Youth tell their stories about addiction – a book review (Bhutan Observer)

June 1, 2012

“When I enjoyed using drugs, I couldn’t control it, and when I controlled it, I couldn’t enjoy it. My life had become a living hell that I couldn’t escape from.”

This is the story of Namgay Wangdi, a former drug addict, who is now a peer counsellor at the Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre for Drug and Alcohol Dependents (the rehab centre) in Thimphu.

Namgay is among the eight former drug addicts, whose stories are featured in A Cry of the Heart – a collection of heartfelt stories on addiction published by the rehab centre.

The 116-page paperback compiled by Wangchuk, the manager of the rehab centre, is a collection of heartrending but inspiring stories of how some Bhutanese youth got caught up in the web of addiction and found their way back into life. The book also contains stories, experiences and advice from some professionals from Bhutan and abroad who help youth fight substance abuse. 

The stories, most of which are written in the first person, are about how the youth won the battle against addiction and reclaimed their – in the words of Passang Dorji – “amazing and wonderful life”. Passang Dorji, a recovering drug user and student of Changangkha Lower Secondary School in Thimphu, had first used drugs when he was just nine years old studying in Class II. And this is the more interesting, albeit gloomier, part of the stories of all the youth featured in the book.

Twenty-three-year-old Nim Dorji’s story powerfully brings home the truth that family is often the cause of children’s addiction to alcohol and drugs. Nim Dorji has become so used to being disowned by his parents for so long that he doesn’t know if he misses them anymore. At an early age of seven, Nim was sent from his parents to grandparents, from them to a monastery and then to an aunt in Phuentsholing. The aunt’s family gave him up for adoption to a couple from Nagaland in India, who had grown-up children of their own. Thus disowned and pushed hither and thither, Nim took to smoking and drinking alcohol at the age of eight. His “long and winding road to sobriety” is inspiring and leaves one thinking.

Like Nim Dorji, most reformed youth featured in the book did not have a pleasant early life. One comes from a broken family, another from a troubled family, and yet another from a family terrorized by a drunkard and violent father. For others, however, their lives became unmanageable when “the bad company became [the] best company”, in the words of 24-year-old Pema Norbu from Samdrupjongkhar. Pema Norbu writes that “drugs gave me the wings to fly, but took away the sky”.

After they had lost track of their lives, many of them became violent and ended up behind bars many times. But the answer to their fast-fading life did not come from prisons or laws. It came from unlikely people in society. For a few of them, Lama Shenphen Zangpo, a Buddhist teacher and avid social worker living in Thimphu, came as a saviour.

Nim Dorji, for example, could put his life back to shape when he met Lama Shenphen Zangpo. After escaping from his adopted parents in Nagaland, Nim could not continue his school. He became the leader of a school gang, and soon he was sleeping on the streets and in tunnels. One day, he realized that his life was falling apart. He went on his own to the detox unit at the national referral hospital in Thimphu but the hospital refused to admit him because he did not have a guardian. A patient signed him in. Today, Nim Dorji continues his education at Ugyen Academy in Punakha. He hopes to become a police officer.

By and large, A Cry of the Heart tells a compelling national story about Bhutan’s youth in distress with the subtext of family and policy issues that demand attention. The book will serve as a reference point for the Bhutanese parents and policy makers as they increasingly grapple with youth-related issues.

By Needrup Zangpo

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