“We do not judge anyone” – Narcotics Anonymous helped Darja and Denis to get their addiction under control  

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Drug addiction is a disease that affects both a brain and behaviour. It makes it very hard to stop using substances which alter the perception of the reality. Still, there is a significant opportunity of getting a second chance if one is determined to quit.

Oksana Chelysheva

Published 04.04.2024 10:24

Updated 04.04.2024 10:26

One day Darja found herself contemplating a suicide. She was sitting on the floor of her room at a student campus in Kauniainen, all alone. She was 27 years old, first-year university student in social sciences. 

“The previous two months had been especially awful”, Darja tells. “The depression was so deep that I could not study. I had a job in a shop, but I had to escape to a toilet every fifteen minutes so that I could cry for a few minutes, then wipe off tears and go back to work.”  

Darja is originally from Central Asia. When she was a little child, her mother escaped Darja´s alcohol-addicted father by moving to Russia. There she met a Finnish man who she married. 

“My mother was so much concerned over my well-being that she never let me away from her”, tells Darja.  

When the family moved to Finland, Darja´s mother could not spend as much time with her as before. The situation got even more complicated when she divorced her Finnish husband.  

”My mother had to work hard and I spent more and more time by myself”, Darja explains.  

Darja found support from her school librarian, who she helped. 

“That woman does not realize how important she was. I felt secure with her and tried to stay longer in the library”.  

But she did not dare to tell even her about her problems.  

“I blamed all around me for feeling that lonely. I could not be with my mother as I had used to as a child. When I went to visit my father in summers, he was never sober.”  

Little by little, things started to spiral out of control.  

When she was 16, Darja tried alcohol with her schoolfriends. At 17, she turned to drugs and “immediately got hooked on them”.  

“It started with ecstasy and alcohol, then cocaine, and during the last a year and a half I was using acids.”  

Eventually Darja spent all her money on drugs, plus accumulated 22 000 euros of debts.  

From the outside it would still have been difficult to tell, how bad her situation was. Darja had a job as a restaurant manager. She considered other drug users as “failures”. But I am not one of them, she told herself, I don’t have a problem. 

The change began only after people started leaving from around her.  

Darja’s best friend said that she did not want to waste her time rescuing her. Her mother stopped answering her phone calls.  

Her boyfriend, who had been using drugs as well and had stopped using them recently tried to help her.  

“He actually took me to one of the anonymous group meetings”, Darja tells. “But I could not stop. We kept quarrelling, because it was painful for him to observe my self-destruction”. 

Eventually the situation became intolerable for both, and they broke up. Darja felt alone and overwhelmed with grievance. But she was still in denial and blamed others.  

It was then, when the idea of a suicide came to her. 

Eventually, she was able overcome it. She made another attempt to ask for help from people with the Anonymous group. This time, the results were different. 

“Through the help of my peers I was able to admit that my problems are due to drugs, not due to the imperfections of the world around.” 

Darja: Drugs have taken ten years of my life 

In March 2024, Darja is 31 years old. She sits in a café in downtown Helsinki, well dressed, looking like an embodiment of success. Her voice is calm even when talking about the most awful episodes of her life. When asked, if it is difficult for her, she responds with a sad smile: “now I can talk about it”.   

In total, drugs controlled her life for ten years. Now she’s been able to restore relationship with her mother and friends. Also with her ex-boyfriend, Darja has now friendly relations. 

“I understand how scared my mother was back then”, she says.  

It has taken her years to get to this point. She still regularly takes part of the meetings of Narcotics Anonymous group in Helsinki.  

In the group, members assist one another voluntarily, for free and without reprehension. There are no requirements except the desire to change the course of one’s life. 

“You can be a cleaner or a banker. In the group we are all equals, people who are fighting our disease”, Darja tells. The principle of anonymity is so important that it’s even possible to take be part in group under a made-up name.  

Denis: Even a bumpy road can get your life back   

“We do not judge anyone because of their political or sexual orientation, gender or religion”, says Denis, 34, who sits next to Darja. He is another regular in the support group.  

“No one is dismissed even in a case of relapse.”  

Denis knows from personal experience what he’s talking about. He calls his road to a life without drugs “bumpy”.  

Born in Tallin, Denis started drinking alcohol at the age of nine. Before turning 18, he was a heavy drugs user.   

“By the age of 12 it was ecstasy and marijuana, by the age of 16 to 18, I was a user of the intravenous stuff. I injected, snorted and smoked. I used anything that could alter consciousness.” 

His mother eventually threw him out of their home. What followed, was a life in the streets, stealing and begging for money.  

At some point Denis was treated in a closed facility. There he learned about Narcotics Anonymous group. 

“I joined them after I had been released”, Denis says. 

But it wasn’t a straightforward ride for him. Sober times and relapses followed each other many times. 

Once, Denis had a three-year relapse, which he describes as “really tough”. There was also a period of a year and three months when Denis experienced short relapses every week.  

“What helped was that even after a relapse, the group did not reject you. You could make yet another attempt and then another until you started to genuinely work without self-pity.”  

“The first step is to face the truth and acknowledge there is a problem” 

Darja has been clean from drugs for over four years, Denis over five years. Both have steady jobs and have re-established relationships with their families. 

Still, even today, they introduce themselves as drug addicts. They have acknowledged that the addiction will never go totally away.  

However, as Denis describes, it is possible to stay clean when “you do not invent excuses to yourself, when you genuinely try”. He believes that the main thing that helps to keep the disease under control is “to never give up”.  

“The first step is to face the truth and acknowledge there is a problem”, he says. “The next step is to ask for help, also from us”. 

Denis regularly visits addicts in various institutions in Finland, including prisons and psychiatric hospitals.  

“When they are released, they can come to us”, he tells.  

He also has a pack of introduction cards always in his pocket.  

“When I come across a drug addict, I leave a card to them.” 

Sometimes the response is negative.  

“One young man cast a very contemptuous look and threw a card into a dustbin.” 

But other kind of interaction happens as well.  

“A girl who I met on the metro train confessed that she was tired of the drugs and put the card into a pocket.” 

*The names of Darja and Denis have been changed to protect their privacy. 

The 12-step groups