There is a small tattoo on her wrist that mentions a date. It is her birthday, though not the one she opened her eyes to this world. It’s her recovery birthday, when she started living clean of the shadow of drugs.

Her chirpy round face, full of laughter, covers a dark past that would unnerve anyone she chooses to confide in. She is one of those who gave up their substance addiction. And though the shadows of lapse and relapse always hang over her, she is determined to stay clean for the rest of her life.

Let her be introduced as Jigyasa, for it’s essential to keep her true name under wraps. She comes from an affluent family in one of the garrison towns dotting the India-Pakistan border in the northwest.

“Ice cream was all I could eat. My mouth was full of bloody red blisters. Constipation was a constant, painful companion. And when I was able to empty my bowels after eight or ten days, it was mainly blood that my body would excrete.

“That was when I told my mother to find a rehabilitation centre for me in a day. I told her she just had a few hours to save me, failing which I would be gone forever,” she tells The Citizen, recalling her eventual admission to a rehab centre in one of the prominent cities of Punjab.

“As she scampered, my poor paranoid mother told me, what will people say? I told her they said many things when I’d go looking for my daily dose of ‘samaan’. This time I was going to get treated, which was a positive thing if they wanted to gossip about.”

Ask about any drug available in this part of the world and Jigyasa has used it, be it opioids, cannabinoids, hallucinogens or synthetic drugs besides alcohol. She knows well the routine havoc these substances play with users’ physiology and psychology.

So where did the roller coaster ride begin. She had lost her father, who was into heavy drinking, in 2001. She was very close to her grandfather who would do anything for her. Typically enough, her mother had never been made comfortable by her in-laws.

Jigyasa wanted to try everything. “My motto was that if boys could take it, why not me?” Her education till a postgraduate degree in psychology was geographically spread over Dehradun, Shimla, Delhi and her hometown.

The journey began with a cigarette when she was in class eight and was caught by her mom. It was followed by vodka during a school trip to Manali two years later. The drinking increased when she came to Chandigarh, as it was pretty common in the PG where she was staying. This was followed by weed, and by this time the cigarette smoking had become regular.

But it was during a visit to her hometown that she was exposed to her friends taking heroin. “I told them not to take it. Then I threatened to take it myself if they did not stop using. I tried it for the first time thinking it would be something like alcohol. I puked but had a very sound sleep. I had chased half a line.

“I had it again the next day. This time there was no vomiting, the body and brain were numb and the mood was very good. Thereafter I reached a stage of three to four lines a day. I felt very confident, efficient and extra vigilant,” recalls the now bubbly, cheerful girl.

Back when she was in Chandigarh she had no clue of withdrawals. “I felt very uncomfortable. I had loose motions. I was vomiting. It was then that my friends told me that I was having a ‘tod’. I went on to try cocaine introduced by my friends. Alcohol and joints were also there. I started by chasing four lines a day and it gradually grew to ten a day,” she says.

Some time later she went back home and once again started using heroin. She narrates, “Money was not a problem as my grandfather gave it to me not knowing where it was going. I stayed there four months. There are a couple of localities on the outskirts of my hometown where it is sold in almost every house. The police know it very well as there is a picket right at the entrance of these colonies. Then there’s also the option of home delivery.”

“I was using ¼ grams at the time. But I was also having withdrawals when I tried stopping it. That was when my friends and I decided to stop.”

But a couple of days later there was this craving. “I had the peddler’s number. I decided to procure 1 gram intending to have it bit by bit. But I consumed the entire stuff in one night. From then on I was by myself, consuming a gram almost daily and it cost 3,600 rupees.

“I had money and I had stopped talking to friends. My mother came to know something was wrong but I denied it when confronted. I had no other work. Back in Chandigarh I had stopped going to college and paid my way to get the exams cleared,” Jigyasa recalls.

There was a feeling of guilt but it had to be ignored in the face of cravings. “I would sell things from laptops to mobiles. I used to steal jewellery and then feign ignorance. I was pinching Rs 50,000 from my grandfather’s wallet. The lack of communication between my grandparents and mother always helped,” she confided.

She had a friend Minaxi (name changed) from a small town in Himachal whom she persuaded to try on her birthday and she too got hooked. But gave it up soon as her priority was working a job.

“Meanwhile I went to Delhi and took a year off, lying to my mother that I had got an internship offer. Minaxi’s friends were into hallucinogens and I joined them while smoking joints alongside. It was here that I took to crack cocaine and mixed it all with cough syrup. Heroin also continued side by side. I also tried meth, and I remember not sleeping for seven days when I had it the first time. On one occasion I snorted heroin after having meth and fainted,” she says.

At this point of time there were some “interesting” people who came into her life. One of them was a Nigerian peddler, Peter, who while supplying drugs showed another side. A man deeply into religion, he used to request Jigyasa to go to a rehab centre. But he also introduced her to chitta.

“I had to travel one and a half hours to reach my peddler. There’s a thing with these peddlers. They make you go crazy chasing them when you are having those cravings. On one occasion Minaxi and I broke the door as I could not wait for Raman to return home as he had the keys,” says Jigyasa.

Then came the saddest day of her life, when her doting grandfather passed away in 2017. “He was one person who never believed I could do any wrong. I met him in the hospital and he passed away within the next half hour. On that day too I had heroin.”

She recalls that during her stay at home for the next few months she continued taking substances and it took a heavy toll on her health. “I did not bathe. I would remain shabby. I stopped having my periods for four months and they were revived with the help of steroids. My mother was worried but I never mentioned heroin to her.

“I was an expert at manipulation. I was also scared of water. I had started procuring drugs from women peddlers. They were safe whenever there was a crackdown.”

“My mom was suspicious. I was trapped when I was out to purchase my dose as she along with my maternal uncle followed me. On being confronted I was compelled to give my urine sample which they took to a pathology lab. I added water to the sample and tried my best to get this lab to alter the results which they did not. I was caught.

“But I again convinced my mom that I would stop it. I took to Nuts or Parvon Spas capsules to show her I had started taking medicine as the withdrawals were horrible. Later I combined these with heroin that I was getting delivered at home. I was also procuring buprenorphine from a doctor, who was selling it in black without prescriptions,” the girl disclosed.

It was during a visit to Pune for a family gathering where she had terrible itching and eventually landed at a psychiatrist’s door. She was treated for withdrawal but when she returned home things were back to square one.

Then it was time to go to Delhi again, and the journey was not to be a rosy one. “A few days after my arrival, Minaxi asked me to stop taking drugs but I wouldn’t. She gave up, went back home and stopped calling me. I moved in with another girl, Rama (name changed) and told her everything. I had lost my mobile and did not have any peddler’s number. I was consuming around 20 Nuts a day and combining them with joints. I would faint quite often.

“Then Rama got rid of me. I had no money as the supply from home had dried up. I sat on a bench through the night. Next morning a friend took me to his maternal aunt, who too drove me off after a while. I was on my own once more. And who came with help? It was the dear old peddler Peter who messaged me. Knowing him to be a safe guy I went to his flat and my eyes glittered after a long time when he handed over some heroin to me as a welcome gift.”

Jigyasa then rented a room nearby and stared getting money through various means. This time it was chitta, heroin, DMT, acid and cocaine. “DMT can help you experience the birth and death experience while acid makes you love everyone. But the roller coaster was still on. I was in miserable shape, roaming around in Majnu ka Tila, when I received a call from Minaxi out of the blue.

“She came to Delhi and took me to a doctor. During this phase too I was using drugs. I would take the medicines and also consume drugs in places like the restrooms in shopping malls, in the washrooms of multiplexes etc. My consumption went up to four or five grams daily.”

She went on, “By this time I was vomiting blood. I could only eat ice cream since there were blisters in my mouth. My teeth had broken and I had to later spend Rs 2.5 lakh to get them into shape, besides experiencing excruciating pain at the dental clinic. It was at this point that Minaxi called my mother. I too had surrendered, and knew this was my last chance at survival.”

When Jigyasa’s mother called one of her doctor aunts in the United States, she was told that addicts never recover.

“I told my mom to look for a rehab within a day. I told her she would have to arrange for my admission within a day, failing which I should be considered gone. That was the point I landed in a rehab in Jalandhar.

“While traveling from Delhi to Jalandhar, I consumed heroin non-stop sitting in the stinking toilet of the train. On getting down I shamelessly consumed it before my mom. I even carried two grams to the rehab, but something struck me at the entrance and I threw it in a bush. I told them I was very scared of withdrawals and they told me that 90% of the ‘tod’ would be managed,” she recalls with a confident smile.

The journey to recovery was not easy. Besides paying a sum of 50,000 a month she had to endure many things. “I found to my horror that I was the only girl among the 50 recovery inmates. Perhaps this was the reason I was allowed to keep my mobile. I couldn’t sleep for eight days.

“In due course one of the counsellors tried to get fresh with me and smacked me on my butt. He then threatened me not to reveal the episode to anyone, but I told the accountant and later he was fired. I spent five months in the rehab and came home in July 2018,” she shares.

She calculated the money spent on her drug consumption all these years, and it came to over 1.25 crore rupees. “I did pay a heavy price to learn some hard lessons,” she said as we laughed it away.

“I did everything that a person with heavy substance dependence would do. I lied to my grandfather despite the guilt that he would never accept the fact that I had cheated him. I would approach him with an innocent face demanding gadgets like laptops and mobiles and he would insist that I purchase the latest high-end model.

“I used to sell them off. I used to steal jewellery and other household articles. I took advantage of the strained relations between my mother and grandparents. I was an expert at manipulating things. I cashed the fixed deposit receipts in my name. I did every wrong,” she says.

“My mother has always stood by me. I have rediscovered that she is my pillar of strength, having undergone so much pain herself seeing her child through this journey of tumult. I remember one of my aunts coming to our house and telling me I looked fine and not as she expected. She expected me to be a mental wreck or having some mental disorder,” she says.

“I have told my mother not to give me any money till she has total trust in me again. It is a practice in my house not to bolt any doors, not even the washroom. I don’t go out alone, but accompany my mom once in a while.

“I am now realising that life has a lot to offer and I must enjoy every bit of it. Yes, my sleep cycle is still disturbed. I do get those thoughts of lapse and relapse but I am determined to remain clean. I have a boyfriend and we intend to get married at some point of time,” she reveals.

She now wants to set up a rehab centre following humane values. “My centre would not demean and abuse any of the inmates who came for treatment. I have seen how we were treated in the rehab. Already low on self esteem, an addict just craves a few words that give them some respect.”

“I am interested in having a separate wing for treating girls and also for transgenders. Finding rehabs for girl substance users is a herculean task. I intend not to fleece the people coming for help. I know of rehab centres in Delhi that charge up to 7 lakh per month,” she says.

“My experience was really saddening when I saw patients being categorised as VIP or others in the rehab where I was treated. The VIP patients would be served meals first while the others ate later. The VIP patients would be given extra servings. Discrimination prevailed even at the altar of medical treatment,” she says.

Jigyasa has invited me to the inauguration of her centre. Having heard her struggle and heroic effort to overcome all the hurdles, could I say anything to her but a big Yes?