I chose to major in psychology for a variety of reasons, the biggest being that I found reading about different disorders fascinating. However, there is a big difference between reading about something and actually experiencing it first hand.
When I read about the different types of addictions in my Abnormal Psychology class, the symptoms were merely things I had to remember in order to score well on my mid-term exam.
It wasn’t until I started my internship at a rehabilitation center when those terms took on a completely different meaning
I still remember my first day going into the internship. I realized rehab centers in Pakistan are much different than the ones I saw in Hollywood movies, which formed the basis of my understanding about what I was getting myself into.
In movies, I saw sprawling gardens and patients taking evening walks with the freedom to leave at any time.
The facility that I was assigned to did not have a garden, in fact, it was housed in one building; an old house which had been fashioned into a facility.
Once we went inside, I saw a huge metal gate with a huge padlock. And according to the manager of the facility, the patients were on the other side. My mind started to race with possibilities of the danger I might be putting myself in. What kind of men were behind that door that they had to be contained with a metal door and huge lock?
When they open the door and asked us to follow them, my legs were shaking. My mind was replaying every scary scenario involving addicts I had seen on the news or in movies. And I was certain something similar would happen to me. With shaking legs, I stepped into the group therapy room where the patients were sitting in a circle with the head psychiatrist leading the session.
I sat in the corner where I was asked to observe the session. I was too scared to look at any of the patients in the eye.
I had already branded them as ‘dangerous, untrustworthy and as the other’ in my head.
Suddenly, the head psychiatrist decided to introduce everyone to us. One by one, the patients stated their name, their substance of choice and a little about themselves. And I was shocked.
These were normal men who were merely battling a disease… there was a father who was hoping to get better in a month so he could partake in his daughter’s wedding. There was a young professional who hoped to recover soon so he could resume his career and contribute to his household again. Everyone had a different story and all of them were important.
The rehab center where I interned was a comparatively low-cost facility than other ones which meant that the patients were usually from blue-collar professions and upon meeting their families, I experienced another facet of battling addiction in Pakistan.
Our country has a collectivist culture, thus addiction is not an isolated battle but one the entire family deals with.
And since these were people from a middle or lower-middle-class social status, the concept of someone consuming alcohol or drugs itself is frowned upon, having an addict in the family was incredibly upsetting for them. And something they were not just uncomfortable discussing but wanted to be a complete secret.
These were just normal families trying to navigate through the shame attached to diseases like an addiction. And these were not men I had to fear or be wary of, they were all men who were battling a disease and just needed help. While some were incredibly reluctant to get help because they had been tricked or forced into it by their families, there were others who genuinely wanted to get better and were making an honest effort.
My stereotypical idea of drug addicts being people who were selfish and only cared about themselves drastically changed over the course of the month when I realized these were people with families they cared about and were not selfish, just that they were battling a chronic disease which is never easy.
My understanding of symptoms and addiction not only improved but I learned a very important lesson my textbooks had never touched upon; empathy.
I learned how to empathize with addicts who were trying to battle their chronic disease. Knowing this was something beyond their control and that they had to deal with this for the rest of their lives took on a new meaning when the word ‘addicts’ turned into faces and names I knew personally.
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Cover Image via: tribune.com.pk