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Starting again

From drug dependent to author and advocate, Martin Infante uses his journey to inspire others


It is not easy for any parent, wife, or sibling to see a loved one become a victim of the drug menace. The anxiety, the sleepless nights wondering where one’s child could be,  the despondency over the late recognition or even denial  of the ailment (for some families) that transformed a  sane individual into a total stranger.

Yes, drug addiction is a disease that affects not only the individual’s  physical and mental makeup but also erodes the moral fiber that holds the family together,  and  has a tremendous impact on society in general.

As a 13-year-old boy in the ’60s who thought it was cool to be in the company of older friends, who were taking marijuana and then slowly graduating to the hard stuff—name it, he has tried them all. From a privileged upbringing to having nothing at all, he even experienced instances of not having anything decent to eat for days on end.

Then one day,  members of his family and then girlfriend now wife, Joy, decided to put a stop to all the madness that was hurting not only him but everyone who cared for him. He was put in the basement of a hospital, which at that time was just one of the few facilities dealing with the treatment of drug abuse.

Call it redemption or miracle, but after being in the basement for quite some time, one day he  simply broke down, cried like a baby, and started to pray the rosary with a friend who, like him, was  similarly situated. Picking up the pieces was the start.

Today, a totally changed man of 62, book author and advocate Martin Infante, a former drug user,  is at the forefront of helping  people and their families overcome the ill effects of  substance abuse and other behavioral disorders  with the Therapeutic Community (TC) approach through the organization he founded in 1992, the Self Enhancement for Life Foundation (SELF).

Recognized as the only one of its kind in the country, the   SELF TC program employs a highly structured environment built around a well-defined chain of command. With a rigorous daily schedule of activities, the residents, as they are called, are closely monitored, evaluated, and promoted according to their attitudinal development. Seminars and workshops are also given to broaden the residents’ knowledge and strengthen their motivation.

A full complement of psychiatrists, social workers, and medical staff are on hand to help the residents in solving whatever problem is bothering them.  From sleeplessness, insubordination, lying, manipulative behavior to low self-esteem, much care is given in rooting out the causes that beset each individual resident.

Finding resolutions regarding past issues with family members is given special attention. Thinking errors about certain attitudes in relationships are laid out on the table. Program director Leah Tumbado says, “We try to heal not only the resident but the family as well.” Families are encouraged to attend a monthly Family Association Meeting (FAM), which provides moral support, and they also are given seminars and workshops on the TC approach and important topics like co-dependency, which is given much amplitude, are discussed.

Also, the residents are given opportunities to showcase their talents and potentials through activities like participating in the annual Easter and Christmas programs, sports competitions, outdoor events like biking to nearby towns, hiking, and swimming. The latest addition is the creation of a Salsa Society, led by no less than Infante himself.

The road to recovery is not easy, and has many ups and downs. “We do not see relapses as failures but rather as challenges. They are part of the recovery process that giving up on anyone, even the hardest cases, is not an option. Even if we have to start from step one all over again, we just don’t give up inculcating in our residents values like responsibility and accountability,” says Infante.

Add to that the spiritual dimension, which is a vital component of the program. As Infante puts it, “an acknowledgment that a greater force more powerful than man will help in the healing and overcoming the trials one is faced with.”

The beginning of SELF was not as smooth as it may seem by merely looking at its present site, on a hill with a wonderful view of Taal Lake. From its very first facility in Las Piñas that was given an eviction notice by the community then burned down, to its second one in Tagaytay that needed much repair.

Raising funds was not easy, and neither was walking through muddy roads to reach the hilltop and bringing in construction materials. But then, nothing was impossible for the man who kept the faith. A friend of Infante gave the initial financial assistance to start the Taal View House Facility project, and the rest is history.

The center has several packages for people who would like to avail of its services. Though the expense is on the high side, it has been reported that 85 percent of SELF graduates have successfully reintegrated into society. Those who opted to go back to work are in trustworthy positions. The young adults who went back to school have achieved academic excellence.

As part of its corporate social responsibility, SELF has been training Department of Health personnel all over the country regarding the TC approach in drug rehabilitation. SELF officers and counselors have also given talks to several schools in Metro Manila and the provinces on the  prevention of drug abuse among  the young.

  02 809 3491, 02 809 7235 confidential hotline: 63 928 552 5656

Taal View Facility, Talisay, Batangas: 043 773-0354

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