Living CTRC’s four-walled life

By: Agnes B. Alpuerto August 27,2017 - 09:46 PM

The 24 women patients undergoing drug rehabilitation at the Cebu Treatment and Rehabilitation Center follow hour-by-hour rules including morning exercises and meetings and of course their assigned chores. (CDN PHOTO/AGNES ALPUERTO)


What a journey it has been, and the end is not in sight,” the women sang in chorus, with arms held together. “But the stars are out tonight, and they’re bound to guide my way.”

They sing the same song every day to officially start their mornings. But the song has become more than just a daily routine. For the 24 women inside the Cebu Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (CTRC), the song serves as a reminder of their journey towards healing and recovery.

Wearing white T-shirts, pink shorts and red slippers, the women move around a four-walled room as silently as possible. They submit themselves for a body search every single time they come out from the bathroom.

They don’t own mobile phones or gadgets to ease afternoon boredom, and they can’t go out for a stroll or shopping.

Unless they’ve done something good or have been inside the facility for two months already, they are not allowed to call their families nor get a visit from them.

“It’s not easy to be here. We have to follow so many rules,” says one of them. “Nina,” 41, has been in the facility since November 2016 and will be going out anytime soon.

“I promise to never go back to my wrongdoings. I want to have a good and happy life outside,” she said, recalling how she started using illegal drugs out of curiosity when she was in college.

But for some of the women, the prospect of going home may still be distant.

Dr. Juan Zaldarriaga Jr., hospital chief, said the treatment and rehabilitation program lasts for more than six months. Some even stay for more than a year, while there are several patients who come back just a few months after being released.

The patients inside CTRC, Dr. Zaldarriaga explained, undergo several stages of recovery. In their first few days, they are required to face a blank wall for hours and are not allowed to talk to anybody except for nurses.

“When they face the wall, they are given the time and space to contemplate, to think about the reason they are inside CTRC and to acknowledge that they need help,” Dr. Zaldarriaga said.

However, to let the patients recognize their mistake is a big challenge, Dr. Zaldarriaga added.

“Like any other human being, they find it hard to realize that they are at fault. They think that using illegal drugs is okay and normal. But if you think deeper, you will understand that taking illegal drugs is actually their way of asking for help.”

The length of the stay of a patient depends mainly on how fast she can instill utmost self-discipline, find motivation to change her lifestyle and on how prepared she is to be outside again.

CTRC, which is located in Barangay Jagobiao in Mandaue City, enforces rules to all the patients. Each wrong act entails a certain punishment and those who perform well get rewards.

“When they were outside, they don’t believe in rules. They follow and do whatever they like. We take that privilege away from them. That’s how they learn discipline,” Dr. Zaldarriaga explained.

Four-walled life

All the patients in the facility follow hour-by-hour rules. They wake up at 5 a.m. for a morning exercise then hold pre-morning and morning meetings before doing their assigned chores.

They aren’t allowed to talk with each other for long, unless they ask permission. But their conversations are always recorded on paper.

They are assigned to individual beds, and sitting on the bed of another patient is punishable.

“Nina” said it’s just a matter of getting used to all the rules without complaints.

She, along with all the other 23 women, try not break any of it or they’ll risk not getting a call from their family members.

“You know what we dread so much here? Missing our families and our children but not having the capability to call them anytime we want,” she said.

During morning meetings, the patients, who call each other “sister” and “family,” are asked about internal issues, perceptions on things and understanding on life. They are also given the chance to thank fellow patients who influenced them positively and call out those who need to be reprimanded.

On Saturdays and Sundays, patients somehow deviate from the routine. The women prepare for talent competitions or games on Saturday nights.

They have even held a Miss Gay beauty pageant just recently.

Sunday, they say, is what they look forward to the most.

“We can eat junk food and play board games. We don’t have to do chores. It’s our free day,” Nina said.

Since the patients are prohibited to keep money, their families pay for whatever they get from the hospital canteen.

Patient ‘Lyn’

Aside from attending daily morning meetings with the chief nurse, the women also get to have deep talks with “Lyn,” a former patient of CTRC.

“Lyn” facilitates the pre-morning meetings, sharing her experiences as a drug dependent and how she surpassed what she considers the darkest part of her life.

“The psychologists and all the doctors here have helped the patients, but it’s very different if they hear the words of somebody who has been in the same situation,” she said.

“Lyn” was admitted to the facility thrice since 2012 after she personally sought the help of her foster mother. She has been in and out of the facility for several years because “when you go out, you start craving again.”

“Lyn,” citing personal and family struggles she had growing up with a foster family as the reason she tried methamphetamine, was a drug dependent for 11 years.

“I felt so lonely, like I didn’t belong anywhere. It’s really true, even if others think that it’s an overused reason. When you take illegal drugs, you seem to forget your struggles,” Lyn admitted.

Now at 32, “Lyn” is taking a caregiving course and is about to graduate in a month or so. She dreams of going to Singapore or Dubai where she can build a new life.

“It has been my dream to be somebody who helps other people. When I was on my recovery stage here in CTRC, I had the strong urge to find my purpose and I used that motivation every time I feel like going back to drugs,” Lyn said.

Even when she’s busy with school works, “Lyn” stays in the facility so she can meet the patients daily. She talks with patients, giving them practical tips on how to control themselves and to always consider the consequences if they try to break away from the recovery process.

“I’ve been there. I know that the craving is so strong. But you just need to control yourself. I even tried to escape from here once, but when I started running, I realized that I have nowhere to go. This place was my refuge.”

Her morning service at CTRC, “Lyn” said, is her way of giving back to the people who helped her discover the better version of herself.

As she gets her diploma soon, “Lyn” pledges to continue being an inspiration to people battling through life.

“There is hope, I promise,” she said as she wiped her tears.

Support system

Dr. Zaldarriaga said the real success of the rehabilitation program does not happen inside the facility.

When patients get discharged, they will be facing people and circumstances that may trigger their emotions and cravings to try illegal drugs again. How they control themselves when these things happen determine their true progress.

“If we come to think of it, the process of healing and recovery does not end at all. It’s a lifetime undertaking because people will always encounter hardships. It mainly depends on the person. We all have the choice to do good or do the opposite,” he said.

Dr. Zaldarriaga, however, emphasized the importance of the support of families, friends and the community in the lives of drug users and dependents.

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TAGS: Cebu Treatment and Rehabilitation Center, Dr. Juan Zaldarriaga, drugs, healing, rehabilitation, women

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