MAIN STORY: On the hill opposite, the giant Buddha is looking far, far into the future. Amidst beautiful gardens and flowers of myriad colours, Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre for Drug and Alcohol Dependence (TRCDAD) at Serbithang is quiet and peaceful.
Below the main road, there is a two-storey house. It’s a hostel where women with addiction problem come for treatment. The women are sitting under a tree, talking and laughing. They are one big family here.
Tshering (not her real name) is a recovering drug addict and the youngest in the group. The 17-year-old has certain confidence and a warm smile. She is reading CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.
“I am almost done with this book, Tshering says. There is a hint of regret and sadness in her smile.
It was June. Tshering had a quarrel with her mother. It wasn’t their first. It had become part of their life.
“My mother always blamed me for every little thing,” says Tshering. “My parents had separated when I was born. She tells me I am the cause of it all.”
Out of pain and frustration, Tshering resorted to taking drugs. She began hanging out with addicts.
“I started doing everything what my friends were doing,” Tshering say. “I knew doing drugs is bad but the habit only grew stronger.”
The first few times made her feel good. Before long she had become a drug addict herself.
“I thought it would help me forget the problems at home. But it only made it worse,” says Tshering. “I wanted to bury the dark and unhappy part of my life”
Tshering would be intoxicated almost the whole day. It became difficult for her to socialise. She could see herself getting sucked into the deep of the darkest labyrinth.
“I couldn’t go outside. I could not face the crowd. If someone stared at me, I felt like they were mocking me. I felt like everyone knew that I was a drug addict,” says Tshering. “I locked myself at home and kept doing drugs.”
And it became a nightmare. Her behaviour started affecting everyone close to her. Tshering was scared of everything, even herself. Addiction was turning her into a different person altogether. Worried, Tshering visited the outreach clinic at Youth Development Fund (YDF).
At the clinic, Tshering was advised to undergo detox session for a week at the hospital. She did and, from there, she was sent to the rehabilitation centre. That’s how she ended up at TRCDAD.
It’s been two months since Tshering walked into TRCDAD. She has now realised her mistake and his proud of herself for pulling herself out of the hell she had been in.
“Now I have goals in life to achieve. I want to pursue further studies and become a strong person, mentally and physically,” says Tshering.
And like Tshering, Dema (real name withheld) had a similar story to share. Dema is 27 and she is from Lhuentse.
Dema has been drinking since she was a little child. Drinking is a deep-rooted culture in the east and children are introduced to alcohol early on in life. Dema found a job with a small pay, which she wasted all in drinks. She would drink even during officer hours.
“I thought I had a job and do whatever I want to with my pay. I used to buy drink for my friends and they would do the same. We drank a lot,” says Dema. “Drinking had become part of my life. No matter what time of the day, I had to drink.”
Addiction lends a different character to the person. Soon Dema found herself borrowing money from friends and relative to drink. The habit got worse. One day, Dema woke up in a hospital where she spent a week recuperating. And like Tshering, Dema was advised from there to TRCDAD in Serbithang.
“People in remote villages have a complete wrong notion about rehabilitation centres,” says Dema. Her wry smile dies quickly. “They told me that I would be given donkey’s urine to drink and that I would be tied down like an animal.”
Dema swore she would never drink a donkey’s urine but drank a bottle of 11,000 beer, her last, and headed straight to Thimphu.
“I feel lucky that I got a second chance to live. The centre had become my home,” say Dema. This is Dema last month at the centre. “I’ll go home soon to my children. But I won’t touch alcohol. I have wasted my life enough already. I want to be a responsible mother and a daughter.”
Now fully recovered, Dema reflects on the kind of life she lived and feels disgusted at herself.
“It is not worth it wasting one life and time this way,” says Dema. “There are so many better things to do in life than being an alcoholic.”
Lotey Zangpo, manager and a counsellor at the centre, said clients at are made to focus on three Rs – Rehabilitation, Re-integration and Relapse prevention. The centre provides treatment such as cognitive behaviour therapy, psychotherapy, educative lessons, life building skills and family counselling. Clients are provided these treatment programmes for three months.
Clients have to pay a fee of Nu 1,500 per month for meals. Treatment and other facilities are provided free.
“We also provide aftercare services for people who relapse,” said Lotey Zangpo.
Besides outreach clinics at YDF and TRCDAD in Serbethang, there is also Chithuen Phendhey Association, a non-profit organisation that conducts support group programmes for drug and alcohol affected people and families. The association, located in the heart of Thimphu town, was established in 2011 with financial support from His Majesty Jigme Kheser Namgyel Wangchuck.
Volunteering at the association is 23-year-old Dorji (not real name). Dorji was drug and alcohol addict who is now clean and helping the association with its programmes.
Said Dorji: “I lost my job and dignity because of addiction. I don’t want anyone to be like me. I want to help them. It is possible to turn one’s life around and leave the addiction behind. One should always keep oneself occupied doing productive things.”
Tshering and Dema stand to go to support group meeting. Their friends have left already. There, they will share their problems with their counsellors.
Now the sun is going behind the mountains. Tomorrow new rays of hope will shine.
By Thinley Zangmo