Comedian Irene Ang recalls unhappy life with addict parents

(From left) Host Ross Sarpani with artiste Rafaat Hamzah, comedian Irene Ang and counsellor William Teo at the panel discussion yesterday. The top three addictions handled by the National Addictions Management Service are for drugs, alcohol and gambl
(From left) Host Ross Sarpani with artiste Rafaat Hamzah, comedian Irene Ang and counsellor William Teo at the panel discussion yesterday. The top three addictions handled by the National Addictions Management Service are for drugs, alcohol and gambling.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Irene Ang joins others at awareness event even as more addicts seek professional help

Drug and gambling addictions profoundly wrecked local entertainer Irene Ang's family , so much so that the "wounds" took more than three decades to heal.

"It took us almost 35 years before we got our family back. My brother didn't talk to my mother for 20 years and things only changed for the better between them in the last few years," said Ms Ang, who turns 50 this year. She is a local comedian and chief executive of talent agency Fly Entertainment.

At a community event organised by the National Addictions Management Service (Nams) and North East Community Development Council at Our Tampines Hub yesterday, Ms Ang shared how she grew up with absent parents who were addicts.

Her mother was hooked on drugs, while her father gambled voraciously. Ms Ang recalled how when she was young, her mother, high on drugs, would chase her around the block with a chopper.

Once, when Ms Ang had a fever, her mother told her to help herself to the Panadol in the fridge. Not knowing which tablets they were, the girl took her mother's drugs instead. She was slapped by her furious mother, who assumed that her daughter was stealing her drugs.

"My dad was a playboy and gambler and I often asked my grandmother, who brought me up, why I have such parents," she said.

Her parents have since reformed and now work for her company - her father as a driver and her mother as a cook.

Ms Ang, a devout Christian, believes God has been instrumental in changing their lives as well as helping her to forgive them.

Also at the panel discussion were artiste Rafaat Hamzah and Nams senior counsellor William Teo. Both are former drug addicts.

The number of addicts seeking help has risen significantly over the years. Nams, which is managed by the Institute of Mental Health, saw 1,738 new patients in the financial year ended March 2017, a whopping 72 per cent jump from 1,008 in 2008, when it launched its services.

The top three addictions handled by Nams are for drugs, alcohol and gambling.

Said Associate Professor Lee Cheng, Nams programme director: "The increase is encouraging as it is indicative that there are more who are willing to seek help. We also attribute this to the expansion of public outreach initiatives."

Over the years, Nams has introduced webchat and phone counselling. It now offers addiction management services at some polyclinics and community agencies.

Mr Teo, 64, is the first addict turned staff at Nams. He grew up in what was then the notorious Kolam Ayer area, where many teenagers were hooked on drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, opium and heroin.

After going in and out of prison four times for drug abuse, Mr Teo was determined to make good. He had only Primary 6 educational qualifications then. But he eventually got a master's in counselling.

He has since dedicated close to two decades of his life to helping others with addiction issues.

"Yet, even today, when I am in T-shirt and shorts and neighbours see my tattoos, they quickly get out of the lift," said Mr Teo.

Ms Ang had neighbours in the lift making snide comments to their children about her and her parents.

"It is hard enough for people to kick their addiction without having to deal with all these labels and stigma," she said .

"I hope people give them a second chance by hiring them. Offering them just a word of encouragement will also go a long way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 11, 2018, with the headline 'Comedian recalls unhappy life with addict parents'. Print Edition | Subscribe