Reporter Laura Smith was invited to a drugs rehab in Thailand where her friend will soon be working. Here she writes about her visit and about meeting a rock‘n’roll client who is clean for the first time in 10 years
When I first met Emily McMillan, it was to interview her as a client of drugs rehab charity Focus12.
As women of a similar age, and both relatively new to Bury St Edmunds, we hit it off and soon became friends.
At the time, she had only narrowly escaped going to jail and was at a very early stage in her recovery – but even then I admired her strength and determination.
For the past four years, I have had the pleasure of watching her develop – physically as she became a picture of health, mentally as she overcame many obstacles, emotionally as she let go of her past and spiritually as she accepted happiness into her life.
She has been a true inspiration.
For about 10 months now, Emily and her 12-years-clean fiancé, Anthony Meade, have been living in Thailand, currently due home some time next summer.
Earlier this month I joined them for a short holiday and though we did a lot, meeting in Bangkok and travelling to Ko Samet and Ko Chang, it was a stop in Chon Buri I found most memorable.
They were asked if they would ‘share’ during a group session at a treatment centre in Sriracha and, as it wasn’t too far out of our way, I agreed to accompany them.
We approached along a lengthy, narrow road which took us through lush green jungle, giving the impression of being in the middle of nowhere (one of its many charms).
We parked the car near a plane, of all things, and walked up a steep hill to the main building.
We paused briefly on the terrace, taking in the breathtaking views below, and made our way inside, where I was introduced to the centre’s co-founder, Simon Mott, originally from London, and himself an ex-addict.
Simon became hooked on heroin the first time he used it and struggled with his addiction for about 20 years until one day he overdosed with a needle in his arm.
He started working in rehab after being clean five years and was eventually recruited to manage a treatment centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Then a year ago, on his 11th clean-time birthday, he set up the aptly-named Hope Rehab Centre Thailand, together with his Thai girlfriend Alon Kumsawad, a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Thai Special Forces.
“We wanted to create a new treatment model, what I call recovery-coaching or exposure therapy,” explained Simon.
“I employ people in recovery to take clients out and about.
“They go to restaurants, shopping, sightseeing and so on – this prepares them better for a sober life, instead of keeping them cocooned like traditional rehabs do.”
He offered me a guided tour of the 13-bed facility and, intrigued about the plane and talk of a recently-arrived celebrity client, I jumped at the chance.
The site, it transpired, belongs to Dr Sribhumi Sukhanetr, a man who once served Thailand as head of its transport ministry – hence the vintage DC 3 passenger jet from the Vietnam War – and who is now the country’s Honorary Consul General for Monaco.
“Nowadays he is a philanthropist and his wife runs the Thai Military Wives Association, so it excited them to play such an important role in helping to bring modern western addiction treatment practices to Thailand,” said Simon, grateful for the family’s ‘holiday residence by the sea’.
“It’s a perfect location for rehabilitation, more homely than other institutions,” he added.
We passed an outside gym, one of the group rooms where therapy sessions take place, the meditation room and the accommodation, which consists of a traditional Thai teak house and an old railway station, newly-renovated.
We returned for the ‘share’ and, though feeling somewhat of an imposter, I took my place in the circle.
Opposite my friends sat Pete Doherty, co-frontman of rock band The Libertines, who I recognised straight away but confess to knowing little about, besides the notoriety brought about by his drug-fuelled lifestyle.
I already knew Emily’s story – though her confidence in telling it reignited my respect for her – but I found myself engrossed hearing details of Anthony’s past.
It’s easy to see why ‘sharing’ like this works. Hearing someone in recovery relive their darkest moments and recount their thought processes from that time helps others identify with the absurdity of drug addiction.
We stayed for dinner, chatting to the internationally diverse group of clients, and my friends made plans to return to Hope for work next year.
“They have given their time freely to help motivate our clients by sharing their experience, strength and hope as recovering addicts, and will be returning to work here for a while in the New Year,” said Simon.
It was, by all accounts, a successful trip.
As for Pete, the centre seems to be working for him. He checked in voluntarily on October 11, previous stays in rehab having been court mandated, and celebrated his first clean day in 10 years last Wednesday when he came off methadone.
“Drugs can turn you into a monster but this is a calm healing place far from that,” said the 35-year-old.
“I think this is the first time I said ‘I’ve got to go’. I’d gone as far as I could – the next logical step, if I didn’t get help, was to kill myself.”
As well as eating and sleeping regularly, and taking part in Hope’s daily regime, Pete’s been using his time creatively, writing songs for an album scheduled to be released in 2015.
“It seems really weird to say that I’m clean,” admits Pete.
But he is and that’s why the ‘flourishing’ musician has been inspired to set up the Pete Doherty Hope Initiative, a charity to fund treatment places at Hope for struggling addicts.
Pete said: “As far as most rehabs are concerned, Hope isn’t expensive, but some people with drug problems live day-to-day, from hand to mouth.
“So, once I’m a bit further along in my recovery, when I’m allowed, I’ll do a few shows to raise money for people who really want to get clean and need this very special concentrated treatment.”
For details on Hope, visit www.hope-rehab-center-thailand.com