Phub Dorji quit drugs to become a chef

Phub Dorji never imagined that he would work at a five star resort in Phuket, Thailand and maintain a decent standard of living.

The 29-year-old from Zhemgang was heavily dependent on abusing controlled substances that he suffered from withdrawal when he missed his doses. “When I was addicted to drugs, I never imagined that my life would take me here,” Phub said.

As a child growing up in Thimphu, Phub was exposed to drugs early. He started smoking when he was 13. He then began sniffing dendrite, smoking marijuana and popping pills. Later, he got addicted to hard drugs. “I stole money from home to pay for my new habit,” he said.

He was expelled from primary school when he was in the fifth standard for abusing drugs, two years after he turned to drugs.

“My family was not aware about it until I was caught sniffing dendrite during a school fete day and expelled,” he said.

The second eldest of four children however continued his studies in a school in Paro where his sister worked as a teacher, only to be expelled again.

“My sister tried to help me but I continued to abuse drugs and found many friends happy to join me,” he said. “I hardly talk with my parents and they gave up on me when I continued using drugs.”

As his school life came to an abrupt end, Phub Dorji decided to join the police force. He was 16 when he was expelled from the seventh standard. “The entry age to join the police was 18 so I had to lie about my age then,” he added.

After training at Tsimaham in Chukha, he started working with the traffic police division in Thimphu. But working with the law-enforcing agency too did not stop him from using drugs. He abused drugs for five more years until his senior officer caught him. He was dismissed from the police force and imprisoned.

“The prison was a terrible place but it did not stop me from using drugs,” he said.

After his release, with no job and money, Phub Dorji began dealing drugs. “I was under the influence of drugs all the time and felt that nothing could help me quit,” he said.

In 2009, he met his wife and tried to quit drugs for the first time. “I attempted to stop using drugs, just for her,” he said. “But I failed and it got worse.” His addiction got severe after he began abusing brown sugar. He battered his wife and was arrested for domestic violence. His wife later bailed him out. “I was jailed thrice and my life was a constant struggle,” he said.

One day, as he sat atop a wall in the middle of town, somebody approached him, he said. “That somebody was Lama Shenphen Zangpo. He sat next to me and told me that I should go to a rehab centre in Siliguri, India for treatment,” he said. “This is the first time in 14 years of my addiction that I had heard of rehab centres.”

However, a day before Phub was to leave for rehabilitation, he was arrested again. “Still, all was not lost and Lama Shenphen listed me in the next group leaving for the rehab in December 2013.”

When he was about to complete his rehab treatment in Siliguri, he was asked to return home immediately. His wife was seriously ill.

“When I reached Thimphu, she was already dead and cremated,” he said. “I hadn’t seen her for a long time and I couldn’t even say goodbye or that I was sorry.”

To relieve the pain, getting back to drugs was tempting for Phub but his friends at the rehab helped him handle the situation. He spent another four months in a rehab centre and has been drug-free ever since.

Lama Shenphen helped him get a job as a waiter at a restaurant in Thimphu after learning that he was interested in becoming a chef.

“I worked as a kitchen helper after working as a waiter and then as a chef intern at Hotel Taj Tashi in Thimphu for about three months,” he said. “That was when Lama Shenphen asked me if I was interested to undergo a chef training at a five star resort in Phuket, Thailand.”

After Phub completed two years of his training period, he was offered a job with the resort for a year on contract.

“I would not be here without the support of Her Royal Highness Princess Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck and Lama Shenphen,” he said. “They picked me up when the world had given up on me. If someone like me, a hard core drug addict for 14 years can quit, anyone can.”

Dechen Tshomo