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Newspaper “Speech”, 2006 more details >>

A Ray of Hope

In this rehabilitation center for drug addicts and alcoholics people fight the destructive addiction with prayer. Some people prepare programs – “how to get rid of drug addiction in several days”. Some people think in terms of our planet’s overpopulation and suggest getting all the addicts in one “pile” and killing them all at the same time, because they say “a good drug addict is a dead one”. Others open rehabilitation centers with the treatment cost as high as a trip to the Moon. Addicts’ parents sell their apartments in order to pay for their kids’ treatment, and business people who make money on promises of freedom continually increase their profit. On the other side of this madness, some people remember about God and absolutely free of charge take in even those whose parents and relatives turned away from them. Throughout the country appear rehabilitation centers that are started by representatives of non-Orthodox faith. They face a lot of opposition from everyone around including authorities, the Orthodox church and even some moms and dads. The latter kind of say: “Let our kids be addicted to heroin, cocaine or methadone rather than to your weird God”.

Different Songs

There is a similar rehabilitation center not far from the town of Belozersk that has been functioning for almost six years now. People there are convinced that besides death and prison a drug addict has yet another option. But in order to see that option you need to believe. First of all you need to believe in God. You need to believe in the fact that only He can give you strength to overcome your withdrawal and to never come back to the habit. The management of the rehabilitation center has been long ready to share their experience however the local authorities in Cherpovets and in Vologda look at them as if they were crazy and continually state that nobody is able to treat drug addiction. What about God, you say? Well, show us your God, and maybe then we will believe. At the Center not far from Belozersk the only fact people are ready to show is young men and women who used to be addicted to heroin for eight to twelve years, and are free now. In their past they would sell everything for some two grams of heroin, and they sang requiem to their dreams: they couldn’t have families, friends, jobs, etc. They sing different songs now. They have prayer in the morning, and they pray again in the evening. There is no need for them to look for ways into other worlds, ways that would take out of this world.

Boundaries and Punishment

You can be admitted into the Center only after a detailed conversation with the Center’s director Alla Zabrodina. She tells you about the Center’s strict rules. You cannot drink, smoke, use drugs, steal, lie, and a man cannot be alone with a lady. There is only one punishment for breaking any of these rules, which is “pack your bags and go home”. The capacity of a brick medium-size two-storey building is eighteen people. There are fifteen patients there now. The fact that not all the possible places are filled is simply explained by the season – summer and the beginning of fall is so called “the poppy seeds’” time. Young drug addicts go to poppy plantations to steal the plant and use it for making drug substance. By the mid-fall they run out of their stored up “natural” drug, and usually they don’t have money to buy heroin. Therefore, they go to the rehabilitation center near Belozersk, many of them in withdrawal. They even say among themselves in Cherepovets: “If you want to get trough your withdrawal go to Belozersk”.

“We don’t give medical treatment here”, says Alla Zabrodina. “I realize that drug addicts are people who are possessed by this addiction, and they don’t have anything left in this life except for their destructive habit. Therefore, only love can stop them from continuing this life style. Nothing but love can help them. I also know that they are people and they have the right to live. We don’t require anything from them, and they cannot give anything anyway. However, I can give them something – I tell them that God loves them and they are precious in His eyes.

Help Me

According to the Center’s statistics only one drug addict out of ten goes through a full year rehabilitation course. Some people leave the Center as soon as they have dealt wit their withdrawal, others stay for a couple of months after that and then leave anyway. Having left, they write letters to Alla, some write from prisons, some write from dumps and dens, and the luckiest ones write from their homes.

“Hello, Alla Vasilievna! I decided to write you a letter. I want to ask you to forgive me for not listening to you and making my own decision that turned out to be very wrong. Now I don’t trust in my own strength any more because I am really weak as a human being and I am too weak in my faith in God. There is nothing but “fog” ahead of me in life. Frankly speaking, I almost don’t even have faith. I don’t know what to do, Alla Vasilievna. I try to read the Bible, but I don’t understand anything, not even one line. I try to pray and cannot put two words together. Alla Vasilievna, please tell me how I can overcome this struggle with myself. I have this continuous fight inside of me – the fight between the good and the evil, and I see how the evil prevails. I realize that my future without God is nothing but darkness. How do I find God? I don’t know! Please help me! That’s all I ask for. Forgive me if I am writing something wring. May God keep you. Goodbye.”

Alla Zabrodina received this letter from one of her former patients, who is currently serving a four-year term for theft.

Work and Prayer

For those who made a decision to stay in the Center every morning starts the same way. The first ones to get up are farm workers – they get up at five. Drug addicts and alcoholics in their past, now they have to feed about forty chickens and milk several cows before breakfast. There is a lot to do in the Center – there are twenty cows, several bucks, geese, etc. Yulya gets up at six. She had lived on heroin for six years, and she used to look down at those who had never experienced the “high”. For almost a year now she has been working at the Center’s kitchen, cooking soups and other hot meals for almost twenty people. All the others get up at seven. Half an hour later everyone gets together in a big room where on one of the walls in big red letters is written that Christ died and rose up from the dead for you. They read the Bible for about forty minutes. One of the ministers starts reading – they used to be drug addicts too, but now they explain to others how to forget about the needle. After that everybody reads taking turns. Then they eat breakfast. Then they work. After that they have lunch, and then go back to work. After dinner they listen to a sermon. Then they have a couple of hours of free time, and then everyone goes to bed at ten. The first ones to get up are farm workers …

People and Lives

“There is one thing that we do require from them, and that is obedience”, says Alla Zabrodina. “One time a young man was brought to me, he had been working on his PhD. His name was Anton, twenty nine years old, and a long drug use history. As soon as he heard about our strict rules, he stated that he would never step his foot on the Center’s grounds. According to him that was violating his human rights. But him using drugs and dragging his parents through hell wasn’t violating anything, I guess. So his parents had to keep him in a clinic in Moscow for twelve days, paying fifty thousand dollars for his treatment. In our Center parents pay 1,500 (one thousand five hundred) rubles a month, which covers only food expenses.”

Yulya, being twenty five years old, had everything you can dream of in life – loving parents, good friends, a favorite job, and money. In seven years of using drugs she had four overdose situations and four clinical deaths. She had been saved from hell. She had a boyfriend, who, as it usually happens, had introduced her to the needle. She also had a little son.

“I was not going to become a drug addict. Everything started with entertainment and my silly curiosity. At first it was marihuana. Then heroin came. I made very good money, and I never had a problem with the next dose. It was really a lot of fun in the beginning. How can I describe it? Imagine this: you haven’t eaten for several days, and finally you get a plate of your favorite soup or hash browns. What do you do? You just “jump” at your food and, forgetting everything else, you eat, eat, eat … That is something similar to what drug addicts feel having taken a new dose. There is no flying in the sky, and there are no hallucinations and stuff like that. All of that is made up! And after that withdrawal comes. What does a withdrawal feel like? It is a terrible headache and unbearable pain in every bone of your body. Have you ever hit a sharp furniture corner with your leg? It hurts a lot! This is the pain we go through during a withdrawal, and it is in all of our bones, all over our body. You cannot stand, and you cannot lie down, because everything hurts. The only thought you have in your mind at that moment is a plan how to get a new dose. Buy it! Right now! You are lucky if this pain leaves your body in a couple of days. Some people go through this for weeks. It is very scary and all you want to do is to scream. But the worst of all was something else. One day my manager came to me and told me I didn’t have the job any more. I didn’t have any more money to buy heroin. I asked and even demanded money from my parents. I threatened them with everything I could think of, and I told them I would never be able to live through another withdrawal. My Mom gave me money crying. Then Mom brought me here, to this rehabilitation center. In the beginning I thought I wouldn’t be able to stay here for even a month. But, as you see, I am still here.”

Yulya has several weeks left to the end of her rehabilitation period. She has been here for almost a year now. To all the questions like “Will you be able to stay clean?” she only smiles and sings “Oh, my God, I believe You are here with me”. Her job is awaiting her, and her Mom is preparing a celebration for her homecoming. Her son – Lyosha – will turn two. He thinks that his Mommy lives in a picture, and he looks at his grandma with surprise when she tells him about his real Mom. Yulya has a happy-end story. More often you see worse case scenarios.

A Bone Stuck in Your Throat

“I have all kinds of people here. There are some who lost all of their relatives. There are some who used to live in a dump. Others were hooked to alcohol by their own fathers. There is one military officer here. He went through the terror of the war in Chechnya, and something must have snapped inside. There are thieves and prostitutes here. There are also people with two degrees,” says Alla Zabrodina. “Today less drug addicts die than what we saw in 1998. This is the case only because most of the “old” ones are already at the cemetery, and the “new” ones haven’t had enough yet. Moscow uses one ton of heroin a day. Can yo imagine what kind of money that is? Of course any Christian rehabilitation center is like a bone stuck in their throat. We are this bone, a small one, but still.”

After a dose of heroin they simply forget everything. They forget how to work, how to rest, how to express your feelings, and how to actually feel. They live in their own separate world. They dedicate their love to Misha (belated), to Oxana (belated), to Anton (a person with a heavy psyche trauma after another terrible withdrawal and two clinical deaths), to Sasha (a person with deep changes in his psyche that cannot be reverted), etc. They send their own “fairy-tale” down their veins and play so-called “freedom” games. They take a dose of heroin and then they don’t care how they are going to pay for the next one later the same day. What happens tomorrow? … Will tomorrow actually come? Who knows?

P.S.

During six years of work the Center has not received any financial support from the local government. They asked for help from the Governor – Vyacheslav Pozgalyov, and they even wrote to Chubais (a Duma representative). There was not answer. When the Center had just opened they didn’t have enough food for everyone. They called food storages and stores asking for donations. Some of them gave them old food, and others openly said that they would rather throw their food away than give it to drug addicts.

By Ekaterina Dementieva
Newspaper “Speech”, September 08, 2006

 
     
 
Newspaper “Speech”, 2002: Act, While Trusting in God more details >>

At first it may seem like you have come to a private farm, where everything is kept in perfect order. You can see cucumbers and tomatoes growing in greenhouses, a flock of white geese settling down for the night, and chicken house full of clucking chickens. In the barn Calves are eating their dinner with pleasure. The smell of fresh milk fills the air and large canisters full of milk in front of a two-storey grey-brick building. You can here the sound of laughter and soft music coming from the open windows. Having finished their workday, a group of young men are trying to figure out whether they will go play ping-pong or work out.

It would seem to be the ideal place.

It would, except there are no angels here, and the building is the headquarters of rehabilitation center “Milost” (Mercy), which currently houses seventeen former alcoholics and drug addicts going through rehabilitation.

The idea about opening this center came about over two years ago. The leader of a similar organization in Kingisepp (Lengrad Region), Sergey Matevosyan, visited Cherepovets. He said, “Guys, we need to do something here. We have a lot of people from Cherepovets in our center, and they come to us in the worst condition.”

“Milost” opened September 11, 2000. Three patients and three ministers came to an absolutely house, which had been the office of a former farm. They slept on rusty beds and cooked on a hotplate. Later when more people came they had to overcome pressure from the local government in Belozersk. Different committees came and went several times a day. In a way it was understandable, because with centers like this usually come troubles for local authorities. The police were afraid that this would become another hang-out for drug addicts. The doctors where screaming, “How can they treat people if they don’t even have a doctor on staff!” The Department of Health was giving them their requirements.

As time passed, the attacks were replaced by silent stares of surprise. The newcomers did not bring any crime with them. They only cleaned up the old farm, restored the dilapidated buildings, and began to use the land. As hard as the authorities were trying to find something wrong with these people they did not see any unlawful actions. Eventually, the local government “adopted” “Milost”.

Now citizens of Cherepovets, Sheksna, Vologda, Novomoskovsk, and Rybinks are on rehabilitation here. Some of them used to be drug addicts, others tried to drown their life problems in alcohol, and all their own efforts to stop that had ended in failure.

“Usually people who lost all hope come to us”, says the director of “Milost”, Alla Zabrodina. “They say that they tried everything, and they ran out of strength, money, and hope.” Everyone finds their way to healing differently. Once two girls called the center after a three-minute radio program, and they decided to come for rehabilitation. Several times a Christian church called “Good News” had outreaches in Cherepovets, Vologda, and Sheksna, and every time they found more people. Those were young men and ladies, no more than twenty six years old.

“We do not drag anyone over here”, continues Alla Vasilievna. “People come here according to their own free will and having made their personal conscientious decision. There are no unbelievers here since everyone has repented of their sins and accepted Christ. This is the main factor in their healing process. … I would say faith is that stigma that holds everything else together. The basics of Christianity are very simple, and we don’t have to invent anything, as this seemingly trivial therapy opens doors for miracles. There is no medical treatment, but all we have is a small group of patients, easy and clear instructions, and a couple of staff workers (assistants).

Drug addiction is a sickness that touches not only human body but also his/her psyche. Thus, for those in the process of healing and restoration, it is easier to get back to the rhythm of normal life in a group of people who have gone through similar troubles.

The main rule of their old life was this: “You have to try everything!” It felt good to get high from drugs, but the problem was that that kind of “high” didn’t last very long, taking people down the spiral of “never enough”, and making them live from one dose to another, from one bottle to another, and so on. One of the issues I see in those who come here for the first time is that they don’t know how to do things, let alone trying to help others. They are not used to thinking about anybody else, but themselves. However, things are different around here.

It is extremely hard for them to be here simply because things are different around here. People’s psychological “withdrawal” is probably more painful than their physiological one. Everything they were used to is not allowed any more: smoking, drinking, using drugs, etc. Such activities as having sex, cursing, lying, stealing, exercising violence of any form, breaking the rules are now tabooed.

The rules over here are simple: love God and follow His commandments. It is required here to work every day, to devote time for prayer, not to be lazy, serve others, and love each other.

Everyone gets up at seven in the morning. After breakfast we have a group prayer. You can probably understand that these people have a lot to ask for in prayer, and that’s why we don’t put a time limit on their prayer time. Having done our spiritual labor we go out to labor physically. We don’t support laziness here, so everybody has to fulfill their duties. Today you may work in the garden, tomorrow you may be sent to the field, the day after tomorrow it may be your duty to clean the cow barn, and yet the following day you may work in the kitchen. Those who are near the end of their rehabilitation course are very different from those who have just arrived. The first are calm and confident in what they do. The latter, looking at this example, realize that they can do it too. The main idea is not to be afraid of the work it takes.

In two years nine people have completed the rehabilitation course with us, and two people – Sergey and Olga – decided to stay here as ministers in training and help Alla Vasilievna. All the “graduates” stay in touch, and no one has back to the old life.

In March the Center obtained a new car – “Niva”. They use it to go to Belozersk (a town ten minutes away) to buy food and other necessities. They produce a lot at the farm, but there are some things that you cannot make with your own hands. Alla Vasilievna regularly goes to other rehabilitation centers in order to learn from them. One of the places she has visited was Koluga, where she saw their farm work, and their mini milk factory. After her trip to Kingisepp they got ducks and geese at the Center. Churches from all over the Vologda region help them a lot. The local government has not provided any financial support though. They need assistance in restoring the well (they have a drilled well on the farm, but it needs a filter in order to be useable, and they really have a need in using it because it is very expensive to get drinking water from Belozersk all the time). Also they have to restore their electrical system since the present one is way too old.

Sergey (one of the ministers in training) will enroll into a certificate course for operating a tractor. He already knows a lot about farming equipment since they have two tractors, one plowing machine and a cultivator at the Center. They have planted three and a half hectors of potatoes, and their first harvest from the green houses is almost ready to be reaped.

They also have some problems here, but these problems are solvable. Everything was set and working smoothly three months ago, but now with the arrival of new patients things were a little shaken around here. The newcomers don’t fully understand the changes that are taking place in them, and thus they are a bit cross and uneasy.

“I don’t know what turn their future life will take”, says Alla Vasilievna. “This is very much like a school: students graduate, and you wish them good luck in their independent adult life. Following the graduation you receive new first-graders, and start everything all over again. I only trust the mercy of God, who I believe will help them not to stumble on their way. While these guys are here they don’t get other people hooked (usually each of them gets “on the needle” five other guys a month). Thus those others don’t get yet others hooked. Therefore, our work hasn’t been in vain – someone managed to escape the trouble.

Non-believers will say: “Look at this luck in life!” But those who believe understand that healing comes with love. If you believe in God you know that there are no territorial limits or boundaries for prayer, and the truth is that there are no untreatable diseases and dead-end situations for God.

As others are thinking what to do and expecting financial assistance from the government, people are getting healed and restored in “Milost” absolutely free of charge.

“The Speech” Newspaper, 2002