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Spiritual aspect of rehabilitation

Ye. Rydalevskaya, Director, Diakonia Charitable Foundation, St. Petersburg

The Diakonia Charitable Foundation is engaged in giving aid to dependent people, those whose life has been mutilated by alcoholism and drug addiction and those who cannot cope with the dependence, being a slave to the passion / the disease that has fully devoured their mind, soul and body. After completing a rehabilitation course, many remain sober, join the Church, become good husbands and fathers and restore their lost filial dignity. A key role in rehabilitation is played by the process of spiritual rebirth. This article is about how to make this process more successful.

How can recovery be achieved by a person who has applied for help to a rehabilitation program? What should he learn to do and what can help him stay sober in the future? If in thinking over a way to help those who suffer from drinking or taking psychoactive substances, we rely on the patristic literature or Holy Scriptures, then it is very important that we should recall what is written in the Gospel of St. Mark: "Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, 'Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them… For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come-sexual immorality, theft, murder,adultery, greed,malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.All these evils come from inside and defile a person" (Mk. 7:14-23).

It follows from this that in order to begin a new life or what we in Orthodoxy call repentance or change of heart, one should begin observing our own heart. It is a fairly complex way, and the rehabilitation process should envision which specific attainable and clear way will help a person to focus on what is happening in his heart. Our charges lack this practice and skills. Generally, the modern man's attention is rather scattered; he has a clip thinking adapted to a rapid change of shots. There is less and less communication in our life and, accordingly, few opportunities for hearing each other and accepting an opinion different from our own. Therefore, it is very important to cultivate the ability to listen. In the above-cited text of the Gospel, we read, 'Listen to me, everyone, and understand this'. Indeed, to acquire the skill of listening is one of the essential tasks we should undertake in the rehabilitation process. Therefore, every discussion in the rehabilitation processes is normally held in group interaction in which we learn to listen to each other.

What is it then that we should hear from each other? First, it is your self-observation of how you first bogged down in the disease and then how you tried to get out of it. And what happened and continue to happen in your heart. To do it each of our charges is asked to fill in the so-called 'diary of feelings', in which he should describe what happened to him during the day and the feelings which arose in his heart in response to these events. It is a good thing when one can note the reaction of his body because feelings and muscle reactions are closely linked and it is possible in principle to change one's feelings by making an impact on an appropriate group of muscles. It is important to point out that sometimes it is difficult to discern the exact feeling provoked by a particular event. We may want to experience a feeling different from what we really feel, and the reaction of our body can help us recognize the real feelings with which our heart responds to a particular event.

In the next column of his diary our charge describes his action. What exactly he did when he experiences those feelings. Then he is asked to reflect on whether he should have done something different, something more effective.

The classes conducted in our rehabilitation centers include self-analysis, especially one's ability to observe negative thinking and destructive feelings in oneself, such as negation, distrust, malevolence, envy, despair, self-pity, various phobias, blaming others for one's own problems, as well as such negative behavioral traits as willfulness, dishonesty, greed, egoism, etc. At the same time, it is important that attention should be given to positive things that happened to you today, to note and write down the situations in which you were pleased, in which you were grateful to somebody for doing something for you, or grateful to God.

There is another task called 'My spiritual biography'. It helps you understand that whatever your lifestyle may be, you remain a spiritual human being. Even if you do not regard yourself as a religious person or belonging to any confession, still in your life you have always had experiences typical for the human being alone. It is the experience of forgiveness, gratitude, affection, prayer, the presence of God in your life, the desire of perfection and self-development. It is the experience of one's own mortality. It is a need to worship or serve somebody or something. At the same time, those who used drugs may have had an experience of encounter with demonic energies.

And when one describes such concrete situations, one often discovers that in his life there was a place for miracle, that there was God revealed one way or another and He worked a miracle. And this situation becomes a resource for you because you are increasingly aware that the deeper your sorrow the closer God is to you. How many times, when our charges were caught in a desperate situation such as possible confinement or a threat to their life, they turned to God and received real help from Him. And it is only later, perhaps after years, they came back to the experience and awareness of these situations as miracles and help from above. This is why we give such a high value to experiences that our charges will share during group activities, so that other people could come in touch with this religious experience, compare it with the experience of their own, remember life situations important and precious for them. In this way they can gradually begin retuning their hearts and feeling something different from what they normally felt using drugs. As a result, they gradually develop a new view of the world, a new attitude to each other, to their loved ones and to God.

Below are some of the essays written by our charges who have undergone rehabilitation in centers of the Poshitni and Sologubovka Foundation.

When I was still at home and used drugs and worked, I seriously thought about moving to St. Petersburg, but because of the drug use it was unlikely. Before I began getting high, I attended a Protestant church and always felt that there was a certain power that can do a miracle in my life.

At the point when I reached the peak of the use and could do nothing on my own, I thought about God and life and death, and it was frightful. I asked Him, as if taking issues with Him, that He should help me and do something. And then I found myself in a rehabilitation center 'Poshitni'.

More than that. Thanks to that I restored my relations with God. I could see responses to my prayers. I could make my dream to move to Petersburg true and begin my life from scratch.


Once, when I was going through rehabilitation at the Sologubovka rehabilitation center, there was a haymaking time. It was decided to make haystacks with the help of a press that makes packs. But there was a problem in that and it refused to work and to bind them. First I tried to look into it and tune it, but nothing worked out. I lost all hope that I would be able to repair it, and at that moment an idea came to my mind that I should pray. I called the guys and proposed that we should pray together and we prayed. I checked everything once again - for the umpteenth time, made the sign of the cross over the machine and suddenly… O miracle! It began working! The press worked until the end of the haymaking time without breaking. It is only one episode of my spiritual biography, a manifestation of the highest power - God!


One day during the rehabilitation I felt bad. The next day I was to serve as cook, to clean the kitchen and the dining room. I felt flat-out and began to pray so that God might help me cope with my hardships. He gives one what is within one's strength. After that I went to have a talk with a counsellor and when I came back the kitchen was cleaned. The next morning, Vasya (an inmate cook - Ye. R.) cooked a porridge and peeled potatoes for the soup, though he was to serve as stoker on that day. In all this I saw God's help and became even more grateful to Him.


In the end of August - the beginning of May, 2015, I lived in the apartment in Petersburg alone because my grandmother stayed in the dacha and mom at her man's place. At that time, I still worked at a furniture storehouse but was on the verge of dismissal because of drugs.

One morning I came to work and realized that I had no power or wish to work at all and I said to the foreman that I was leaving. I went to the shop in full despair and pity for myself. I was slowly approaching the bottom; nobody wanted to communicate with me; I began living for the sake of the drug use; I had no resources left for struggle. Even in my dream I couldn't imagine that I can give up drugs.

Once mom came to see me. I was exhausted physically and morally. She saw my condition and realized that I would not give it up on my own and that I needed help. She told me about rehabilitation centers in Sologubovka and Poshitni. I was ready to go there straight away, but they were full and I had to wait. I lay in bed and, looking around the room, saw the small icons, which stood on the computer table. I began asking myself what to do, how to live. I asked St. Alexander Nevsky for help.

In a few days when I was visiting mom, head of the Diakonia Charitable Foundation's rehabilitation program called and said that there was a vacancy in Sologubovka. I went there overwhelmed with the idea that I should stop this hell and try to recover and revive hope.

When I found myself in Sologubovka, I was surprised by the fact that they kept praying there and cited prayers by heart. I was not inchurched before that but I began trying to pray and go to church. With time I began to grasp the rites and services. During the morning rule, I asked for help for the day and in the evening I saw that God gave me that help, delivering me from pain when I had an ache and gave me calm and steadiness.

Now I thank God for my temperance. I am very glad that I have God, this ultimate power, and I communicate my will to him. In return to it He gives me faith and hope for the future. God now helps me to overcome my fears and delivers me from negative emotions and safeguards me in this severe and dangerous life.


I came to Sologubovka rehabilitation center in the end of August 2015. Before that I had an experience of being at an Orthodox rehabilitation center in Novosibirsk. I had also an experience of prayer, but my idea of God was consumeristic: I only took and was reluctant to give. But it was in Sologubovka that I realized that my God gives me something but I, too, should share it with those around me.

When I learnt that some of trainers know about the problems of drug addict not from hearsay, as an observers, but as people who themselves walked this path, I saw how faith can radically alter one's life. Communication and help was what I should work on in order to become aware of the role of God in my own life. I thank God for everything that happened to me in life and will happen in the future. Thank you, O Lord, for everything!


Once, when I was ruining myself by drinking, I had a fit of depression and utter despair. I thought about taking my life and, deciding that if sober I will not get the courage, I went to mom to borrow some money. Mom said that she would give it if I would go to church with her and I agreed.

In the church, there was communion, and I took communion without any preparation. When I went out I felt as if in a flight. The despair and pain receded. I felt joy, amazement and faith.

Once in Sologubovka I felt unwell. I had a headache the whole day and in the evening, after the prayer, the pain receded and I felt light-hearted.

Once on the way back from the rehabilitation center in Novosibirsk, I broke down and got drunk. I was taken to a militia station, where I sat for two days. To while away the time I began praying, and God settled down everything. I got to Sologubovka without money or the help of connections and acquaintances, feeling hope and faith.

When I came to Sologubovka, I still had an unpaid court penalty. I prayed that God might help me to solve this problem. As a result, the penalty had not reached officers of justice until I came to Petersburg from Sologubovka when I completed the rehabilitation, and this problem was solved.


In March 2015 I came to visit my grandmother in the country in order to be far from the city's temptations, to get sober and to decide what to do further.

The question about my further action was very acute because my emotional and psychological condition was very bad. Everythoughts led me to depression, panic and stress. I felt lonely, washed-up and lost in this world.

After a week of self-condemnation and emotional suffering, I began to ask God to put me on the true path. I myself understood that to drink was not a way out of this situation and I dreaded even the idea of what and how I will do it being sober.

I was offered assistance in placing me to a rehabilitation center and I agreed. Indeed, it was the only chance. Still I asked God to deliver me from this agony, which ate me from within. Honestly speaking, I did not have time to get frightened, as they say. In a few days a confirmation came that I could go to the center.

For all my desire to hide, to escape from this world, to go down under the ground, wherever, yet I could no longer live in my own hell.

Nobody may believe but even when I was sitting in a counsellor's room, I felt hope and understood that I was in the right place but that I had a long self-cultivation work ahead.

During the first month of rehabilitation I was tormented by the questions of what and how my wife was doing, because we did not part well before my coming to the center. I was worried by it, feeling fear, guilt and pain. I had no opportunity whatsoever to make a call during the first month (during the first month in the center, telephone talks are forbidden - Ye. R.).This sharpened my feelings.

Turning to the counsellor for help in my troubles, I heard perhaps what I wanted to hear. Now I had a hope that everything will be all right. He did not tell me much, but what he did tell struck me: 'It is very difficult to get rid of women; they do not leave for free'. But the most important thing that he advised was to turn all these problems over to God. 'If it is pleasing to God, everything will be all right. If not, you will have an opportunity to create a new family'.

After prayers I really abandoned all these thoughts, deciding that I should let it be as it should be. It was my first real experience of putting my will and life in the hands of the Lord God.


Before my stay in Sologubovka I thought about God for the first time when I was hospitalized. Doctors told me that there is a fifty-fifty probability that I would become a disabled because of the traumas I suffered - fractures in an accident. They gave this advice: 'Just pray to God'. I prayed then for the first time and as a result came out physically sound. They said, 'You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth'.

Once I sat at home completely alone and thought, 'Is there anybody who needs me? How should I live on?' Then I went to church, to Father Michail. He called to Sologubovka and said to me, 'There is a vacancy. Go, they will help you there'. I had no money for the trip, but it turned up immediately; some acquaintances came to my help.

Before admission to Sologubovka, I did not see my son for three years, and when I could call him a month after the admission, he immediately agreed to see me. I had to apologize to him but resented and dared not to acknowledge my guilt to him and myself. It somehow patched up of itself. And I realized: here it is - the presence of God in my life.

Once in Sologubovka I began to pray to God for the well-being of my loved ones and myself. For the first time I began wearing a small cross and kept checking whether it was in place and whether I forgot about it in my soul. I pray when there are difficulties in doing the tasks (written notes as required by the rehabilitation program - Ye.R.) or in grave situations. For instance, in the rehabilitation center I began 'swinging' about to go home or to stay in the center. I decided to go home. My son was to come to the rehabilitation center for the humor contest club. I already had my belongings packed and awaited for the evening but he didn't come. I knew that he does what he says and was afraid for him. And on the day when I prayed in the morning, he came and said that his car suddenly broke down. Now I understand that it was God's will that I should stay in the center.

At present I am staying in a social apartment (the second stage of the rehabilitation in the Foundation in St. Petersburg - Ye. R.) and I feel the presence and help of God. I thank Him for the five months of rehabilitation. I realized that if I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, it was given to me by God. So, I must act and the result will come from God. Now I pray every day and try to observe the fast, though it is difficult to do.

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