I managed to break free of a two decade alcohol addiction at a Thai temple called Thamkrabok. I will always feel indebted to that place, and the people there who helped me. In the past, I’ve even used the word magical to describe my experiences at this Buddhist treatment facility, but this is not because I believe that they offer a magical cure to addiction problems. It is what happened to me while there that makes it such a special place from my perspective.
Why I Do Not Promote Wat Thamkrabok as the Solution to Addiction Problems
Much of the content of my book Dead Drunk deals with my experiences at Thamkrabok temple. Since I began writing about all this five years ago I’ve received hundreds of emails from other people who are considering this as an option. I’m always delighted to share my positive experiences, but I never actively encourage anyone to go there. This is because I’m convinced that when the individual is ready to break away from addiction, it does not really matter where they go. They are an unstoppable force and when the student is ready the teacher will appear. In some cases the teacher will be Thamkrabok, but it is not necessary to travel half way around the world just to get better. It was easy for me to go to this temple because I’d already been living in Thailand six years before my admission.
The reason for why I’m so certain that Thamkrabok is not a magic solution is the number of people who go there and fail – at least initially. I don’t know what the success rates are compared to other treatment options, but I do know that plenty of people go there and later relapse. There have been at least three individuals who I became friends with during my stay that later slipped back into addiction. I also heard the saddening news that one of our crew, who did manage to stay sober, killed himself due to an inability to break free of depression. The failure of Thamkrabok to cure every addict should not be so surprising. The relapse rates for all treatment facilities are ridiculously high, but at least Thamkrabok doesn’t charge people thousands of euro, pounds, or dollars for a cure that can only come from inside the individual.
How Thamkrabok Stacks Up Against Other Treatment Facilities?
If I’m asked to compare Thamkrabok against other treatment facilities around the world my guess is that it is one of the best. It offers a unique program that is simple but highly effective. The tools that I picked up during my stay there have helped me to completely turn my life around. The thing that impresses me most about Thamkrabok is they do not promote relapse as a “normal part of recovery”. It does not have a revolving door policy. During my more cynical moments I speculate the rehab business model in the west relies on the fact that so many of their clients will later relapse. Thamkrabok does depend on donations to survive, but it does not charge people for the help offered. I’ve no hesitation recommending the program used by the temple, but this program is not enough to ensure that people will recover from an addiction.
When I first arrived at Thamkrabok a monk called Phra Hans, who was taking care of my admission, told me that the temple would not be able to cure me. At first I felt crushed by the news, but then he went on to explain how the keys to my freedom were already there inside of me. Phra Hans promised that Thamkrabok would provide me with some effective tools, but that these could only work if I remained sober. Luckily, I did comprehend what he was saying to me. There is no treatment facility on the planet that can turn drunks or druggies into sober people. The best they can offer is the tools that will make life rewarding once we become sober. In other words, the staying sober part is up to us. In some cases we won’t need any help at all in order to achieve this.
There are some negative aspects to travelling half way around the world in order to break away from addiction. The individual will still have to return home at the end of the day and adapt to sober living in that reality. The fact that Thailand is such an exotic location makes it too easy for westerners to glamorise everything. We can start to believe that it was this Thai temple that was special instead of the reality that it was what happened to us while there that was special. I am convinced that my addiction to alcohol was cured at Thamkrabok, but I strongly suspect that it would have been cured one way or the other. As I said already, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.