with Eric to ask him about how he successfully gained control of his life after reclaiming it from drugs.
BICOL STANDARD: Tell us about how you started doing drugs.
ERIC: I started very early. My first experience was with marijuana in grade 5. It was half a stick that a friend gave me. I tried it out of sheer curiosity. I don’t even remember if I tripped or not; I just knew I could tell myself I had tried marijuana.
BICOL STANDARD: Did this continue in your high school years? How did you feel about it?
ERIC: Yes. In high school, I started doing cough syrup with my friends. I also did marijuana, and got hooked. I was under the impression that everything was normal. Feeling ko, it was all for fun. My sister took note of my growing addiction, but I told her I could manage. By third year high school, I was already heavily addicted,
using marijuana, cough syrup and alcohol, feeling high for almost half the week.
I could not study. I was frequently absent, and my grades were taking a nosedive. My teachers, who were probably apprehensive of failing me in their classes because of my blood relation to the University President, were starting to worry about my poor academic performance. Ever-conscientious, my grandmother told them that if they had to fail me, they should. And they did. I was unable to march on my high school graduation day because of my failing grades. I took it hard. I was eventually able to graduate from another school, but I felt disappointed with myself.
BICOL STANDARD: What happened then?
ERIC: I was halfway into a semester in college when my parents, especially my father, became so concerned about keeping me away from my peers. He decided to send me to the States.
I arrived there on my 18th birthday. My cousin, who wanted to show me around, asked me what I wanted for the occasion. ‘Cocaine,’ I said, ‘I want to try cocaine.’
Uninterested in theme parks or tourist destinations, I got what I wanted as a gift.
My three-year stay there was full of experimentation. After cocaine, I tried LSD. Then when I returned to the Philippines, I was introduced to shabu.
My drug use was intermittent, because I would not use too much of it at a time, mainly since I didn’t have enough money. It took me years before my addiction entered into a full-blown stage, when I would use drugs on a daily basis.
BICOL STANDARD: Was your father aware of your doing drugs?
ERIC: Yes, he was, but I often reassured him that it was under control. He would ask me if I would like to undergo rehab. I told him my drug use was still manageable. The truth was, however, that my drug use was severely affecting my life and the people around me. It was the reason for several failed relationships, and why I started lying to my father. When I realized this, I voluntarily entered into rehab.
BICOL STANDARD: What happened in rehab?
ERIC: I was in for a big surprise, because I thought going to rehab was like going to a resort. At least, that was how it appeared to me when I read the brochure. Little did I know that I would be spending much of my day cleaning, working, and generally being treated almost like a child under the supervision of those who were running the center. Dipisilon.
When my father visited, I decided to ask him to pull me out. I believed that since I entered voluntarily, and had been there for 10 months, I could manage already.
BICOL STANDARD: So did you?
ERIC: No. It took me only two days before getting back to drug use. Two days! These days I tell myself, ‘Why did you do it, Eric? Why would you go to rehab for almost a year and after two days just throw it all away?’
Since then, I had been in rehab for six times. The next times were no longer voluntary; I was forced to go in. But because I had hangups and unresolved conflicts, I could not completely change, and would thus slip in and out of the addiction. To fund it, I would make up excuses to ask money from my father. I would sell items from our house. My drug stash grew bigger and bigger as my addiction did. Meanwhile, my romantic relationships fell apart. It was a cycle in which I was trapped. I could not get out.
BICOL STANDARD: What made you change?
ERIC: Three years ago I met a person who changed my life. Her name is Vangie, and she is the reason why I reformed and resolved to stop drugging.
BICOL STANDARD: How so?
ERIC: I finally found something—or in this case, someone—more important to me than drugs.
Initially, she knew I was doing drugs, but she thought it was casual. When she saw that it was severe, she helped me. She left, saying that while I was doing drugs, she would not return. At first I was defiant. I had a huge stash of drugs to keep me company. But I realized I was lonely. After two days, I begged her, ‘Mag-oli ka.’ I had finally found a reason to stop doing drugs.
BICOL STANDARD: What did you learn from your experience?
ERIC: I learned that change should be inspired. It should never be forced, because there is no way that a forced person would change. I was in rehab for six times. It never worked because I myself was not ready to change. What pushed me to change was the feeling that I was loved. All of my partners left me, and I don’t blame them. But Vangie stuck around. That was enough to make me want to change.
BICOL STANDARD: Is that what keeps you sober these days?
ERIC: That, and my job with the government. These days, I go around institutions sharing my story of how and why I changed. This is a good backup, because I can’t imagine myself lecturing others on how and why to stop doing drugs if I am still using, or planning to use, the illegal substances. I try to be an inspiration for others.
This just goes to show that there is life after drugs. There is hope for these people. I am a living testimony to that. I ask that these people be understood. I ask that these people be given a chance.
Eric’s story is touching the lives not just of the drug users that he is urging to change, but also of students whom he asks to not go into drug use.
As he sits in the waning afternoon light, his face is calm and relaxed, that of a man who almost lost, but thankfully reclaimed himself from the clutches of drug use.