Fighting addiction at a Thai monastery

SARABURI, Thailand (Reuters) - Cengiz seemed to have it all.

A high-paying job in Germany's tech sector gave him money and prestige, but his life was spiraling out of control. A cocaine addiction had pushed him to the brink of suicide.

Desperate for escape after waking up one morning in a pool of his own blood, he found salvation half a world away at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand known for its drug rehabilitation program.

"Wat Thamkrabok absolutely changed my life," said the 38-year-old Turkish German - now known as Monk Atalo - who came to the monastery 14 years ago and has returned several times to pray and meditate.

"My job was really stressful and I was a slave of Western high-performance society," said Atalo, who hopes to write a book about his experiences. Like others interviewed for this story, he declined to provide his surname.

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Wat Thamkrabok, 140 km (87 miles) north of Bangkok, has treated more than 110,000 people since it started its program in 1959, the monastery says.

"Here we have a particular way to practice Buddhism, and it fits very well into the treatment of drug addiction," said Monk Jeremy, a 37-year-old Australian who underwent treatment at the monastery three years ago for heroin addiction.

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Thai monastery specializes in drug rehabilitation
Turkish-German patient Cengiz steam bathes two days before his ordination as a Buddhist monk, at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkish-German patient Cengiz (R) and monk Jeremy from Australia meditate at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province in Thailand, March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Buddhist monk holds a glass with a vomit-inducing medication, before giving it to a rehabilitation patient at the detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Buddhist monk prays after throwing food to fish and turtles at a lake inside Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province in Thailand, March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Buddhist monk and a patient sweep the yard of the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Turkish-German patient Cengiz meditates after drinking a vomit-inducing medication, the day of his ordination as a Buddhist monk, at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province in Thailand, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A patient drinks a vomit-inducing medication made with plants and roots at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Patients take a cool shower after having a steam bath at the rehabilitation area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Patients walk to take a steam bath at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Patients react after drinking a vomit-inducing medication made with plants and roots at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Patients prepare to take a steam bath at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Jeremy, a Buddhist monk from Australia, inspects a Buddha statue at a workshop at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 3, 2017. Jeremy underwent treatment at the monastery three years ago for heroin addiction. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Nat (2nd L) combs a friend's hair during their stay at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A patient enters a steam bath at the rehabilitation area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Patients work at the kitchen of the rehabilitation area of Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Nat, a patient, sits at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Patients play ping-pong at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A patient works out at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Turkish-German patient Cengiz (R), now monk Atalo, wears his monk robes during his ordination ceremony at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Monk Jeremy attends an ordination ceremony of new monks at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Patients play music at the rehabilitation and detox program at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Turkish-German patient Cengiz (C) attends his ordination ceremony at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Turkish-German patient Cengiz (C), now monk Atalo, walks after his ordination ceremony at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man waits to be admitted to Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Turkish-German patient Cengiz (C) attends his ordination ceremony at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Monk Jeremy (L) helps Turkish-German patient Cengiz, now monk Atalo, to adjust his robes during his ordination ceremony at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "TEMPLE SILVA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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Treatment begins with a "Sajja" ceremony in which patients take a sacred vow never to use drugs again.

Patients then drink, for at least five days in a row, a strong herbal medicine that induces vomiting.

Vomiting is followed by a daily herbal steam bath to aid the detoxification process.

No contact with the outside world is permitted during the first five days of treatment. Patients pass the time by meditating, playing table tennis and weightlifting, and manual work such as painting and making Buddha statues.

Some experts have questioned the effectiveness of Wat Thamkrabok's methods.

"I cannot advocate for that type of treatment because there is absolutely no sound evidence nor research behind it," said Brian Russman, clinical director of The Cabin, a drug rehabilitation center in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Patients were vulnerable to relapse without follow-up therapy or peer support, he added.

Nat, in her fourth week of treatment, said she was afraid to leave the temple for fear of a relapse. The 24-year-old from northeast Thailand started using methamphetamines two years ago to stay awake during her night job as a go-go dancer in Bangkok.

"I can't leave until I recover my self-confidence. The only job I have is at the bar and I need to go back to it," said Nat, whose 7-year-old daughter lives in the countryside with her grandmother.

Henry, a 37-year-old heroin addict from Britain, came to Wat Thamkrabok after trying several traditional rehab clinics.

"For many of us here, this is our last chance," he said.

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