Youth in focus: Hi Lama. Here’s my problem: My husband is using drugs and drinks on a daily basis. He is not abusive, but he doesn’t contribute anything to the family, but instead uses the money I earn. He is also in debt. This has been going on for many years, and I am really fed up of him. As a result, I’m planning to go overseas for work and will leave my two children (six and eight years-old) with my sister and send money home for their food and clothes.  I’d like to get lam’s opinion.

SL, Thimphu

I guess you have two questions here, one about your husband and the other about your children. With regard your husband, well, I know that he must be really annoying, but addiction is also a living hell and so in reality he also needs help. That does not mean that you suffer in silence. In fact, that would be the worst response. Instead, you need to be strong but without losing compassion. Basically, you have to make him clearly understand that his lifestyle is destroying the family and exhausting you. At the same time, you need to give him an ultimatum: He goes to rehab or you take the kids and leave. He may try to convince you that he can quit drugs by himself and promise to change, but he cannot. Addiction is like a toothache. It cannot be cured by will power, but only through professional intervention. For toothache, that intervention is a visit to a dentist. In the case of an addiction, rehab is the only solution.

However, when you deal with this situation, you need to set your mind in the right mode – this is actually one reason why people offer water or butter lamps in the morning – to start the day with a compassionate thought, which hopefully will lead to compassionate action. Without a good motivation, it is impossible to have a good result. At the moment, you are angry with your husband. This is to be expected, but your anger will harden your heart. It is as though you have put on dark glasses and see only one colour – black. Actually, we all do this as a way to justify our tough responses, but in reality it is not a good approach. We can be strong, but we should never lose our sense of humanity and basic compassion.

In order to develop a good motivation, try to understand that your husband is not naturally a lazy and unproductive person, but that addiction has robbed him off his ability to function normally. Furthermore, recall all the good times you had together and the kind things he has done for your kids. If you can do this, your mind will change and so your action will be underpinned by compassion. Even if he refuses to go to rehab and you are forced to leave him, you will do so out with kindness and a desire to get him back on track, not out of anger and a sense of revenge.

Remember that he has been your husband for many years and is the father of your children. Even if you do not want to stay with him, you should still do your best to help him. As I said, every addict is suffering in their own hell and so we should not abandon them.

As for your children, I think that nothing can compensate for a mother’s love. In reality, it is not new iPods or fancy clothes that help children develop into well-adjusted and caring adults, but having a mother and father that reads them a story before they sleep and who are there for them in times of need. Also, they will be inspired by a mother who supported them during a family crisis.

In short, whether you decide to stay with your husband or leave him, you should still try to help him. As I said, addicts are suffering in a hell and we should not abandon them in their time of greatest need. Also, remember that after rehab he will be a totally different person, and so don’t be hasty in your decision to move on. As for working overseas, I think it is great when you are single, but once you become a mother you have a shared future. Your life is no longer about you. With the best intentions, a relative can never be a substitute for a mother.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

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