By 13, Bhup Dhoj Ghalley was experimenting with drugs. For the next two decades of his life he became embroiled in a life of drugs, crime and prison.

Profile: He lost his the trust of his parents and the company of his “good” friends. His wife and daughter left him. Everything was falling apart for Bhup Dhoj Ghalley.

The year was 1989. It was a dark time for Bhup Dhoj Ghalley. It was the year he started experimenting with some cough syrups. It wasn’t a total dependency yet. He was 13 years old.

It was through some of his friends, who abused the drug for its codeine content, that he began consuming cough syrups. “I wanted to fit in, that’s how I got hooked up,” said Bhup Dhoj.

In the beginning, the drug came easy since most of his friends used to offer it to him for free. With time his dosage increased and so did the struggle to find money to buy the drug. The free supply from his friends also stopped. To meet his daily dose of the drug, Bhup Dhoj resorted to stealing money from his parents.

The once bright student began failing to perform at school. Once a keen football player, he slowly turned to even stronger drugs. His behaviour changed. He was frequently suspended from school because of his violent behaviour.

Concerned with his new behaviour, Bhup Dhoj’s parents arranged a marriage for him thinking he might change. However, the marriage didn’t last and his first wife left him after a few years.

“I was high on my wedding day. I didn’t know what was happening around,” said Bhup Dhoj. “I was more concerned about getting my dosage than about my wife.”

In the following year, the school management could not handle his behaviour and he was transferred to a school in Thimphu. Things became worse for the teenager as he came across other drug abusers and hooked on to other stronger drugs.

High on drugs, Bhup Dhoj was involved in regular fights. “Fighting became a habit for me. Violence grew inside me and I enjoyed fighting,” he said.

By the age of 19, Bhup Dhoj was arrested for his violent behaviour. Prison became home. News soon reached his parents back at Sarpang.

After he was released, he went back to his village but could not adjust to life there.

He finally decided to join the then Royal Technical Institute at Kharbandi in Phuentsholing. He managed to complete a four-year course in automobile engineering at the institute. His behaviour, however, remained unchanged.

“My mom used to cry and beg in front me, but then I didn’t feel anything,” he said. “By then I was consumed by drugs and nothing concerned me, not even my parents.”

Bhup Dhoj managed to get a job in one of the automobile workshops in Thimphu. He got married for the second time and also had his first child, a daughter from the marriage. But he couldn’t quit his addiction. By then he had even started smuggling drugs in Thimphu.

He was caught several times smuggling controlled substances at the check posts. Even his house was raided and his wife taken to the police station for interrogation. Bhup Dhoj was sent to prison for three years without bail and his wife and daughter also left him.

It was during this time in prison that Bhup Dhoj decided to quit drugs for good. It was July 25, 2008 when his journey to recovery began. Support groups from REWA (hope), a non-profit centre which assists people with drug dependency helped Bhup Dhoj turn a new leaf in his life.

In the following days, a self-help group called Narcotics Anonymous (NA) was also formed to render support to recovering addicts. A hope for a better and brighter future for people like Bhup Dhoj was provided during meetings and discussions conducted within the group.

In February 2010, Bhup Dhoj was released from prison for the last time. He had been clean for the past two years. Recently on July 28 he celebrated his eighth sober birthday.

“I don’t have a regular job that pays my bill but I’m content with what I have today,” he said. “Life is beautiful.” He frequently pays visits to his six-year-old daughter and whenever possible shares quality father-daughter time.

Today, the 38-year-old recovering addict is a freelance counsellor and a member of the self-help group Narcotics Anonymous. The group conducts regular meetings with recovering addicts.

“It is through sharing of such issues that we can understand each other’s problems and find solutions,” said Bhup Dhoj.

Addiction is a disease and anyone can suffer from it said Bhup Dhoj. “There are parents who don’t want to accept that their child is suffering from such diseases but hiding it will just let the disease grow,” he said.

Bhup Dhoj said that in Bhutan people are aware of the existence of drug addiction but not many know that there is a way out of addiction. Although the societal stigma towards this group of individuals still exist, Bhup Dhoj is positive about his fellow mates and he believes that recovery is possible.

Recovery, he said, won’t be possible if an individual doesn’t have the will from inside to stay clean. “Relapse during the course of recovery can happen. It is a natural process but the important thing is to keep coming back, dust off yourself and move forward again.”

Bhup Dhoj intends to battle addiction through sports. He has formed a football team, Recovery United FC, and is in the process to register the team as an official club.

“We are not bad, nor are we mad. We are just sick and we can do better in life if we are supported at this difficult period in our lives,” he said.

Younten Tshedup