Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sickness aids the cure for addicts at Thai temple

By Manager Online31 January 2006 16:53
SARABURI, THAILAND (AFP) - Undate photo (here not showing) shows drug patients lying on the floor recieving herbal treament during an anti-drug program at Tham Krabok temple in Saraburi province. Sitting side by side in a straight line, men and women fighting addiction solemnly wait for a Thai monk to give them a glass of brown medicine.

Sitting side by side in a straight line, two men and four women fighting addiction solemnly wait for a Thai monk to give them a glass of brown medicine. Across from them, a dozen fellow addicts watch and start chanting an anti-drug song as the men and women swallow the vile herbal liquid and again and again drink a bowl of water filled from buckets. Then the six all start vomiting a gush of brown water into a sewer beneath them. Coughing, panting and faces visibly reddening, they keep drinking and puking until their vomit runs clear.

Welcome to Tham Krabok, a Buddhist monastery, where a half of its 100 monks are former alcohol or drug addicts. Located 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Bangkok, the temple is a majestic sight with golden pagodas and gigantic Buddhas against a backdrop of deep green mountains. Since the temple began its rehab program in 1959, more than 100,000 Thais and people from Australia, Britain, Germany, Israel, Kazakhstan, Russia and the United States have come here for detoxification.

Foreign patients have included celebrities like Pete Doherty, the 26-year-old British rocker and the former boyfriend of supermodel Kate Moss, who checked into the monastery in 2004 but fled just after three days. "Drugs are substitutes of something that is missing in life. Sometimes the whole soul is missing. Very often self-love is missing," says Phra Hans, a 58-year-old Swiss monk who counsels foreign addicts at Tham Krabok. "To come here, one has to be ready for a battle.

The war is not against drugs. It's the war about your self-growth and self-love," says the Swiss, one of four foreign monks, including an American veteran of the Vietnam War. Run solely by donations, the temple charges no fees to patients for their treatment and accommodation. Before starting the detoxification, they must take "Satja", a life-long vow never to touch alcohol or drugs. All addicts also must go through the vomiting session for at least their first five days. Phra Hans, never an addict himself, said the medicine is made with a top-secret recipe of 108 herbs, all grown in the temple gardens. "The drug problem is a global problem. Everybody in the world should join hands to solve the problem.

Some people come here without any money, but we help them," says Ajhan Vichien, a 52-year-old Thai monk. People stay for a minimum 10 days, which can be extended up to one month, Ajhan said. Some patients stay here for months because they don't feel ready to leave the compound. --- One month of sweeping, meditating --- Their day begins at 5:00 am, when they sweep the temple grounds for an hour and spend the morning reading, listening to music and meditating. At 2:00 pm, they take relaxing herbal steam baths.

At five comes the vomiting session, which lasts about 10 minutes. An hour later, they gather in front of a golden Buddha and sing the Thai national anthem and spend the night with books, meditation and music. Of 40 patients currently at the temple, 80 percent are Thais with foreigners making up the rest. Only four are women.

Tracy, an affable and petit 29-year-old Scot, says she has battled heroin addiction for five years and has been clean for four months. She found the temple on the Internet and checked herself in five days ago due to alcoholism. "It's kinda something that just happens and then you lose all control. Before, I was in a blackout.

I just did not want to think about anything and that's when drinks came in handy," says Tracy, who declines to give her last name. "I don't know where I'm going in my life but here you get time to think," adds Tracy, who plans to stay here for 28 days. Mujalin Wattanatirasade, a 29-year-old Thai mother, says she came to Tham Krabok seven months ago for help fighting alcoholism. "I used to drink only for festive occasions but started drinking heavily from morning to night.

Sometimes I was bored with my baby and then I took alcohol," Mujalin said. She has joined the vomiting session for weeks, saying: "When I vomit, I feel like being tortured. It is painful and I get a stomachache." Briton Nick Pengelly, who suffered both alcoholism and Drug addiction in the last 15 years, says the temple has given him a last chance to be himself again. "I was living in a fantasy world.

To me, every night was a Saturday night. But you can't live like that. It's not responsible and it's not normal," Pengelly, 30, said. "You lost yourself. You lost your own personality. You lost the joy you used to bring to other people.

I was a broken man," says the tall and handsome blond who used to be a professional golfer. Pengelly has been here for seven weeks and said he's left the monks to decide when he can leave. He took the life-long vow against alcohol and drugs and says he cannot wait to get back to his life and see his supportive family. "I'm really happy of the thought of never having to pick up a drink again because I know where that takes me. It takes me to hell. Absolute misery and I don't want misery. I want to be happy," he said.

The Swiss monk, Phra Hans, says more than 90 percent of Tham Krabok's rehabilitation is about helping addicts realize their potential in life. "Basically, we do nothing more than confirm what they feel about themselves. We tell them 'Get a real thing in life, which is to realize your potential and find self-love. Nobody says life is easy. It is very tough," Phra Hans says. "All we can do is give them a little kick in the ass and say 'Come on, it's time to wake up,'" the monk said.

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