On a chilly winter evening in January 1989, a healthy baby boy was born to a family in Thimphu. Proud parents hovered over the cradle, with high expectations of their only son in the family.
Sonam Tharchen enjoyed the unwavering love and care of his parents and life was almost perfect. He started his education from Zilukha Primary School where he managed to make several new friends.
But life took a turn. Sonam was living in a neighbourhood where alcohol was freely available. “I knew at a very young age that drugs and alcohol are not good for health but somehow I got into it,” said the 28 year old.
It was in the early 2000s when western culture, beamed in through television and the internet, among others, began to proliferate. “I was into western rock music and Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Bob Marley were my idols,” he said, referring to big name musicians. “I wanted to look cool like them.”
Out of curiosity, Sonam was slowly tempted and drawn into a world of drugs and alcohol. “As I watched some of my friends enjoy the world of drugs, temptation started growing inside of me,” he said. “I thought people using drugs were cool and fashionable, and slowly I started using marijuana. I smoked just for fun in the beginning but soon it became a habit.”
By the age of 14, Sonam was smoking marijuana on a regular basis. He began missing his classes. “I became allergic to the advice of my parents and teachers. My addicted friends became more important to me than my parents, and I spent most of my time roaming the streets with them like a street dog.”
By then Sonam had started abusing other substances like correcting fluid, dendrite, thinner, prescribed drugs and alcohol. He was also put behind bars on several occasions after coming into conflict with the law.
“My father came several times to the police station to bail me out. He begged me to change, but it was of no use. My mother who constantly supported me did her best to pull me out of addiction. Teachers and adults tried their best to make me a better student. All their efforts were in vain.”
Soon after Sonam left school. His parents, friends and teachers gave up on him. Still, Sonam was reluctant to change despite life spiralling out of control. However, the worst was yet to come.
On September 10, 2010, Sonam was informed that his mother had passed away. “It still hurts to talk about that moment, but my mother, the one who took care of me was gone forever.”
Sonam couldn’t digest the fact and he became numb with sorrow. “Tears didn’t flow from my eyes and words didn’t come out from my mouth. It was a cry of the heart. I remember all those days when she gave me care and love and I was so rude to her, often making her cry,”
Sonam said: “She must have waited a long time, with hope and expectation for me to come back home, but I didn’t even look back once. I know I broke her heart; she must have shed a million tears for me. I hadn’t seen her face for a couple of years. I just wanted to go and hug her and tell her that I was so sorry, but it was too late for me to apologise.”
After seven long years of addiction, Sonam finally decided to quit. He wanted to become a better man. For a few months, Sonam started working in small restaurants washing dishes and as a bouncer in nightclubs.
It was during that time when Sonam met Lama Shenphen Zangpo who changed his perspective on life. With the help of Lama, Sonam was employed at Ambient Café in Thimphu where his road to recovery began.
Sonam also got an opportunity to meet Her Royal Highness Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wanchuck who sent him for driving and computer training sesions. Later HRH Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wanchuck and Lama Shenphen Zangpo sent Sonam to train as a chef in Thailand. It’s been three years since Sonam has been working in a luxurious resort in south Thailand. “I have learned so much in these three years in Thailand. I came to know all about the kitchen basics and have also learned to cook international dishes. It’s hard work but it’s also fun at the same time.”
Sonam has been clean for almost seven years. “Life here is not easy. At the end of the day when I crawl into bed and all the lights go out, my thoughts can finally rise to the surface,” he said. “I am a little bruised, slightly broken, and permanently scarred but I am still here fighting. I am still waking up everyday to go through it all over again. This life may be hard as hell but it’s still a gift and I am going to live it.”