“God is my strength…” This is not only a saying but my name “Gabriel” derives from this reality! There was a time when I believed that I was going to remain an addict all my life, as there seemed to be no way out. But as in any dark tunnel, at the end, there was a beaming light capable of showing me the way out.
I am Gabby, the fourth of five siblings, from a family managing a successful food business. At a young age, I had thought that the real purpose of life was the pursuit of pleasure in the present. This meant that I had to do what made me happiest at the moment, looking for things that would make life more enjoyable. I had a particular passion for downhill mountain biking. Quite competitive by nature; I joined races in different parts of the Philippines, even becoming a champion.
Early on, I started learning the ropes of our family business by working in our restaurant after school. So, aside from my allowance, I was also earning a salary at the restaurant. Thus, I had money to manage on my own, but I spent most of what I had on nights out with friends. Soon, this took up the time I should’ve been spending with my family, and eventually I lost interest in going to church.
I experienced one “fun” episode after another with my peers, on island trips, parties, drinking sprees and for the first time, in taking an “organic” drug: marijuana. I was convinced that it was OK if I took it only on limited occasions. Nevertheless, the drive to engage in more exciting adventures grew when I entered university. I got involved in gambling and even put up an underground poker place with a friend which generated huge earnings for us. This eventually introduced me to hard gamblers and people who were heavily into drugs. Though I initially resisted taking “shabu” (crystal meth), later I gave in and found myself hooked..
Those ill-fated decisions totally changed my life and made me turn away from the trusting relationships I had with my family. Then for several years, I did not realize that I had focused my whole life only on one thing: drugs! Those years were tough, although there were moments when I felt an inner desire to get out from the dark pit of addiction. However, all my efforts were futile. I could not stop! I did not know how to, and I did not know where to go.
My parents did all they could to help me. They brought me to a rehab center but the environment did not suit my needs. When I returned home, they tried to keep me away from the bad influence of friends.
This helped me remain sober, yes , and soon I resumed my work at the restaurant. Sometime later, I found myself on drugs again. At one point, I even started my own business with a friend. We opened a bar. But, I would use our earnings for my vices and not go home for many days; I had many women, I was always drunk, and always on drugs. This was probably the worst period of my life!
At the height of this turmoil, the path to a new life opened up before me. After an earnest talk with my brother, I overcame my initial reservations and decided to have another experience, this time in a “rehabilitation farm” called Fazenda da Esperança.
My mother had discovered it sometime before and was convinced that it was the one suitable for me. It is a farm located in a far-flung area of Masbate City, which welcomes people who suffer from various kinds of dependency. The farm does not employ professional practitioners to assist those who come. Instead, newcomers are introduced to a lifestyle based on three pillars: the Gospel-based spirituality of the Focolare, community life and work.
The first weeks in Fazenda were a big adjustment for me. We had to wake up early, attend Mass every day, pray and do meditation. We also had to do manual labor on the farm. Some evenings, we would meet together to share with each other how we had lived the three pillars of Fazenda (spirituality of unity, community life, and work), and how we had put the Gospel into practice. I was not used to all these, but as the weeks went by, I found them becoming second nature to me.
This was our life in Fazenda, and as time passed, I realized that my body was no longer yearning for drugs. I started to think more of others than myself, and discovered how wonderful it felt to place myself at the service of others. Most of all, I had discovered how powerful the words of the Gospel were. I saw how situations could change when the Gospel was translated into concrete action. I found a new
relationship with God, and began to experience a pure and true joy.
In Fazenda, my life regained its worth. I realized the great value of family relationships. It restored my hope that I could still change and do something better with my life. Like anyone who comes to Fazenda, I, too, experienced that every life has hope.
After finishing the program in Fazenda, I returned home to my family, which has never stopped loving me. Every day, I make sure that I spend quality time with them. Grateful for this new-found life and the new hope that Fazenda has given me, I am determined to pass on this hope to others.
Four of my companions from Fazenda have now come to my city to start a new life, and our family has welcomed them as part of our restaurant team. We have been of mutual help to each other, as we continue to live the Fazenda pillars of Gospel-based spirituality, community life and work, and support each other amid the temptations that are always present. Together, we have begun a “Group of Living Hope” in my city, a support group for graduates of Fazenda’s program, as well as a venue to welcome and help those who are searching for hope in the midst of addiction.
It is said that nothing happens by chance, and that everything happens for a reason. While drug addiction may have brought me many negative experiences, mysteriously, it has also led me to the rediscovery of God, who is love and the real source of my strength.