Buddhist monks at the temple Wat Thramkrabok — known as The Vomit Temple, and considered a last resort for ice and heroin users — offer a form of rehab you won’t find anywhere in the Western world. The treatment is simple but hellish. Just ask Steve, a 25-year drug user from Perth, whose story is featured on SBS Dateline tonight. He says quitting his job and signing up to a week of non-stop vomit therapy saved his life.
“Life before Wat Thamkrabok was full of guilt, lies, deception, addiction — all the things that go with using meth. Amazing highs and desperate lows that no one can understand, unless you have life within its grip.
My wife caught me using one Sunday. I was shocked by the look of fear and uncertainty on her face. She took my hand and said ‘give me the drugs, I will help you and l will stick by you no matter what.’ I had her in one hand and the drugs in the other. It was then I made the decision to give it up.
She contacted her family in Thailand almost instantly. When they heard about my addiction they rallied around me to help me. My wife’s sister-in-law said ‘bring him to Thailand and we will take him to Thamkrabok.’ A few weeks later I quit my job and found myself on my way to Thailand Thamkrabok temple – famed for curing people of their addictions through an extreme form of vomit therapy.
All Thai people know about the Thamkrabok temple, if you have drug problems — that’s where you go. And you are taken there by your family. Anyone outside of Thailand has to contact the temple to make arrangements should they choose detox at Thamkrabok. I was a bit nervous, apprehensive, out of my comfort zone. But you’re got to step out if you want to get off drugs. You can’t be afraid, you’ve to keep moving forward.
As soon as you arrive you must take a vow, called the ‘Sajja’. Sajja in Thai means making a commitment to yourself. You recite vows told to you by the Sajja monk. You say them out loud in front of the founders, the monk and the temple – committing to get clean.
There is a belief in Thailand that breaking the Sajja is very dangerous. It’s thought that if you break that promise, you’ll be back on the old path that will this time lead you to your end. It’s free to come here but you only get one chance at Thamkrabok. There’s no second chances. So if you decide to come here, you’ve got to commit to giving up drugs for the rest of your life.
After you’ve taken the Sajja, you are then taken to the detox yard where the living quarters are. The minimum stay for people who have come abroad is seven days. You are completely cut off from contact with the outside world until the week has passed.
The routine at the temple involves going out to the yard to help with daily tasks, meals and then, of course, there’s the vomiting.
Vomiting is at 3pm every day. Foreigners must vomit for the first five days. The vomiting is intense. The mixture the monk gives you tastes horrible — it’s pretty rank. It looks shocking and its very sort of pepper hot. I wouldn’t have clue what’s in it but you just knock it back and then start drinking as much water as you can, more is better. It just upsets your stomach and you’ll vomit — a lot.
The first two days were hell, you just want to leave and you’re left feeling sick all the time. But I would recommend to anyone that comes here just stick with it you know. And there’s plenty of help. Everyone will help you, the Thais encourage you and help you and make sure you’re OK. After you finish the vomiting ritual each day you don’t want to do much, you just lay around a grizzle and moan.
By day five of vomiting it got easier. I think it’s just ridding yourself of the negativity really, within yourself. I think it’s maybe it’s a bit of a metaphor for acknowledging that you’re expelling the badness out of yourself. But it must have some sort of medical like powers. I definitely felt better after the five days.
This wasn’t the first time I’d ever been to a detox centre — I’ve tried numerous times to kick the meth on my own. You need to make that heart decision to stop drugs. It’s got to come from within.
The main thing I took away from Thamkrabok was time. Time to do nothing and just reflect. There were no phones and no contact with the outside world, just you and your thoughts. It really forced me to take the time to reflect on what I had been doing to myself and my family, it was the realisation of taking responsibility for what I had done. I’ve learned to accept responsibility for myself. I’ve learned to keep my commitments. When I say I’m going to do something work to stay the course. You find a fort of clarity within yourself to find a way to walk on, to walk away from the drugs.”
Perth addict Steve in vomit therapy. Source: SBS
‘NINETY-FIVE PER CENT IS MENTAL WITHDRAWAL’
As many as 100,000 addicts have been treated at Thamkrabok temple since it opened its doors to those in need more than 50 years ago. Most, according to the monks who treat them, are cleansed of their addiction.
The program includes meditation and warm baths but it also includes a cocktail of more than 100 herbal ingredients that patients drink for five days straight. The drink makes them vomit for a week but for those without another option it’s a necessary evil.
Steve, whose story is featured on SBS’ Dateline program , is only one of a number of Aussies who’ve sought treatment at the temple. Most say the therapy is tough but worth doing.
Addict Thawatpong said he’d tried traditional medicine without success. He wanted to cure himself for good and “be normal again”.
“I felt dizzy and felt like vomiting, I felt like a fever was coming on, hot and cold,” he said.
He was sick over and over as monks encouraged him to give in to the cleansing process.
“I’ll do whatever I can to get rid of that toxic stuff, so that I can be normal again,” he said. “That’s why I spent more time vomiting than other people.”
Aside from treating addicts, Wat Thramkrabok is used to teach local children not to use drugs.
One young girl told the program watching the addicts continuously vomiting in treatment was “frightening”.
“I felt I didn’t want anything to do with narcotic drugs of any kind.”
Another man, Jack, 52, is asked: “Have you got your sh** together?” He responds: “No”.
“Are you smoking, shooting, sniffing or what?” he’s asked.
He responds: “Methadone”.
Jack is told by the American monk who greets him: “This is your last stop, baby. Either you sh** or get off the pot.”
“I know,” Jack says.
The monk leaves but not before declaring: “I’ll put you down for 10 days. Welcome aboard.”
The treatment is free. For Westerners it’s a big part of the reason they travel so far to seek help. Rehabilitation in the US can cost as much as $30,000.
“The drug treatment here is a physical detoxification,” monk Hans explains. “(But) the physical detoxification is five per cent — 95 per cent is the mental withdrawal from the dark prison, the dark ghetto of drug consuming.”
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre claims ice use in Australia “increased dramatically” during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The centre says 75 per cent of drug users have taken ice in the last six months. Comedian Greg Fleet wrote candidly about how he was affected by the drug in a memoir titled These Things Happen .
In Australia, effective treatments are still being sought and ice use is skyrocketing. To combat the risk ice users pose to medical staff, the federal government recently introduced new guidelines for hospital staff.
The Daily Telegraph reported instances of a woman chewing off her own toes and a man refusing to have his finger reattached after slicing it off as contributing factors to the development of the guidelines.
Under the new guidelines, staff are told to “avoid prolonged eye contact” and to “avoid sudden or threatening gestures”.
Paramedic and Health Services Union official Steve Fraser said he welcomed the changes after having experienced what it is like to deal with an ice addict in the back of an ambulance.
In Thailand, visitors to Wat Thramkrabok have told their stories of surviving.
One man from the UK even asked if it was possible to get the drugs delivered to neighbouring countries.
“I went to Wat Tambkrabok Temple to get ‘dry’ in neighbouring Thailand,” he wrote on the monastery’s Facebook page.
“Makes me grateful. I used to live there among fellow users — 354 days clean and sober.”
Dateline’ s Last Resort Rehab airs on SBS, tonight at 9.30pm.
A Scottish newspaper clipping shows how monks assist with the extreme therapy. Source: YouTube
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Oovvuu 15 Mar 2015 TV/Health TV/Lifestyle TV/Documentary Originally published as ‘Frightening’ cure to ice addiction