Fighting addiction in Suba
I am no total stranger to Cebu City’s Barangay Suba. Upon the invitation of residents who are my friends, I have been there many times.
In spite of tightly clustered houses and narrow streets, the place is airy since it faces the sea. It is, as it were, on the frontline for winds that blow inland.
If one is looking for some merry-making, third Sunday of January, the feast of the Holy Child Jesus is the best time to be in Suba where the parish church is named after the Santo Niño.
On Fiesta Señor, roasted pig is served in every Suba household and the community echoes in the night with karaoke singing.
There was no singing when we — my colleagues at University of the Philippines Cebu and I — visited Suba recently. We went there to observe how the community is dealing with the challenge of rampant drug abuse.
Our visit would not have come to pass minus a poet’s insistence that we university teachers go there. Professor Victor Emmanuel Carmelo Nadera, popularly known as Vim, had flown in from Manila to train us in the use of poetry as a means of healing.
Vim was adamant in emphasizing that we cannot simply sit in an air-conditioned rooms and theorize about using poetry and the other arts for therapeutic purposes. When we speak of helping others heal, he said, we must be able to behold a human face. Crafting related teaching modules is secondary.
Lilia Tio, our Creative Writing Program coordinator, managed to arrange with a Salesian priest for our group to visit the Suba parish in the afternoon of November 6 to observe a sharing session for men on the journey to overcoming substance abuse.
The men, at least 20 by my estimate, were in the middle of listening in a circle to one another one by one in the hall into which our group of about seven were ushered when we arrived. We sat on plastic chairs outside the circle and listened.
They were talking about humility that afternoon. When a speaker’s turn came, he said “Hi” to the group who greeted him by name in unison. He in turn spoke of an experience by which he came to understand what it means to be humble.
This much I learned: Humility comes in many shades. For one man, it means steering clear of drugs and managing to do so for at least two months. For another, it means taking in stride the ribbing he got from friends since he started coming to a rehabilitation meeting.
For one man, it means making a habit of going to church on Sundays in the hope of divine intervention to overcome drug addiction. For another, it means not taking against a “clean” person his judgmental gaze or his refusal to lend him a listening ear.
In none of the men we listened to did I see any hint of the sad refrain which states that those who have fallen into drug abuse have no hope whatsoever of recovery, that they have turned into creatures less than human.
I saw only a group of people who humbly acknowledged that darkness had crept into their lives and yet held on to the hope that light can still have the final word.
As their session wound up, one man volunteered to read a set of resolutions for the day. They would end every session this way, with a set of things to do just for the day, things to do to walk a little closer to the fullness of light.
In the end, they huddled and held their arms on one another’s backs for a closing prayer.
* * *
We moved our chairs and sat in the circle with the men of Suba. I talked to the old man to my left. What is your name? I asked. He gave me his nickname of two syllables. Then he disclosed his longer, full first name, a name derived from that of one archangel.
We listened as my colleagues took turns introducing themselves and offering to provide training in their field of expertise to anyone interested. Lilia talked about poetry, Jay Jore about painting, Januar Yap about storytelling. I spoke about speaking, writing and taking pictures. Ligaya Rabago-Visaya danced as she spoke about dancing and acting.
Vim brought the men back to their childhood. Do you remember when your parents held you in their arms? They looked at you with love. They would not let even a fly land on you, he said. The men nodded in agreement.
What went wrong? Vim asked. The men laughed, acknowledging the dark twist in their lives. Vim told them that they need not worry. While there is life, he paused, there is hope — the men thundered.
We promised we would come back.
We took leave of the group, shaking hands and exchanging smiles with as many men as we passed by on our way to the staircase.
I look forward to us honoring our word.
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