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At an addict rehabilitation center forum held at a facility for the aged in Sendai in early October, 10 drug, alcohol and inhalant addicts struggling through rehab performed for the audience, depicting their individual experiences.

“I used to be a civil servant,” one man said. Another said, “The three of us here were sentenced to a total of 25 years in jail,” inviting laughter from the audience.

In the final scene, the 10 sang the band Mr. Children’s “Yasashii Uta” (“Gentle Song”) together, joining hands.

Addicts come to Sendai DARC to work together to improve their lives. Tsutomu Iimuro, 42, the head, and the other staff are all former addicts who now try to serve as models for rehabilitation.

The 10 addicts at Sendai DARC average age 27. Half are drug addicts. One 37-year-old man became an addict at age 19 and was frequently jailed. He entered the facility on the urging of a probation officer.

“I was hugged for the first time in my life by Mr. Iimuro. I had never been treated so gently, so I cried,” he said.

After entering the center, addicts are required to attend 90-minute group meetings in the morning and evening for about nine months and to tell their stories in front of others.

The meetings are aimed at paving the way for rehabilitation by rooting out the causes of addiction through frank discussion about what they have concealed or lied about to their parents, friends and significant others.

A 40-year-old man who has been at the center for 19 months, said, “At first, I wondered whether the meetings were effective, but after attending several, a sense of camaraderie was born and I know I am changing steadily.”

Psychiatrist Toru Ishikawa, vice director of Touhokukai Mental Hospital in Sendai, said: “Addicts are not good at personal relations, are sensitive toward others and are often scared. Communication with others leads to treatment.”

Sendai center head Iimuro lectures nearly 50 times a year at high schools and universities. Recently, requests have been coming in more and more from elementary and junior high schools.

“It is not well known that dependence is a disease. Addicts are said to have no willpower, but that is not true. Dependence is a disease, and rehabilitation is possible,” he said.

Iimuro joined a biker gang at age 16 and became a stimulant addict, sometimes hallucinating. He said that when he was 30, he heard a voice saying, “I will now come to kill you,” and then he ran around shouting, “Kill me.”

His mother called police and he was arrested and charged with violating the stimulant control law. He spent 18 months in prison.

On his mother’s advice, he entered Ibaraki DARC in the city of Yuki, Ibaraki Prefecture, after his release from prison and has stayed clean.

“I am not certain whether I will try drugs again. Even if I am rehabilitated, I have to struggle with addiction for the rest of my life,” he said.

The Sendai center’s addicts try to stay clean one day at a time. Outside of meetings, they are free to do as they please.

“Our society does not offer words of encouragement to drug addicts. They struggle alone in their apartments, using drugs without control. I want to give them hope,” Iimuro said.

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