I still vividly recall that day when Sunanda (Dr. Anita Avachat) passed away . . . And the morning after that when myself and Mukta were on way to Muktangan to talk to our patients and staff team. Sunanda had put her sweat and blood to evolve this unique de-addiction centre. She was a mother to all her patients and team members. More than eighty percent of our staff that time comprised of recovered patients from Muktangan whom we call ‘Muktangan Graduates’ Anil i.e. Baba was in deep grief; gallantly coping with a loss of a relationship that was extraordinary in so many ways.
On that day twenty years back, we all pledged that we will continue Sunanda’s vision and make her mission as meaningful as possible. The mantle of leadership now fell upon Mukta, daughter of Anil and Sunanda, a qualified Clinical Psychologist with great academic distinction. She was being inducted in the team at that time. She nurtured the dream of achieving a Doctorate by doing research on patients with addiction. Reality however threw a much bigger challenge in front of her; to stear an entire organization through a crisis of leadership.
Mukta and my team of senior counselors admirably rose to the occasion to make Muktangan what it is today, a ISO accredited organization that won president of India’s honour as a centre of excellence in the field of de-addiction.
At any given time there are close to two hundred inmates in Muktangan with a staff of over seventy workers. There is a separate ‘Nishigandh’ centre for rehabilitation of women addicts that has completed a decade. We run the Regional Research and training centre for the department of social justice, Govt. of India for the entire western region of the country.
We constituted a unique award in Sunanda’s memory, titled ‘Sangharsh Sanman Puraskar’. This award salutes the spirit of constructive developmental struggle in the domain of individual health and social field; two inseparable parts of Sunanda’s journey. For two decades, I have been compering this function and have interviewed forty personalities that resonate Sunanda’s spirit in their life stories.
In the year 2001, I published my book ‘Muktipatre’ on recovery from addiction. This book is written in the format of letters exchanged between a psychiatrist and a recovering alcoholic. Now close to double digit edition this book has been selling (sailing as well) silently without any reviews in the media. Patients across the state have given me feedback how they ‘identify’ with the protagonist Prateek, the name itself means ‘significant symbol.’ Some years back AIR (All India Radio) converted the book into a Audio-drama and was broadcast from its Pune station in a serial manner. By now it has been repeatedly aired by all AIR centres across the state. The book is now available in English as well with the tittle, ‘Dialogues to wellness’, splendidly translated by my friend Mr. Satish Bapat.
My friend and theatre director Chandrakant Kulkarni saw a play in this book. He along with playwriter Prashant Dalvi had serial discussions with me for adapting the book into a play. They visited Muktangan with me and experienced the therapeutic environment there. The play titled ‘Get well soon’ was successfully staged with lead-star Swapnil Joshi. For Marathi commercial theatre, this was an unique experience to produce a play on recovery from alcoholism. This play won numerous awards but what was more important was influenced many to take treatment and sensitized many to introspect not only on addictions in particular but coping with life in general.
With the hundredth show of the play, eight edition of the book was published. It was a moment of great satisfaction for me. In fact watching the characters come alive is always a treat for any writer. It is interesting that the script of the play is also published now in a separate book.
In my monthly visit to Muktangan I regularly take group sessions with my patients, a thirty five year young habit now. But each group still is a fresh event of introspection for me with a variety of questions and problems asked by them and responded by me. I take group meetings with the staff team to plan forthcoming activities and events. I sometimes take a learning session on any topic pertaining to addiction. Some of my favourite themes are how to integrate principles of REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) with principles of AA that is Alcoholic Anonymous; or how to integrate REBT with spirituality. Sometimes I give inputs on counseling skills, sometimes on the topic of dealing with personality disorders. It is a very refreshing experience.
I also interact personally with patients as well as team members. Muktangan’s strength lies not only at the therapy centre but also in over twenty follow-up centres spread across the entire state of Maharashtra. Whenever I travel to anyone of these cities I conduct follow-up meetings of recovering patients organized by our local recovered patients and counselors from Muktangan who are allotted the co-ordination of different centres. Sometimes the follow-up meetings require specious auditorium. The people who turn up for follow-up are in multiples of hundreds. We do get alarmed by people turning to addictions in large numbers. It’s a redeeming truth that if determined and focused many can come out of this disorder of dependence.
For professionals working in this field I have developed learning programmes on ‘Counseling an Addict and his/her family’ based on principles of REBT. I have also developed a module on ‘How to take Therapy groups in the field of Mental Health.’ Both these are two-three day long workshops where I try to share with others what I have gained from my experiences.
What is very fascinating is the multitude of ways in which I have been able to deal with the theme of addictive behavior . . . From Individual to Organizational, Scientific to Creative, Psychiatric to Social and from Biological to Cultural. . . And the integrated picture that has evolved during this journey.
My major learnings and lessons, I will share with you in the concluding part of this series.
(Contd. Part IV …)