Every time you tell me to fly

Higher than I have been

I feel myself shrinking

And I start questioning

When will you ever realize

Your foot’s on my head

All through these years?


In the silence

of the heart

and mind

of a broken person

there’s the hope

of being whole


Maybe this passion isn’t too insignificant after all

For the first time, somebody told me I did something right. And it’s  just overwhelming that my passion, despite being shallow and petty and directionless, has been appreciated even for once.

I wrote the article below in August last year. It was a topic I wanted to tackle for so long and it was just through Cebu Daily News that I found the way to finally write it.

I spent a whole Sunday morning with my subjects because I wanted to personally see and feel what they’re going through. I had a hard time convincing the facility’s head to let me write about the patients, let alone talk with them. It was challenging, but it was definitely worth it.


Their reasons may be too common. But the pain they go through as they fight the demons in their heads is but another story.

Living CTRC’s four-walled life

“What a journey it has been, and the end is not in sight,” the women sang in chorus, with arms held together. “But the stars are out tonight, and they’re bound to guide my way.”

They sing the same song every day to officially start their mornings. But the song has become more than just a daily routine. For the 24 women inside the Cebu Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (CTRC), the song serves as a reminder of their journey towards healing and recovery.

They don’t own mobile phones or gadgets to ease afternoon boredom, and they can’t go out for a stroll or shopping.

Unless they’ve done something good or have been inside the facility for two months already, they are not allowed to call their families nor get a visit from them.

“It’s not easy to be here. We have to follow so many rules,” says one of them. “Nina,” 41, has been in the facility since November 2016 and will be going out anytime soon.

“I promise to never go back to my wrongdoings. I want to have a good and happy life outside,” she said, recalling how she started using illegal drugs out of curiosity when she was in college.

But for some of the women, the prospect of going home may still be distant.

Dr. Juan Zaldarriaga Jr., hospital chief, said the treatment and rehabilitation program lasts for more than six months. Some even stay for more than a year, while there are several patients who come back just a few months after being released.

The patients inside CTRC, Dr. Zaldarriaga explained, undergo several stages of recovery. In their first few days, they are required to face a blank wall for hours and are not allowed to talk to anybody except for nurses.

“When they face the wall, they are given the time and space to contemplate, to think about the reason they are inside CTRC and to acknowledge that they need help,” Dr. Zaldarriaga said.

However, to let the patients recognize their mistake is a big challenge, Dr. Zaldarriaga added.

“Like any other human being, they find it hard to realize that they are at fault. They think that using illegal drugs is okay and normal. But if you think deeper, you will understand that taking illegal drugs is actually their way of asking for help.”

The length of the stay of a patient depends mainly on how fast she can instill utmost self-discipline, find motivation to change her lifestyle and on how prepared she is to be outside again.

CTRC, which is located in Barangay Jagobiao in Mandaue City, enforces rules to all the patients. Each wrong act entails a certain punishment and those who perform well get rewards.

“When they were outside, they don’t believe in rules. They follow and do whatever they like. We take that privilege away from them. That’s how they learn discipline,” Dr. Zaldarriaga explained.

Four-walled life

All the patients in the facility follow hour-by-hour rules. They wake up at 5 a.m. for a morning exercise then hold pre-morning and morning meetings before doing their assigned chores.

They aren’t allowed to talk with each other for long, unless they ask permission. But their conversations are always recorded on paper.

They are assigned to individual beds, and sitting on the bed of another patient is punishable.

“Nina” said it’s just a matter of getting used to all the rules without complaints.

She, along with all the other 23 women, try not break any of it or they’ll risk not getting a call from their family members.

“You know what we dread so much here? Missing our families and our children but not having the capability to call them anytime we want,” she said.

During morning meetings, the patients, who call each other “sister” and “family,” are asked about internal issues, perceptions on things and understanding on life. They are also given the chance to thank fellow patients who influenced them positively and call out those who need to be reprimanded.

On Saturdays and Sundays, patients somehow deviate from the routine. The women prepare for talent competitions or games on Saturday nights.

They have even held a Miss Gay beauty pageant just recently.

Sunday, they say, is what they look forward to the most.

“We can eat junk food and play board games. We don’t have to do chores. It’s our free day,” Nina said.

Since the patients are prohibited to keep money, their families pay for whatever they get from the hospital canteen.

Patient ‘Lyn’

Aside from attending daily morning meetings with the chief nurse, the women also get to have deep talks with “Lyn,” a former patient of CTRC.

“Lyn” facilitates the pre-morning meetings, sharing her experiences as a drug dependent and how she surpassed what she considers the darkest part of her life.

“The psychologists and all the doctors here have helped the patients, but it’s very different if they hear the words of somebody who has been in the same situation,” she said.

“Lyn” was admitted to the facility thrice since 2012 after she personally sought the help of her foster mother. She has been in and out of the facility for several years because “when you go out, you start craving again.”

“Lyn,” citing personal and family struggles she had growing up with a foster family as the reason she tried methamphetamine, was a drug dependent for 11 years.

“I felt so lonely, like I didn’t belong anywhere. It’s really true, even if others think that it’s an overused reason. When you take illegal drugs, you seem to forget your struggles,” Lyn admitted.

Now at 32, “Lyn” is taking a caregiving course and is about to graduate in a month or so. She dreams of going to Singapore or Dubai where she can build a new life.

“It has been my dream to be somebody who helps other people. When I was on my recovery stage here in CTRC, I had the strong urge to find my purpose and I used that motivation every time I feel like going back to drugs,” Lyn said.

Even when she’s busy with school works, “Lyn” stays in the facility so she can meet the patients daily. She talks with patients, giving them practical tips on how to control themselves and to always consider the consequences if they try to break away from the recovery process.

“I’ve been there. I know that the craving is so strong. But you just need to control yourself. I even tried to escape from here once, but when I started running, I realized that I have nowhere to go. This place was my refuge.”

Her morning service at CTRC, “Lyn” said, is her way of giving back to the people who helped her discover the better version of herself.

As she gets her diploma soon, “Lyn” pledges to continue being an inspiration to people battling through life.

“There is hope, I promise,” she said as she wiped her tears.

Support system

Dr. Zaldarriaga said the real success of the rehabilitation program does not happen inside the facility.

When patients get discharged, they will be facing people and circumstances that may trigger their emotions and cravings to try illegal drugs again. How they control themselves when these things happen determine their true progress.

“If we come to think of it, the process of healing and recovery does not end at all. It’s a lifetime undertaking because people will always encounter hardships. It mainly depends on the person. We all have the choice to do good or do the opposite,” he said.

Dr. Zaldarriaga, however, emphasized the importance of the support of families, friends and the community in the lives of drug users and dependents.

*I am truly thankful to CDN for the Best Feature Story (3rd Quarter) award. It means so much to me.  Thank you very, very much. This is a late post, actually. I got my certificate and GC (yey!) in December. I just feel a little lost now and I need a solid reminder that I somehow have a purpose.*

Originally posted at http://cebudailynews.inquirer.net/144969/living-ctrcs-four-walled-life#ixzz54cGC55Ge

So, I’m here – in my favorite personal space – after months of hiatus. And it’s just weird and quite ‘illegal’ that I’m here writing while my new boss is sitting just behind me, busy proofreading articles.

But, hey Folded Sleeves, I’m back!

I’m back in Cambodia, too. I found a new job here and it’s actually my first day at work today.

I left Cebu again. I left my family again. And I threw away another fulfilled dream.

I’d probably miss home more than I ever had in the past years that I’ve been away. I’d miss doing the household chores and deciding on every meal we’d eat. I’d miss doing the weekly groceries. I’d miss watching my favorite TV shows with my Mama. I’d miss hugging my niece (who probably wont recognize me anymore). I’d miss just being at home and feeling safe and loved. I’d miss #TeamStrong.

I’d miss Cebu Daily News, too. It was the home I had when I felt professionally lost (if that’s even a term). I’d miss the people I shared the same passion and weirdness with. I’d miss working long hours and writing endlessly.

But this is what the universe has given me. I’m taking this as another opportunity to help my family and to let my self grow.

I’m back here for a good reason. And I am truly thankful.

I guess I will forever love this view.



I want to believe that this is all part of the journey.

I want to never lose faith in ‘perfect timing’ or in ‘good things come to those who wait’.

I want to put all my trust to the universe that after all these pain of waiting and twinge of guilt, things will fall into place.

And I will continue to believe, life. I promise.

No, this is not about you being purely dumb. 

This is probably just about you not knowing what your strengths are or where to draw courage from.

This is not about failures after failures.

This is about trying tirelessly.

This is not about bad decisions and misfortunes.

This is about you accepting whatever may come and still believing that life is beautiful.

So now, pat your shoulder. And thank yourself for taking steps forward.

When Mama got sick, we knew our lives would change. We knew life would be much, much harder. We could already see the struggles even before we faced them– financial setbacks, anxieties, physical and emotional stress, etc. We were not prepared, but we were eager to fight. That’s what we have always been…fighters.

I wanted to maintain the positivity around us. ‘If you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.’ I thought that maybe, this is life telling us to be stronger than ever. I thought this is just another challenge we’ll successfully get through. I thought this is but another binding moment, a glue or a string to keep us together.

But I guess I relied too much on these silver linings. I just realized that we’re actually walking on different paths, that we opted to live our own lives. The universe has thrown us into our individual battlefields and gave us too little chances to escape. We are still fighters, just fighting separately. Life, unfortunately, has made us grow apart.

All I have now are fervent prayers, not mere silver linings. I pray that no matter where we are right now, we are all gonna find our way to the center, to our very foundation. I pray that we are all going to remember that we have each other to hold on to, that we just have to keep holding. I pray that we will have the strength to carry on, because we deserve a good life. I pray that we will all believe that we can win this, together.

P.S.  I love you all very much.