AHEAD, India

The Arrupe Health Enclave for Alcohol/Drug Dependents (AHEAD) in Madurai Province, India, helps support those struggling with substance abuse.

Here, we hear from 24-year-old Gilbert Arun, a beneficiary of the centre, which is supported by Jesuit Missions’ donations.

I have been a user since my school days. I started with cigarettes when I was a school student aged 15 and, within a year or so, had shifted to marijuana.

I connected with a group of people my age, and planned for my initiation to weed at a secluded hillock near my village.

The experience was strange. I had a few puffs and began laughing uncontrollably. I laughed at everything my companions said, and they began to feel uneasy and worried.

As I noticed it, I began to laugh even more hysterically. It was quite strange and frightening that I couldn’t control my laughter, and I didn’t know what made me laugh so much.

I began to feel afraid. I have no recollection of how we finished the session, nor how I got back home. But when I woke up next morning, all I wanted was to have another pull on the ‘joint’. Thus began my journey into addiction.

My studies were neglected, and I just managed to complete my school studies with a minimum pass percentage.

My uncle managed to get me into Loyola College in Chennai, where I spent a year. The college atmosphere was alien to what I was used to. The biggest problem was my inability to find other marijuana users.

After a year, I returned and got admitted to an undergraduate program at St. Joseph’s College, Trichy.

I could then renew my connection with my drug-using group back in the village – the college is just a couple of hours away – and I also found college mates who use drugs. 

I spent three years in the college, but failed in most of the examinations.

My family were concerned about my drug addiction and put me in a rehabilitation centre. I was confined to my room, sharing with ten other patients. There was only a small window through which I could look at the sky sometimes.

My father passed away during my confinement, but my family did not tell me of his death. I spent six months at the rehab centre.

My family, by now, noticed that I’d become listless and unhappy. My uncle again came to my rescue and took me out of the centre and straightaway put me in AHEAD.

The atmosphere here was different. The food was good, there were doctors – a physician and a psychiatrist. I had yoga lessons, Mass in the morning, four sessions of lectures and group discussions, individual counselling.

I could walk through the surrounding fields and enjoy the outdoors in the evening. I learned that addiction is a disease and how it has messed up my life. I learned to review my life, speak about my addiction, own up my addictive behaviour.

Above all I learned to pray.

After about six months, I began to accompany the AHEAD team whenever it went to address a group of students on drugs and addiction. I shared my life-story with the audiences.

As I grew into sobriety, I was shifted to a halfway house and was given the opportunity to complete my college studies. I look forward to completing the programme of studies by May.

I am grateful to Jesuit Missions UK for supporting AHEAD, through which many like me, get inner healing from addiction and above all have the chance to start a new life.

Thank you.

Read more Lent Campaign testimonies here.

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