Writing Can Cure Addiction, Can’t It?

WHILE I have seen so many people talking about writing and its positive effects at school or at home, never have I discovered people applying writing as an inseperable part of their therapy for serious mental illnesses such as addiction. With so much instant gratification available 24/7 around us, I suppose addiction cases number has never declined in these recent years. Let’s say drug addiction. It has been forever since humanity waged war against drugs but to date no signs show that there is any possibility that it will soon or later abate, drop or totally vanish.

In the documentary short movie “Internado” published on Aeon which you can view and play now, you might have never thought of the use of writing as a mega useful tool to help control one’s unbearable addiction. Here the prominent psychiatrist named Dr. Martin Nizama Valladolid who works for National Institute of Mental Health in Lima, Peru, proves that literature and grand-scale, rigorous and disciplined writing (as well as arts and humanity sciences) can be applied to control severe cases of addiction that some of the world’s population are suffering these days.

And these addictions are not only ones related to drugs but also alcohol, internet, virtual games, and so forth. These addicts are sedated (so treatments are never conducted at their own will) and taken to the institution at the request of heavily concerned family members who have signed agreements so that their beloved are taken and treated in the mental institution for at least 50 consecutive days. They are ‘grounded’ in such a way. They are separated from the society and most importantly, their sources of addiction. They are much like prisoners in that way. And it is even better that these addicts are not functional members of society, which means they are unemployed. They are likely to become a potential source of social problems in the society they are living in. So before it is too late, their family members take them to the mental institution to be corrected.

To cut the long story short, the initial treatment only lasts around 50 days but then they are sent back to their homes. But it does not mean freedom. They are under scrutiny. And parents or guardians or other family members have already cooperated with the institution to apply a rigid daily schedule to these ‘interns’. Their way of living are seriously controlled. Family members are also educated to be in line with the institution’s rules and code of conducts so outcomes later on will be satisfactory because unless they cooperate and support all processes, addicts are never healed.

It is not always about discipline though. Addicts as well as their family members are reimmersed in moral values, affection, love and the value of hard work and meaningful life by means of literature and arts. They are made to read hundreds of canons, high quality literary works which most of them have never enjoyed before. But now that their days are filled with total silence (yes, they are not allowed to communicate with other people even fellow interns especially in certain sessions), they are forced to retreat from lives full of pursuit of things they are so addicted with to ones filled with peace and calmness. Almost like a hermit living in a jungle. They are made to contemplate more about what they did, have done and thus to control what they are now doing because the future depends on the present. Gone are days full of violence, conflicts, shouts full of anger, vulgarity, obscenity, horrible bickerings and traumatic fights. It is like they have been racing throughout their life and now suddenly they are told to stop and be calm,  silent, still, and meditative like a Buddhist monk.

To let that overflowing negativity out of the system, expressive writing are used. Interns are required to write and draw every single day for a certain period of time. And the goal is so ambitious – almost impossible – for people who were not born and trained as writers or artists. They have to write in longhand 11,000-page ‘thesis’ which is autobiographical by nature. That way, they cannot copy and paste in a few clicks to accomplish the mission.  And it solely depends on Valladolid’s decision whether one is healed and entitled to freedom or has to undergo the next phase of treatment at the institution. Those interns who succeeded to write 11,000 pages are let go.

I am so impressed by the use of literature and writing here to occupy addicts’s troubled minds. Both are just the best tools to divert their energy and attention to a more beneficial and meaningful aspect of life so they are not overtaken again by triggers of addiction. Though I too think that writing 11,000 pages is totally impossible for someone with no extraordinary writing talent (because even my favorite novel “A Little Life” only spans 800-ish pages and it is already considered gargantuan) but considering the impact and costs of addiction on the society as a whole, this is worthwhile. So worthwhile. (*/)

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