Twenty-three-year-old Kencho Dorji identifies himself as someone who will have to live with the tag of a recovering addict throughout his life.

But that is still better than being called an addict, he said.

Kecho Dorji had been into drugs and alcohol for about nine years until he found help through Lama Shenphen Zangpo in 2016.

His parents divorced when he was young. His father raised him until he was eight and he later came to Thimphu to live with his mother.

“Because my parents had second husband and wife, I grew up among strangers. I didn’t hate them but it was difficult. And we had alcoholics in our family too.”

Kencho recalls drinking alcohol since he was 12. He later switched to drugs and ended up taking both. Situation worsened with his frequent need for drugs and alcohol.  By 2015, he had left school without completing class IX and lived at a labour camp working for an income to sustain his addiction.

“By then I was so much into drugs I didn’t want to study and I couldn’t manage living with my family as they advised me not to take it. There were teachers too, who advised me but I couldn’t do it. Once we have drugs, no matter who cries in front of us, we won’t budge.”

Kencho Dorji admitted that friends did influence him into substance abuse.

“I would say that indirectly they had some influence but we can’t blame them. In the end it’s our decision,” he said.

Leaving school is one of Kencho’s biggest regrets.

“Although some of my friends don’t have a job, they at least have education. Going to the rehab seemed to be a right path. I asked other recovering addicts and they said it was beneficial.”

However, people’s perspective on those using drugs and visiting rehabilitation centres is a barrier for him.

“I don’t blame them because I know no good individual visits rehabilitation centre but it is there that someone becomes good. Rehabilitation has not only been a guide for me to stop addiction but has taught me discipline.”

By sharing his story, he hopes to make people aware on seeking help. “I have difficulty sharing my story but if my bad story could bring a good change then I am happy to share it.”

Last November, Kencho Dorji volunteered to work at Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s moenlem and festival in Bodhgaya.

On Rinpoche’s suggestion, he took a month’s vow donning the red robes. “I think, I would have been the first recovering addict to take this path for a month to help myself,” Kencho Dorji said.

As a monk, he made five vows—to not kill intentionally, avoid intoxication, avoid sexual misconduct, and stealing. Following this, he also went into a six-day retreat where he practiced mindfulness.

“I also went to sit along the Ganga River for two days. I really got some time to reflect upon myself.”

While he didn’t choose to continue the path, he practices what he has learnt.

“I do try to meditate in the morning and evening.”

Kencho Dorji hopes to pursue his dream to become a chef.

“I am 23. I think I have lost a lot of my time and there is a lot that needs to be done.”

Phurpa Lhamo