Drug Addiction and Recovery Dialogues: Stories & Insights – Part 1

Interview by Pankaj Debbarma

June 26, 2024

Interviewer: Welcome to “Drug Addiction and Recovery Dialogues: Stories & Insights,” a compelling two-part series brought to you by Yakhrai Production. In these episodes, we embark on a profound journey of resilience, hope, and transformation.

Our journey begins with Simon’s extraordinary story—a testament to the boundless power of the human spirit. From the depths of addiction to being a Founding Member of Ark Shelter Foundation working with addiction recovery and at the helm of Bethesda Rehabilitation Facility, Simon has emerged as a beacon of hope for countless souls navigating their own path to recovery.

Interviewer: Hello Simon, welcome to the program produced by Yakhrai Production. First, can you introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your background?

Simon: Thank you. My name is Simon Debbarma. I am a recovering addict and a founding member of Ark Shelter Foundation. For the past year and a half, we have been dedicated to working in the field of addiction. Our organization runs awareness camps on substance use disorder in various places and operates a rehabilitation centre to help those struggling with addiction.

Interviewer: It’s inspiring to hear about your recovery journey. Can you share your story of how you fell into substance abuse?

Simon: To explain that, I need to go back a bit in my life. After completing my diploma in civil engineering, I went to Guwahati to pursue a B.Tech. During a vacation before my final year, visited my village and saw close friends, people I grew up with, getting addicted to substances. Initially, I detested it and gave them advice against it. However, spending time with them gradually led to curiosity.

I heard them talk about the good feelings, improved performance, and being tension-free. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and one day, I decided to try it. That was the start of my substance abuse.

Interviewer: What were the key factors that contributed to your addiction?

Simon: To understand that, we need to understand what addiction is. According to the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, addiction is a chronic brain disease.

The root causes of addiction can be genetic, environmental, and circumstantial. In my case, I had an addictive personality from childhood. The influence of adults using alcohol 5.21 – 6.28 and the new substances my friends were trying drew me in. I had a compulsive need to experiment, starting with things like Dendrite and cough syrup, which eventually led to more addictive drugs. This progression forced me to seek rehabilitation.

Interviewer: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your addiction?

Simon: Before my addiction, I was a student leader and worked with an NGO, building my career. Falling into addiction was hard to accept. I tried to escape it by engaging in activities like YouTube, painting, gaming, and playing drums at the chapel, but I failed.

The addiction worsened, and I ended up spending large sums daily, stealing from my parents, and damaging property. My daily life was consumed by the need for substances. I would experience severe withdrawal symptoms every morning, which included body aches, fever, and other physical discomforts. This led to constant fights at home over money for drugs. My parents, despite being working-class, found no peace due to my addiction.

Interviewer: How did your addiction impact your relationships, career, and daily life?

Simon: It had a devastating impact. My family and neighbours lost faith in me. I was deeply affected, unable to study or clear my exams, and my career suffered immensely. I had to resign from the NGO to save its reputation.

My role as a student leader was compromised, and I could no longer perform my duties. My daily life was a constant struggle. In the mornings, I needed substances to avoid withdrawal symptoms like body aches, fever, and loose motion.

I resorted to stealing money and selling family possessions to fund my addiction. My parents lost trust and hope in me. They were constantly worried about my safety and well-being, which took a toll on their health and peace of mind.

Interviewer: What was the turning point that made you realize you needed help?

Simon: The turning point came when I hit rock bottom and lost all hope in myself including even developing a feeling of dying from drug use. My father had a stroke, and even though I had a small desire to recover, I started seeing a psychiatrist.

I tried to detox in the jungle but failed due to severe withdrawal symptoms. My mother’s words about my father’s health declining due to his constant worry for me struck me deeply. She told me that his mild strokes were because he feared for my life—whether I would die from an overdose, get beaten up, or meet an accident while high.

This realization hurt me deeply. I remembered a friend who had recovered from addiction and contacted him. He was running a rehab centre, and under his guidance, I began my recovery journey. It was a difficult path, but with support, I started to regain control of my life.

Interviewer: How did you find the strength to seek help and start your recovery journey?

Simon: As I mentioned earlier, I became hopeless and even considered ending my life by overdosing on drugs. It was only when I reached rehabilitation that things began to change. At the rehab, I participated in many programs, including the 12-step program, also known as a spiritual program.

From this program, I received a message of hope and saw many recovering individuals. The owner of the facility was a recovering addict with ten years of sobriety, and there were seniors with five, ten, and even twenty years of recovery.

Additionally, a friend of mine, who had been sober for three years, guided me and served as an inspiration. Seeing their success gave me the hope, strength, and confidence to pursue my own recovery.

Interviewer: What were the first steps you took towards recovery?

Simon: The first step was acknowledging that I couldn’t control or minimize my addiction on my own. Despite trying many ways to manage it, I failed. Recognizing this, I offered my willingness to change and surrendered myself to the process of recovery.

Interviewer: Did you have a support system in place, and how did they help you?

Simon: My foremost support came from my family. Even during my addiction and recovery, they invested in me and stood by my side. Additionally, I received a lot of support from the rehabilitation centre, particularly from the counsellors and many recovering inmates who corrected me.

They helped me understand that the problem wasn’t just alcohol, drugs, or substances; it was my behaviour, lifestyle, and way of thinking. Changing these aspects was key to my recovery. The support system allowed me to share my shame, low self-esteem, and emotional disturbances, which helped cleanse my mind and reduce my emotional burdens. This environment helped me develop and grow.

Interviewer: What inspired you to start Bethesda Rehabilitation Facility?

Simon: I was guided by my counsellor and supported by my fellowship. Once I found hope and confidence in my recovery, I realized that recovery was possible. As I began to experience self-love and self-change, I felt a strong desire to help others.

In Tripura, many individuals like me had strayed into addiction, becoming hopeless and engaging in antisocial activities, causing suffering for their parents and impacting society. Recognizing this, I felt inspired to help them. This desire and spiritual awakening led to the establishment of the Bethesda Rehabilitation Facility.

Interviewer: How did your personal experience with addiction influence your approach to rehabilitation?

Simon: An addict doesn’t start using substances with the intention of ruining their life, career, or relationships. Over time, casual use can escalate into dependence, leading to antisocial behaviours like stealing from loved ones and damaging property. I know this firsthand, as I was once an addict myself.

Society often views addicts as shameless, immoral individuals, but I understand the internal struggle they face—the physical and mental torment, the spiritual bankruptcy. My personal experience allows me to empathize deeply with those in rehabilitation, guiding them through the painful process of recovery. This background was invaluable when I opened Bethesda Rehabilitation Facility.

Interviewer: What were some of the initial challenges you faced when setting up Bethesda?

Simon: When we first started the centre on October 31, 2022, we faced many challenges. We had limited staff, and at one point, there was no one to work in the kitchen, which is essential in a rehabilitation centre.

We had to do everything ourselves, from marketing to cooking and cleaning. We also struggled to get doctors and psychiatrists to visit the rehab. Initially, they refused, and we had to take patients to clinics instead. Over time, we managed to bring in nurses, doctors, and counsellors who could provide the necessary care and therapy.

Interviewer: Can you describe the key programs and therapies that Bethesda offers?

Simon: We primarily serve drug and alcohol addicts. For withdrawal management, we provide medications to ease symptoms like body aches, nerve pain, and mental disturbances. We also offer yoga, physical exercises, and meditation for overall growth and development.

Weekly meetings allow us to monitor physical health and adjust treatments as needed. For mental health, we conduct addiction-related sessions and group meetings to address anxiety, regret, and shame. Patients are encouraged to keep personal diaries to track their thoughts, and we offer therapy based on these insights.

Interviewer: How do you ensure that the treatments cater to the individual needs of patients?

Simon: Upon admission, we conduct an intake screening to gather details about the patient’s addiction history. This includes the type and duration of substance use and previous treatment attempts. We observe their understanding, realization, and desire to change. Based on these observations, we prepare a progress report and provide personalized one-on-one counselling. As patients show signs of stability and change, we transition them to extended care.

Interviewer: Can you share a few success stories that stand out to you?

Simon: One remarkable success story is of a former patient who is now a staff member at our rehab. After losing both parents and struggling with severe addiction, he came to us in a desperate state.

32.30 – 33.48 Through disciplined care and support, he has transformed into a motivational speaker and teaches 12-step therapies to others. We have more than 19 milestone achievers, individuals who have reached significant recovery milestones, celebrating their sobriety annually.

Interviewer: What do you mean by milestone achiever?

Simon: A milestone achiever is someone who celebrates the anniversary of their sobriety, which we consider their “rebirth.” Each year of sobriety is marked as a milestone, with celebrations to honour their journey from addiction to recovery.

Interviewer: How does it feel to see individuals transform their lives through your facility?

Simon: It’s incredibly rewarding. We celebrate these milestones with great joy, despite some criticism. People sometimes question why we celebrate these achievements, but they don’t understand the immense struggle addicts face. Celebrating recovery is a way to acknowledge their hard-won victory and the peace it brings to their families. It’s a journey from darkness to light, and that deserves recognition.

Interviewer: How important is community support in the recovery process?

Simon: Community support is crucial. In Tripura, awareness about addiction is still limited. Many people don’t take it seriously until it affects their own family. Addiction is a brain disease and requires treatment, not punishment. Raising awareness and changing societal attitudes towards addicts is essential. We need to support addicts, not ostracize them.

Interviewer: What role does family involvement play in the success of a patient’s recovery?

Simon: Family involvement is 100% essential. While we can change behaviour and thinking patterns during rehab, lasting recovery depends on the support and understanding of the family.

Family counselling is vital, but often families leave everything to the rehab, not realizing their ongoing role in the recovery process. Addiction education for families is necessary to ensure they support their loved ones effectively.

Interviewer: Does Bethesda Rehabilitation Facility address other types of addiction besides substance abuse?

Simon: Yes, we treat various addictions, including alcohol, gambling, sex, and even technology addiction like gaming and social media. We view addiction as a brain disease and treat each case with the appropriate therapies and support.

Interviewer: What advice do you have for families who have a loved one battling addiction?

Simon: Families should never give up on their loved ones. Addiction is not about being bad or immoral; it’s an illness that requires treatment. Discarding addicts only leads to more suffering. Keep hope alive, seek treatment repeatedly if necessary, and support them throughout the recovery process. If my parents had given up on me, I wouldn’t be here today.

Interviewer: What are your future plans for Bethesda Rehabilitation Facility?

Simon: I aim to expand Bethesda into a mental hospital specializing in deaddiction and rehabilitation, providing comprehensive care for various addictions.

Interviewer: Do you have any final thoughts or advice you’d like to leave with our viewers?

Simon: To the youth, stay away from addiction. Dream big, focus on your career, and strive to elevate our society. Our community already faces numerous challenges; let’s not add addiction to the list. Choose a path of growth and positivity.

Interviewer: How can people get in touch with Bethesda Rehabilitation Facility if they need help?

Simon: If anyone needs assistance, they can contact Bethesda Rehabilitation Facility using the details provided on the screen and in the video description.

Interviewer: Thank you, Simon, for joining us.

Simon: Thank you.

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