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Bruised and battered but back

A tell-tale story about how recovering addicts fought the adversary and sprung back to life

By Tashi Namgyal

He has fought the battle against the insurgents and won in the year 2003 but has lost the war against the bottle. His addiction to alcohol laid him disfigured, crumpling down 15 years of his esteemed service for the Royal Bhutan Army.The lieutenant-major was left detached from his six siblings and his family.

Jigme Tshering didn’t want to be an addict. “Nobody plans to become an addict. It just happens,” he says. “My parents would have never wished for me to be an alcoholic, teachers never taught me how to become an addict. I just went to hell and came back to tell my story,” Jigme says, considering himself a graduate of MA (Masters in Alcohol).

From his words, it is pertinent that when addiction attacks us, it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, man or woman, or anyone for that matter. But all other people will treat you the same. It is a disease with us, a disease which is relapsing and chronic in nature. It is a progressive disease, in that, one year down the line you will be graduating from a single shot to 4-5 shots a day. Friends who used to lambast me then have registered themselves into the rehabilitation centers prior to me.

Friends and family are affected more than the addict because addicts have no sense to what is wrong or right. They are deeply engulfed into another world deprived of feelings, deprived of emotions. It is family and the ones connected with you who go through mental assimilations of shame and derogatory comments from the society.

He took more than twenty vows from the monasteries not to drink, he wailed in despair, laughed out loud to forget his addiction, danced along with his feelings, but nothing worked. “I felt so useless and that I am just a burden in this beautiful world. I took a tumble down into a roaring river from a bridge to end my life but life had other plans, I didn’t die. When I was washed ashore, my gut instantly took me to a nearby house and found myself asking for a sip. This is what addiction does; I was completely over-powered by alcohol in my thoughts, in my brains.”

At this stage, it was not abnormal for me to drink. I was drinking to be normal. My life was abnormal without alcohol. I came face to face with a trash can. I have lost everything today, I have nothing.

When you reach this stage, there are only few places you can turn on to. It’s either the police station for a theft case, a hospital due to liver cirrhosis, a crematorium, or the rehabilitation center. However, sensible it may sound, only the luckiest people come out of rehabilitation nourished with a new lease of life. Nourished in the sense that many come out and relapse, falling prey to their earlier self, earlier habits.

Your part plays a massive role for those who come out. Stop discrimination, stop stigmatization, we need your help in molding us so that we grow with the society. If you don’t give us jobs or the basic human rights we are entitled to, that’s where and how you are killing us.

This is from a man who has been clean for the last four years, with a slim and slender hope he got from the rehabilitation center.

For 41 year-old Dechen Wangdi from Paro, the tryst with alcohol came as early as when he was 6-7 years old. Customary to Bhutanese traditions, he was treated to the real taste of alcohol when he visited other houses in the village during congregations and celebrations. He started abusing marijuana at the prime age of 16. Gradually he assumed a stage known as ‘addiction shift’ where addicts usually try out other varieties of intoxicants like tablets. “It gave me a certain sense of confidence and to face and talk with my friends, teachers and relatives,” he says. “I was a shy person and in order for me to stand equal with my peers in the crowd, drugs and alcohol gave me that much needed springboard.”

That left him languishing, as he could not qualify the class X board exams. Back home, he got married and helped his parents and in-laws in the farm. But negativity was all around. The addict-turned-counselor said that whatever he used to earn doing menial works in the village was spent on drugs. When he ran out of cash, he resorted to lie to his parents and then one lie led to another.

He got a chance to redeem himself and joined the militia in 2003, after which he was offered a job by the government. However, three years into his working life, the old demon in him backlashed and again caught him in conflict with the law. He was imprisoned for three years.

But the one thing which still haunts him the most is hurting his godmother, his maternal aunt who bred him, caressed him and loved him. Out of intoxication, he blurted the most hurtful of words to his aunt which he regrets even today.  He is still waiting for that day when he could face his godmother and seek her forgiveness.

General people conceive ‘disease’ as some sort of pain and malfunction in the human body or organs. However, Dechen says that addiction is a disease, a chronic disease which cannot be seen but something which is progressive in nature inside the human brain. As a consequence, it creates disharmony between friends, within family members, and discords in the society. And just as a car needs a mechanic, addicts too need rehabilitation, and there is nothing uncomfortable to feel about in that.

Ugyen Kelzang from Bumthang has been drinking for the last 11 years. He has had a decent upbringing but could not continue his studies after the 10th standard as his parents were economically backward, although he was keen on attending school like any other kids in the locality.

There were two options for him: to either lend his hand in the farm works or to get himself recruited in one of the training institutions befitting his academic qualifications. He could not opt for the first one since his parents did not have much land-holdings or farm animals to tend to and make a living out of it.

He chose the second option which brought him to the Painting School in 2008. That exposed him to the bustling city life of Thimphu, away from the simple life style he was accustomed to back in his village. There he met old and long lost friends, friends who were school drop-outs, divorcees, struggling with life. It was then where he “experimented” drinking. That experiment introduced him to a different world, a world where everything was possible just with a gulp of alcohol, a surreal world. Then he became an occasional drinker, when and where every next moment in his life became an occasion. By the time he realized, he was already out of the institute and onto the streets, with drinking the only next best thing happening in and around his life.

Although the thought about quitting struck him so many times, the nerves in his body over powered the will. “My organs were demanding alcohol on a regular basis and if I didn’t have it on time, the world would come crashing down on me,” he says. The only thing he was worried about would be where would the next sip come from and the after next? It was the sign of addiction.

A change of scenery might do some help, he thought, and headed back to his parents, his village. But then, he learnt that addiction followed him no matter wherever he went. It was in his mind. Then he got employed in Punatsangchu Hydropower Project.

“Drinking will definitely make your head pop out ahead of everyone but your foot will be rooted onto addiction,” he says, reminiscing his 4 year stint at Punatsangchu. He met a girl and then got married, leveraging that he would quit drinking. That didn’t happen. Instead, he spent almost 40 percent of his monthly income on alcohol. Just around that time, he was blessed with a son and again quitting struck him once more. It never happened but his wife and kid left for their village for good.

Alone, he got more submerged into addiction. Family members, relatives, friends and all the people he was acquainted with began stigmatizing him. A series of events unfolded in his life which led him more into the dark crevices of the addiction world.

Three years sober now, Ugyen feels that instead of demeaning, people should support addicts and create an atmosphere where he/she could grow as a responsible person at any stage. “Give them a new lease of life not by patronizing or stigmatizing them. Support them, your backing will count the most in their regrowth,” he says.

Sonam Wangdi, popularly known as DhukDhuk from Haa hails from a broken family. Eldest among the three siblings to a single mother, he knew what kind of hardships his mother had to undergo throughout his life. It was this sense of struggles which made him work hard and led him to Sherubtse College. However, it was also his days at college when his expenses and necessities grew but sources were hard to come by. He had little or no right to ask for money from his mother who was already struggling to look after his two younger siblings back in the village.

“On my first trip towards the east college bound, I had to sleep in the bus in the night’s halt at Bumthang because I didn’t have money to pay the hotel charges,” he recalls. Depression slowly crept in.

By the time he realized, he had already taken solace into alcoholism. He drank obnoxiously, to whimper away the troubles that became a part and parcel of his life since the day his father left them. In the comfort of the drinks, he regularly missed his classes, fell short on his attendance when exams knocked on the doors.

The replenishment he had had left a gaping hole in his life, as he had to forgo college life. It was not that his name had been chucked off from the college registers. He could go back and resume his classes but he had to self-cater, which was a mounting challenge for someone like him from a destitute family background.

“It was a huge mistake on my part not having confronted that problem with positivity and resorting to temporary solutions which has put a huge dent on my life,” he says regretfully.

Seeking shelter with a relative back in Thimphu, he got employed in a private firm and remained sober for a while. He got into relationships and when things didn’t work out, he befriended the bottle again. Having witnessed the mess he was in, seniors in his workplace admitted him to a rehab center. There was hope after a year but things again took a sour turn when he fellvictim to another broken relationship. It was a point of no return, as he recalls. “Deep within and in the back of my head, I told myself that I will not live long if I stay in Thimphu,” he says. He started losing appetite and became paler by the day. After tendering resignation, he headed back to his village but the devil inside accompanied him wherever he went. 

Social stigmatization haunted him there. Jobless and penny less, grimaces and scornful words greeted him wherever he went. At that point in life, reality dawned upon him as he encountered the last stages of addiction right before his eyes, on his own self. And before it became too little too late, he embraced rehabilitation and since then remained sober for almost seven years now.

“As far as I am concerned, stigmatization will never work,” Sonam says. “Slow, patient, positive and collective nourishment from family, friends and the society at large plays the most important role in rehabilitation programmes.”

Deriving from his personal accounts, Sonam urges everyone in the line to seek expert help and face the challenges before it’s too late. “There is wonder in what great things human will-power can achieve,” he ends with a grin.

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