In Irkutsk the pathway to recovery lies outside city limits and down a long dirt road. At the end of that dusty lane freedom awaits those who dearly want it. Nestled among Siberian firs and ever present birch trees sit several rustic wooden buildings. Here, young men and women trekking the freedom trail smile warmly or shyly upon your visit.
(Follow this link to find out more about the Lost Generation.)
These are the children of Perestroika, the lost generation; so many of whom died in dark, squalid holes and cold alleys across Russia, teeth clenched, needle still in their arm. Heroin addicts are literally the living dead. The rage, chaos and unquenchable drug thirst left their parents hopeless and society literally consigning them to the grave while they still walked the streets. In the west Perestroika, or Restructuring, was hailed as bold and insightful on the part of the Soviet regime under Gorbachev, but in Russia it was viewed entirely differently, more like a ship cutting away its own anchor. It led to the Soviet Union ultimately ending up in the trash heap of history, and her youth to navigate a world they were entirely unprepared for. As the Soviet Union was shaken to its foundations, a heroin tsunami from Central Asia smashed across her defenseless borders and into the veins of her directionless youth. In Irkutsk, most of my friends are from the lost generation. Many many of them are recovering heroin addicts. Across Russia, when all hope was lost and people had counted their child/parent/friend as dead, there is one group who refused to give up on addicts, and that group is the church. The Church’s incredible success in seeing addicts return from certain death is astounding and sadly unrecognized by a government who would be wise to support its efforts.
Return to the Living
People who used to rage the dark streets return to the scene of their downfall, to help other addicts up out of despair. Their message is simple: “There is freedom. It is a hard road. We will help you make it.” The alternative is . . . that last hit on the needle. It takes time and perseverance, but when addicts see former addicts clean, live and thriving, it is hard to say no to life.
Smiles and a bed in a warm room welcome them to the rehab center. You get assigned chores at the center, which is a working farm. Feed the pigs, muck the stalls, collect the eggs, and milk the cows. There is Bible study, prayer, and community. There are ears to listen when you are ready to voice your pain, and someone to sit by your bed while you suffer through withdrawal.
Joy is real. I see it in the eyes of my friends who are learning to live again at the center. As Sergei, a graduate of rehab told me, “At the center, I walked around for days with a scowl on my face. But everyone returned it with a smile. Their love broke through all my fronting.” That love demolished the walls in his heart, that love quenched the mad lust for drugs. Love is stronger than heroin.