Dashain has officially begun and preparations in most households are in full swing. The atmosphere is one of chaos and merriment. The same is true at various alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers in Kathmandu that are busy trying to ensure that those admitted in their facilities don’t feel like they are missing out on the festive time. The atmosphere of Dashain breaks the monotony of hectic sessions at treatment centers and, while they are grateful for it, it’s a lot of additional work.
Sanjeev Shahi, program coordinator at Alcoholic Recovering Voice Nepal, says they have always made it a point to mark all kinds of festivals throughout the year, be it the New Year, Eid, Losar, or other cultural and religious events. They have to keep in mind the different backgrounds of people at the facility. However, Dashain is celebrated with much aplomb because it’s a long holiday and the vibe is just different.
“Dashain gives us a chance to normalize things around here a bit,” says Shahi. Rehabilitation is a lengthy and tedious process. Most people at the center are there upon their family’s insistence, and so they aren’t happy or willing participants in their treatment. A festival, when regular sessions are suspended, is thus a breath of fresh air. And with Dashain, they get several days off, which makes it a much-cherished time.
Shahi says Dashain is a good time for the residents at the center to get to know one another and bond over their shared circumstances. This will later help them rely on and help one another during treatment. The people at the center including the staff play games together, cook meals other than what’s regularly prepared in the kitchen, and have dance parties for almost a week. There is a session or two that can’t be missed but these are usually held early in the morning or late in the evening, thus freeing up entire afternoons to revel in the festive spirit.
The scenario is replicated at most rehabilitation centers in Kathmandu. Every center has elaborate plans for Dashain. The intent is to make people forget, at least for a while, where they are and why they are there. Some centers hold various sports tournaments and competitions. Sanjeev Kumar Singh, program coordinator at Sober Recovery and Rehabilitation Center (SRRC), says it takes them a month to prepare for Dashain. The challenge is to keep the residents occupied and entertained. “Generally, people are busy with sessions and they can’t dwell on their situation. But with regular sessions on hold during Dashain, we have to make sure they don’t get bored and listless,” says Singh.
Which is why over at Hamro Sankalpa Drug and Alcohol Treatment and Rehabilitation Center, the focus is on interactive games, those that keep the residents mentally and physically active. From flying kites to breaking pinatas, the activities they plan for residents during Dashain must be entertaining and engaging. Sajan Shrestha, director at the facility, says they organize dance programs and let the residents watch a movie or two on TV so that they regain some semblance of normalcy at a time when everybody in the country is celebrating.
“Some residents are even allowed to go home for tika while others are accompanied by a staff. But the decision, as in who gets to go, is made by the counsellor depending on individual progress,” says Shrestha.
Authorities at rehabilitation centers have a lot of things to take care of during Dashain. Celebrations aside, Dashain also requires them to up their vigilance and be better attuned to the changing moods of the residents. Tsering Wangdu, founder of SRRC, says Dashain is a challenging time because, as it is, those admitted at rehabilitation centers don’t want to stay there. Dashain, he says, exacerbates that feeling and thus the risk of runaways is more. Sometimes, the residents’ family members want to take them home for Dashain and it’s quite a task to convince them that isn’t a good idea. “Chances of relapse are high during Dashain,” says Wangdu. Many people have a ‘just-this-once’ mindset that spirals out of control, negating all the progress made thus far.
Another challenge that Dashain brings for those who work at rehabilitation centers is finding a way to balance work and family obligations. Theirs isn’t a job that allows them much freedom, says Wangdu, and Dashain brings on added responsibilities. The staff have to arrange the duty roster according to their individual tika schedules and sometimes some have to forgo plans they have made with family altogether. Wangdu says it has been 15 years that he has not said ‘yes’ to any Dashain gathering invitation. The priority is always the center and he has made peace with it, he says.
Buddha Dhoj Adhikari, program officer at Cripa Nepal, says preparations are underway at the center to make Dashain an enjoyable affair. The focus is to make the residents happy, adds founder Shisir Thapa, because festivals can be tricky especially for those who are undergoing treatment for alcohol addiction. They are often there against their will—brought in by wives, siblings or children—and want to go home during Dashain. But their family members, having faced one too many incident of relapse, don’t want them to leave rehab.
“It’s not unusual for people, especially older men, to be upset and angry during Dashain. So, we have to do our best to cheer them up and try and make them understand that what’s happening is for their own good. That if all goes well, they will be home next Dashain,” concludes Thapa.