Chapter one: Positive voices
Part II: Her Past made her Future Perfect
Her Past made her Future Perfect
Under the influence of drugs, Chempsaro Dema (fictitious name) was amazing on drums. She could also strum pretty well. Deep into hard rock music, she was always out with friends, living life dangerously. They shared music, laughter, ecstasy and also syringes!
The inevitable happened and she was detected HIV positive. By the time the truth hit her she had already withered her life away. Chempsaro was only 19. Bhutan has less than one per cent cases of HIV transmission through blood transfusion or by injecting drugs.
The story dates back to the time when Chempsaro was 14, studying in class six. It started with beer, which she and her friends consumed to enhance the fun element in life. The low alcohol percentage drink was soon replaced by hard liquor, and before these adolescents could realise what they were in for, chemicals had made their way in. Ten years on, Chempsaro was injecting drugs into her weak and delicate body.
Losing control over their daughter, Chempsaro's father and step mother threw her out of the house, which made things worse for the young girl wasting away her life. She passed class 12, got married and delivered a premature baby in seventh month of pregnancy. The baby weighed less than a kilo. The husband not ready to share the responsibility, left her. Chempsaro started living with her twin sister but she too could not take it for long and asked Chempsaro to find another place to live in. Life carried on for a decade without Chempsaro realising what was happening with her.
"I had 15-16 over doses of drugs. Prison had become a second home for me, which I liked sometimes as there was no other place to live. I was sleeping on the roads, in front of shops or wherever I would pass out. I had left my child with my sister as I had no money and no place. There were no friends left and the family had already abandoned me. Still, there were some well wishers left, who sent me to Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups but nothing helped me. I had hit the rock bottom, from where it was either prison or death waiting for me. I thought since I am dying it's better to speed up the process. I started injecting double doses." A 26-27 year old woman, Chempsaro weighed only 30 kilos and was slowly withering away.
Even when a person loses everything, the one thing that remains is hope. This hope led the young girl to a self-realisation - a wish to survive. That wish dragged her to a rehabilitation centre. But there was no money to pay the fee for the centre. It was then that RENEW (Respect Educate Nurture Empower Women) - a crisis management centre for women in distress - came forward to give her a new life.
The rehabilitation centre does the blood screening of each new entrant and before the screening the entrants are also inquired about the substance (narcotics) they have been consuming. When Chempsaros revealed her high risk behaviour, the counsellor at the centre also advised her to go for HIV testing. The result was on the expected lines. She had tested positive.
"I knew it as we used to share syringes. Also, look at my tattoos... (she says showing her tattoos) I have so many of them. We used just one needle amongst us to get these tattoos."
Narrating the horrifying experiences of her life Chempsaros face showed no signs of guilt or regret. Her strong jaw line and sparkling eyes reflected a firm determination for a restart.
"After revealing my status, the sister at the rehab asked me to go in the other room. She said 'cry, scream, shout and come back then we will talk'. I went to the other room but there were no tears. I knew I had to reap what I sowed. That was the time I got rather clear and positive thoughts. For the first time I was looking forward in life without any drugs. The only person I shared the information with was my twin sister. She calmly said "I knew it would happen, Chempsaro."
The rehab did wonders to Chempsaro who started living a new life after that. "The positive status gave me a positive outlook in life. Earlier there was nothing to look forward to but ever since after I tested positive I have looked forward to life."
Today she works as a counsellor at a rehabilitation centre and teaches others from her own experience. Regular check-ups and stringent schedule of medication are keeping her fit.
The only worry Chempsaro has is to protect her son (who is growing into a fine gentleman) from falling prey to drugs, since he has the genes of an addict mother. "I pray to God that he does not fall prey to this risky behaviour. Now every minute and every second of my life is important to me. I want to do all those things, which I always wanted to but could not do. The most important thing for me is to prepare my son for life's journey. If I accomplish that, I will be happy and then I would not mind ending up in a day care centre."