Christian Drug Rehab
Seven hundred addicts have signed up for a rehabilitation program with the Christian Preobrazheniye drug treatment center since it was set up in the southwestern region of Voronezh a decade ago. Only about a hundred have endured the program’s tough regimen of hard work, simple living and faith-based recovery.
“Three left as recently as yesterday,” says Igor Burykin, a former addict whose recovery is one of Preobrazheniye’s success stories. “It’s hard to bring oneself to accept the rigorous regimen.” The retreat was founded by an Evangelical community in a remote village called, appropriately, Volya (Russian for “liberty”). Residents who have managed to rid themselves of their substance addiction are now trying to help newcomers become drug-free.
The living conditions in Russia’s narcotic rehabilitation centers entered the national spotlight in mid-October when a court in the city of Nizhny Tagil sentenced an antidrug activist to three and a half years in jail for coercing addicts into abstinence. The 23-year-old leader of the Drug-Free City foundation, Yegor Bychkov, was sent to a high-security penitentiary after the court convicted him on charges of kidnapping and torture. Investigators said he had abducted drug abusers and locked them up for forced rehabilitation. Hard work and an austere diet are believed to have been part of the therapy imposed by Bychkov on his “abductees.”
Most doctors disapprove of hard manual labor as a basis for drug rehabilitation. Yevgeny Chernetsky, of Voronezh’s regional substance addiction treatment center, is one of them. He argues that work therapy may only be effective if integrated into a holistic rehab course.
Overcoming addiction through faith
“I took opium for as long as 17 years, from the age of 20 through 37,” Burykin says. “I’ve lost my wife to overdose, stood trial three times, and have served time in jail. While there, I developed TB and hypostatic pneumonia.”
For the past eight years, Burykin, 45, has been a Preobrazheniye resident. He has now fully recovered from his opiate addiction, and works at the center as a volunteer, helping other drug addicts through the detox & rehab program. He also preaches to an Evangelical Christian congregation.
“Any alcoholic or drug addict would like to quit, but most just don’t have the nerve to make it on their own,“ he says. “That’s our inherent sinful nature. According to the Gospels, ‘Everyone who sins is slave to sin.’ It’s only through Jesus that people can really transform themselves. I repented in 2002 and then had my life reformed by the Lord.”
Eight years of abstaining from narcotics, booze, nicotine, and even from obscene language… Upon completion of the rehab program, Burykin joined the local Evangelical community and undertook to provide support for drug addicts embarking on the thorny path toward recovery.
It was here, at Preobrazheniye, that Burykin got married and started a family. His son, Philip, is now one year old.
He makes no bones about his troubled past: “Why should I conceal it? The important thing is to make people see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Those seeking to rid themselves of their addiction can do so through work and faith, he adds.
“People learn to earn themselves a living when they work. Drug addicts who end up here usually have no prior working experience,” he explains. “And those who repent, pray and read spiritual literature will eventually come to know God.”
Working one’s way to drug-free life
There are 15 people undergoing Preobrazheniye’s addiction treatment course at the moment. All of them do community work of some kind. Two help with the construction of a female rehab facility nearby, to replace the old one, which burned down. Two others take care of the center’s herd of cows. The rest work on a public bathhouse project and prepare fodder for the livestock.
In summertime, all the patients work growing crops. They grow vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, and onions. Their latest veggie harvest has been a lean one, they say, as the region suffered from a severe drought this past summer.
Some residents are pursuing the rehab program for a second time already. Oleg Dolgopyatov, for one, returned a little over a month ago, after his departure in spring. His first stay at the center lasted just under six months, and ended with him leaving for Voronezh, where he took to the bottle again and resumed taking drugs. Now Oleg is back, and on his way to recovery.
“I want my life changed,” he says.
According to Burykin, to be able to recover an addict should abstain from smoking, drinking, fighting, and even from using obscene language. These are the basic rules to be followed by all the residents. But most of them fail. Small wonder then that only 100-odd addicts have completed the rehab program at Preobrazheniye over its decade-long history.
In keeping with Preobrazheniye’s daily routine, residents will get up at 6 a.m., attend a church service, then have breakfast and go to work. The lunch break is from 2 to 3 p.m. After finishing work in the evening, they have some quality time to spend on their personal needs.
Turning over a new leaf
Many of those who complete Preobrazheniye’s year-long rehab program then leave the place to turn over a new leaf elsewhere. But some choose to stay behind and help other addicts on the program to get through.
“The program was intended for six months originally, but this period of time has proved too short,” Burykin says. “Even physiologically, a person will need at least seven months to recover from alcohol and drug abuse. And then he or she will have to spend some time readjusting to a drug-free lifestyle. It’s hard to live in a world where sin and temptation are all around.”
Oleg Fedoseyev has learned to cope. The 36-year-old entered the Preobrazheniye center four years ago. “When I learned about Igor Burykin working at the center, I thought to myself: ‘Have they been shooting up like crazy out there?’ Igor and I come from Novaya Usman, so I knew him quite well before. Then, eventually, I decided to join him here…”
Volya is now home to five families from the Evangelical community, who make up a third of the village’s population. All the houses in this desolate place are old and rickety; none is surrounded with a fence. But the humble living conditions do not make the former Preobrazheniye patients any less happier. Now that they have found God, they know that everything in their lives will be changing for the better.