Hannah Chun edited

Hannah Chun (pictured at age 21) thought she would never be free of drugs. But today, a sober Hannah gives talks at support groups for people in recovery for drug addiction. All photos courtesy of Hannah Chun.

When Hannah Chun was eight, she saw how her parents’ quarrels came to blows. Shortly after, her parents divorced and her mother left the house.

Her two older sisters ran away from home, leaving her with only her father and grandfather in the house.

“After the divorce, my dad became very temperamental. I felt rejected, abandoned and alone,” said Hannah.

She went online to make friends. The friends she met there were older and they taught her how to have fun in billiard centres and weekend clubs.

Hannah (front left) with her two older sisters and parents.

She was also ready to rebel. At 13, she dropped out of school and started drinking, smoking and taking drugs.

At 15, Hannah started sourcing for drugs from overseas and selling them as all her friends around her were using drugs. 

Hannah worked in a club when she was just a teenager.

Out of curiosity and to earn some money, she also began working as a night club hostess.

During that time, Hannah fell out with her father and moved in with her mother. But she found her mother bitter and depressed.

Growing up fast 

“My mother stopped working and often guilt-tripped me. So, I slowly took on the responsibility of paying her bills and had to stop her from wanting to commit suicide whenever she drank,” said Hannah.

Young Hannah with her mother.

The young teenager felt she needed to grow up fast. Outwardly, she looked fierce, strong and independent. Inwardly, however, she was broken and made many bad choices out of fear and confusion.

Though she went to church when young and believed in God, she avoided praying despite feeling helpless.

“I did not dare to face God. I thought that I was not good enough. I thought Christianity was about good behaviour and if we did not behave ourselves, God would punish us,” said Hannah.

Hannah (extreme right) was part of the church choir in her younger days.

Her beliefs that God can’t wait to punish her were “confirmed” to her when one day, in a moment of desperation, she prayed to God for help not to be caught for taking drugs.

“I took on the responsibility of paying my mother’s bills and stopped her from wanting to commit suicide whenever she drank.”

Instead, she was arrested for taking drugs after being caught in a roadblock.

While she was out on bail, she was so addicted to ketamine that she continued using it till she was caught a second time. Her jail term doubled to 18 months.

She went into jail at the tender age of 17.

“Though I feared the future, I thought it would be easy to start afresh by relying on my own determination and willpower. I had plans to kick my drug habit, get a job and go back to God when I came out,” said Hannah.

When she came out of jail, however, she felt the pressure of mounting bills and returned to her old night club job.

It was only a matter of time before she also returned to smoking, drinking and drugs.

Five months pregnant, and in jail

Less than a year upon her prison release, she was again caught at a roadblock for taking drugs. 

Hannah, who was pregnant then, was sentenced to three years jail and she went behind bars when she was all of five months pregnant.

Pregnancy caused her to be perpetually hungry, but pregnant mothers then were only given two extra slices of bread with their dinner every night. Hannah would break the rules that forbade inmates from storing leftovers and hide the bread for herself to eat whenever she became hungry late at night.

“During labour, my ankle was cuffed to the bed and two female prison wardens monitored me.” 

Inmates were given straw mats to sleep on. Being heavily pregnant and plagued by backaches, Hannah often did not sleep well on the cold floor. Fortunately, other female inmates volunteered to help their pregnant peers with their daily work duties.

Hannah dreaded the hospital visits the most. Each time she was due for a check-up, she would have to go through security checks and sit on the floor for hours before a van would pick her up to take her to the hospital.

By the time she returned, it would be way past lunch time and she would be faint from hunger.

Though she used to avoid talking to God out of fear of punishment, she found herself having regular conversations with Him every night before she slept.

“I was already in prison so I felt safe to pray. After all, how much worse could I be disciplined? I would pray for my baby’s future and for God to help me change so that my baby would not end up like me,” said Hannah.

Delivering her baby while cuffed to the bed 

On her expected due date, Hannah was taken to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital where labour was induced.

When Hannah saw her baby for the first time, she felt a warmth in her heart that she had never felt before.

“I went through labour like any other person. However, my ankle had to be cuffed to the bed and two female prison wardens monitored me,” said Hannah.

Yet the discomfort faded away when Hannah saw her baby for the first time. When she held him close to her, she felt a warmth in her heart that she had never felt before.

She took her baby back to prison with her as she wanted to bond with the baby. By then, the baby’s father had broken off with her and gone off with someone else.

Raising her baby in prison helped Hannah to pass the time, but it was no walk in the park. She breastfed the baby and consumed the milk powder given to her for her own nutrition.

There was no concept of “confinement” practices – Hannah and her baby showered using cold water as there was no heater. The baby slept on a mattress, while she continued sleeping on a straw mat next to him.

After one month, her baby started developing severe rashes.

“When I had to return to my cell alone, my world crashed. I can’t describe the pain. I cried uncontrollably.”

“My baby was reusing cloth diapers provided by the prison. He developed open blisters all over and it kept recurring,” said Hannah.

She made the painful choice to let her sister take care of her baby while she served her time. 

“When I had to return to my cell alone, my world crashed. I can’t describe the pain. I cried uncontrollably,” said Hannah.

Though her sister visited her twice a month with the baby, the separation meant that the next time she could hold him was to be one-and-a-half years later. She would miss many of his developmental milestones during that time.  

During these lowest moments of her life, Hannah turned to God in prayer. However, most of her prayers were done out of fear and had a transactional bent to them.

“I made promises to Him that I would change and be good, and in turn asked Him to bless my baby and his future. I was connecting with God out of hopelessness about my baby and my drug addiction, and not because I had a relationship with Him,” she admitted.

In spite of all these, Hannah kept praying because she believed that He heard her prayers.

Sensing a bright light 

“Sometimes when I prayed, I could sense a bright light and a warmth around me, though my eyes were closed. I felt His presence,” said Hannah.

When she was 20 years old, she was let out of prison. Freedom was sweet but eventually the adult responsibilities of having to provide for her mother and baby began to overwhelm her.

She tried doing regular day jobs such as working at fast food outlets and selling beauty products, yet the pay was not enough to keep her family afloat.

Her old fears of not having enough came back to haunt her, and she decided to go back to work in a night club.

Hannah went back to her old trade as a night club hostess when she was 21 years old.

“Let me go earn money first, and then I will come back to You,” Hannah prayed to God.

“Let me go earn money first, and then I will come back to You.”

This time, she thought she had a better strategy. She would only work at a “higher class” nightclub where its hostesses do not take drugs, hence removing any temptation for herself.

For two years, she stayed clean from drugs.

But as time went on, her defences and boundaries were slowly lowered.

It started with alcohol, then sleeping pills and eventually she relapsed and took drugs.

With freedom and multiple distractions, God was quickly out of the picture. Hannah felt her problems were greater than what God could offer.

Reaching the end of herself 

As she consumed more and more drugs, Hannah found her body falling apart. She became thin and weak, and experienced pain all over her body.

“I was a single mum with an addiction – my health and emotions were only heading in the direction of death.”

What worried her immensely was her son growing up and mimicking her actions of smoking a cigarette or making a beeline to the toilet as the drugs took a toll on her bladder. He could not understand what was happening and was acting up in school.

Going in and out of different relationships exhausted her. When her drug addiction became so bad that she even had to quit her night club job, she thought her life was over.

She had reached the end of herself. People around her were getting arrested for drugs and she could not envision a good future for herself or her son.

“I was a single mum with an addiction – my health and emotions were only heading in the direction of death. I couldn’t handle it anymore,” said Hannah.

“You do not need the drugs anymore, why are you still trying to put it in your body?”

Whenever she locked herself in the toilet to consume drugs – with her toddler waiting outside – she would pray. But even when she experienced the bright light of His presence, she felt unable to stop taking drugs.

Shortly afterwards, a colleague from the night club invited her to church.

“I went because I was invited by someone with the same background who could understand me. I was filled with shame and self-condemnation, but decided to just go ‘see-see look-look’,” said Hannah.

The first time she stepped into New Creation Church, the pastor’s message spoke so deeply to her that she has not stopped attending its services since.

“It felt like God was speaking directly to me through every word of the sermon. I began to understand why I behave in certain ways, like being prone to getting in and out of relationships. Many sermons elsewhere would just tell me to ‘be good’ but did not tell me how to do so,” said Hannah. This time, it was different.

“I cannot, but You can”

Her impression of God also took a radical turn.

She spent most of the week being helplessly hooked on drugs, and yet was still drawn to church on Sundays.

“I hear about how God does not condemn me, but forgives and accepts me. That is huge because I always felt misunderstood and marginalised due to circumstances in my life,” she added.

Sermons about how God showed grace to Rahab the prostitute and the Samaritan woman at the well before correcting them connected with Hannah. She began to see her identity in God and that helped her value herself in order to set appropriate boundaries in her life.

She also prayed and asked God to help her overcome her addiction. Of course, her bondage to drugs took some time to be broken.

She spent most of the week being helplessly hooked on drugs, and yet was still drawn to church on Sundays.

“I knew I just had to go to church and I experienced the washing of the Word.

Hannah with her church friends at a monthly prayer meeting.

“Even though I was still addicted, I knew that meant that all the more I needed to go to God instead of feeling condemned and running away from Him,” said Hannah.

She also knew she could not rely on her own willpower and instead told God: “I cannot, but You can.”


No more “kick”

In 2009, a curious thing happened.

The drug which Hannah was addicted to went out of stock – both in Malaysia and Singapore. She panicked – by then, she had been on drugs for two years following her relapse – and feared that she would suffer immensely from withdrawal symptoms.

“I think that one month when the drug supply stopped was God’s intervention.” 

Her sister prayed alongside her and took the Holy Communion alongside her.

Amazingly, she did not feel any withdrawal symptoms in the following weeks.

It was only one month before the supply of drugs returned. But by then, by the grace of God, Hannah found that she could say no to taking it.

“I think that one month when the drug supply stopped was God’s intervention as it had never happened before,” said Hannah.

Though she was set free from her drug addiction, Hannah still turned to drugs as a form of coping mechanism. Whenever she quarrelled with her then boyfriend, she would sink into self pity and call her drug supplier.

“But when I took the drugs, I found that I did not like its taste anymore. It did not give me the same kick. I felt disgusted instead,” said Hannah.

Hannah Chun with her husband and their four children.

That was when she heard God’s small whisper: “You do not need the drugs anymore, why are you still trying to put it in your body?”

That year, Hannah kicked her addiction for good. Yet for the next one year, she experienced anhedonia, a psychiatric disorder where she had a reduced interest in activities that she used to enjoy.

“The only thing I knew I had to do was to go to church every Sunday with my son.

“When I listened to the Word, hope always came,” said Hannah.

She went on to run a successful massage and beauty business and has since married. Hannah and her husband now have four children.

Creating a safe space for mothers with addictions

Since 2014, Hannah has been volunteering at halfway houses to minister to drug offenders.

Hannah ministering to the women at a drug rehabilitation centre in Malaysia.

She has just taken on a new job under her church community services arm to create a safe space for mothers struggling with addiction.

“I feel there is a gap in the system and I hope to come up with a homely space where drug addict mothers can seek refuge, nurse their wounds, receive love and be present for their children,” said Hannah, now 38.  

“Many of the women do not have a revelation of who their Father God is. I hope to show them that their relationship with Him can be a really sweet, intimate and beautiful one.”


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About the author

Janice Tai

Salt&Light senior writer Janice is a former correspondent who enjoys immersing herself in: 1) stories of the unseen, unheard and marginalised, 2) the River of Life, and 3) a refreshing pool in the midday heat of Singapore.