When I was in high school, I read a newspaper article about a woman who had sunken deep into the dark world of drug use and petty crime. She had found herself on this path after a series of unfortunate experiences in her life. Having gone through rape and domestic abuse, her only solace became the needle, her drug of choice, Heroin. Her name was Hellen so ‘Hellen wa Hero’ had a good ring to it. I read this article on a Sunday afternoon in our school library. I remember being sad as I digested her troubled confessions.
I categorically said to myself, ‘I will never touch an ounce of alcohol or any other drug!’ Hellen was a sufficient cautionary tale and I truly believed that if I used any drug I would instantly be trapped by the sharp claws of addiction. Well, I took some Keg a few years later in a dingy club in the outskirts of Nyeri. I was sixteen and my curiosity had grown much stronger than my other sensible faculties. Luckily, I didn’t get addicted to Keg but I have seen various versions of Hellen since then. Their stories have sunk my soul and broken this heart of mine. I have looked at addiction in its eyes and trembled at the destruction it leaves in its wake.
I went to a rehab facility recently as a guest speaker to tell my story and hopefully spark some inspiration in the hearts and minds of the young men who were there on their long road to recovery. “We will be recovering addicts till death”, they said. Pointing out that sobriety is not a destination, it is in truth, a long tedious journey that is greatly fulfilling.
I accepted to do the talk for two reasons: a selfish one and a selfless one. I was selfish because I wanted to get certain things off my chest and for some reason, I knew that I wouldn’t get judged. I wanted a release and I needed to be heard.
I was selfless because I understood struggling. Though our demons were not the same, I knew the peace that comes with vanquishing demons that continuously break you, eat you and spit you out. They had to know that it was possible to conquer the demon and slay it for good.
“What is your biggest fear when the time comes for you to go back home?”
We were seated in a circle right after lunch. We had spent the better part of the morning talking about ourselves and getting to know each other. Most of the young men there had been struggling with alcohol and bhang addictions, all of them well below the age of 25yrs old. The first thing that struck me about the group of ten was how much they valued effective communication. It was honesty and vulnerability unlike anything else I had experienced before. I was intrigued by them and felt like I wanted to ask a few questions.
“People, places and things,” the most senior member finally answered my question.
People likely from your past, who will try to test you and get you back to drug use, Places like bars, parties and concerts where drug use is on overdrive. Things like unhealthy relationships that leave you stressed and contemplating to get drunk or high, excess money without a specific expenditure plan or budget that might tempt you to use it on a drink. They reiterated that the people closest to recovering addicts are mostly responsible for the success or failure of the rehabilitation process.
“Some family members will openly ridicule us for our struggles and even go a step forward to predict our relapse. They will give us two months at most,” the least talkative one added.
The entire group disclosed that this was the reason why none of them had told anyone besides close family, about their whereabouts. They felt like disclosing this information would only add to the number of negative voices that they had to overcome.
“What stereotypes did you previously have about rehab centres that have been demystified now that you are in one?”
Almost all of them had constructed the idea that a rehab facility is a high wall, heavily guarded home for the broken and damned. They had these ideas, despite the fact that they had never been to a rehab centre before. This I fear, is what most of us imagine a rehab to be; a suffering camp where addicts walk around barefooted, in torn clothes and bloodshot eyes. The guys recounted the stories they had once heard of the strong medication that is used on addicts to suppress their urges.
The newest addition to the group told me, “I heard those injections make you drowsy for days and end up amplifying your dependency on drugs. That’s why I had avoided the rehab idea. I had no desire of becoming worse than I was.”
“In what ways would you say you have changed the most since you got here?”
“I have found a brotherhood of young men like myself who are going through the same difficulties as me. I know I am not alone; I know I am not a misfit; I want them to succeed, and they wish the same thing for me. I am not alone anymore!”
“I am the most confident and self-aware version of myself ever. When I was still using, I reeked of insecurity, guilt and negative thoughts. Today I stand a new man, transformed in body and soul. I want to live and to live a beautiful life because I am deserving of good things too. I understand my limits and flaws, I accept myself as a human being without expecting perfection.”
“I have rediscovered my walk with God and my faith is the light that guides my path. I read my Bible every day and meditate a couple of times. I look at God’s wonderful creation and I am overcome with gratitude. I am humble now. I have realized that I am just a man. A small, vulnerable and brittle creation that can bleed and get hurt. Alcohol almost led me to my grave, but God saw it worthy to save me. I am the most blessed person in the world.”
“I am healthy, I have a sound mind and strong body. I hardly recognize myself these days. I wake up fresh these days with a hangover or irresistible cravings. I can think clearly, and clarity of mind has been elusive in my life for a long time. I trust my body because I am kinder to it now. I track my thoughts and only focus on the good things in my life. When negativity comes knocking, I know how to deal with it in a healthy way. I am not the same person that walked in those gates.”
“I no longer want to die or cause myself harm. I want to see the good things tomorrow brings. Living is no longer a struggle it is a gift!”
My last words to them were, “You guys came here trying to escape your addictions, you will leave this place free and full of life lessons. All the best, be well!”