Giving Hope to the Addicted

The Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) focused its Public Lecture for February on a topic which has been in the news since the President of the Philippines made the campaign against illegal drugs central to his administration.

ISA, however, gave a positive twist to its forum topic on Feb. 24 by naming it "Bringing Hope to the Addicted".  Fr. Rico Ponce, ISA executive director, noted: "Addiction is one of the major ills and challenges of our society today. What is addiction? What are its different forms?

"More essentially, how can we understand and concretely help those afflicted with it? How do we bring God's healing love to addicts who desire transformation? How we reach out to those who no longer feel there is a purpose in life?"  

ISA's guest speaker, Ms. Clarissa "Ilsa" Reyes, is a lay missionary called to the ministry of inner healing, intercession and media. Since the 1990s she has been giving talks inside drug rehabilitation centers and prisons. She recently attended the Training Institute on Behavioral Health and Addictive Disorders under the US Journal Training, Inc. in Florida.

"I was the only Filipino in the conference last year," she recalled at the public lecture."I was lucky to listen to Dr. Mark Gould, the best specialist on addictions and the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the White House, and other experts, some on neuro-biology."

What is addiction? The experts at the meeting called it a disease of the brain, a total spike in the brain. The main verb ("addicere") in "addiction signifies debt, attachment and slavery, added Ms. Reyes.  

"Maybe we also have attachments - to Korean dramas, to bags to a color, to a person - but these are in the milder and more acceptable form of attachments while addiction  is an inordinate one.  Its dictionary meaning means an attachment beyond voluntary control or physiological structures, and its purpose is to put us out of touch with ourselves," she also said.

Types of addiction include addiction to substance, drugs, behavior (eating sweet and sugary food, for example), pornography (even among seminarians; "Let's be open about it - there's hope if we know the roots," said Ms. Reyes), computers, video games, work, physical exercises, and even religious addiction when devotions or novenas cover up past experiences.

Reasons for addiction include trauma, emptiness, absence of love, curiosity, experimentation, peer pressure and desire to escape reality, especially painful feelings - as when a boyfriend of Ms. Reyes was traumatized by being sexually abused in his younger days by a teacher.

She called drug addiction a major problem; per data from the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) in 2106, there were 6, 079 reported cases of drug addiction by type of admission and sex.

 The profile drawn from the data is that a drug user tends to be a male, age 31 years on the average, single (48%) , unemployed (44%) college level (27%), urban-based, with a family income of approximately P14,000 monthly, addict for more than six years, and a mono-drug user of shabu, marijuana and ecstasy.

From July 1, 2016 to June 20, 2017, there were 1, 308, 078 surrenderees to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the Philippine National Police (PNP) the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC).

There could be more were it not for the fear of being shot upon surrendering, said Ms. Reyes about the dreaded tukhang (point and shoot) anti-drug campaign.

"Instead, we want a holistic approach to addiction," she said about a community-based programs of the Archdiocese of Manila called Sanlakbayan (One Journey of the Nation) to welcome non-facility-based patients to parishes. 

Afraid of the risk to public safety, some people may make some surrenderees feel unwelcomed ("What if they sell drugs to the churches?") but Ms. Reyes saw otherwise during an anniversary of this program held at San Sebastian Church.

Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle embraced a surrenderee and said to all others like him: "We are not putting you down. Instead, we love you because you are a child of God." 

According to Ms. Reyes, Sanlakbayan brings to the fore what she calls one of the greatest challenges - that of working with honest government workers concerned about the surrenderees.

She said during the ISA forum, "Fr. Bobby de la Cruz, head of the Archdiocesan Commission on Restorative Justice, has encountered a PNP officer saying that it takes extra effort to bring rehabilitatees to the parishes but that he and fellow officers must try to do this. These officers discover that they are called to the mission by Christ and so, there is hope for change."

Sanlakbayan is a long-term program for rehabilitation with 12 steps for participants on a regular basis - similar to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Among the steps: give prevention education while young but if already addicted, help people  identify their helplessness; hold one-on-one counseling (and sessions with family members who are willing); check trauma history, the need for healing, the  source of pain; and build  on the strength of the  individual in choosing  interventions. Will it be visualization? Laughter therapy and focusing on positive thoughts?  Psychotherapy?  

The  Archdiocese is joined by other Church-based institutions like Jesuit Communications (Jescom) of the Ateneo de Manila University  which has made a video entitled Bagong Buhay - Kuwento sa  Pagbabalik (New Life - Stories on Coming Back) on proper spiritual guidance as one of the 12 steps to healing.

For her part every Sunday evening Ms. Reyes continues to anchor Salitang Buhay (Word of Life), winner of the Best Counseling Program during the 37th Catholic Mass Media awards. Laughingly, she recalled learning to put on make-up because at that late hour on a week-end, DZMM Teleradyo has no more make-up artist available. But she soldiers on talking to students, late-night callers with depression ("now becoming a worldwide problem") and overseas workers awake in their time zones. 

At the open forum, Sr. Amelia Ramos, O.P. shared the positive experience of Santo Cristo Parish in San Juan and suggested welcoming a third batch, "I hope we can get more people interested in the 12 steps. It is good that the Church and the government are helping rehabilitatees  become normal again."

Also at the open forum, Emerson Ruga of de Las Salle recalled his addiction to cigarettes: "When my daughter entered college, I promised to stop smoking. I kept asking God to empower me and now, I have not smoked for three years.

"God gives us grace but we have the task of responding to that grace.  God is joining me in this life, a gift of Christ's victory over sin. God has called me to this wonderful ministry where they need psycho-spiritual cure and other forms of prayers."

 The movement has just been joined by the JCI Marikina Marikit, the JCI Philippines, several physical therapists like Judy Josef, and by the youth sector represented by her daughter Maria Benedicta, age 12 - all of who were at the forum of ISA.

Ms. Reyes also reported how she has linked up the Entrepreneurship School of Asia with Fr. de la Cruz. As a result its students interviewed the drug surrenderees for whom they are now being asked by school officials to conduct feasibility studies on business ventures.

Fr. Rico Ponce pointed out in introducing this particular public lecture of ISA, "Accompanying people with all types of addiction continues to be a relevant and urgent concern calling on all of us to be authentic and effective agents of God's   love."

The afternoon ended with a certificate of appreciation for Ms. Reyes. 

The next ISA Public Lecture, announced by Dr. Carmen Alviar, the moderator, is on March 24 with Tan Cho-Chiong, M.D. on “Neurobiology of Love, Kindness and Compassion.”

                                                                                    - Pinky Choudhury; 25 February 2108