Sheena (name changed) is 36 years old and resides in Imphal East which is located in the drug riddled state of Manipur in northeastern India. Sheena is the youngest of four siblings, all of whom have spent the last seven years watching their sister endure the severe turmoil that accompanies heroin addiction. Her wealthy family background is where Sheena’s story of addiction begins.
The daughter of a prosperous money lender, Sheena was the perfect target for her first husband who used her family’s wealth to support his heroin addiction. He introduced Sheena to heroin and over the next three years, her life fell apart as she grew addicted to the drug. Ultimately, her husband left her when they realized that Sheena was infertile and could not bear children. In a desperate attempt to escape the heartbreak that followed, Sheena ran away from her home to North AOC, a place in Imphal which is notorious for easily accessible drugs and is a hub for sex work.
In her new home, Sheena met her second partner, Sandeep (name changed), who was also a heroin addict. Over the next three years, Sheena and Sandeep used heroin frequently, a habit that left them drowning in debt. Sheena remembers working as a rag picker, and sleeping on the streets with Sandeep because they could not afford accommodation of any other kind. Sheena also recounts the financial desperation that forced them to steal money from their neighbours so that they could pay for their next high, something that Sheena says she is embarrassed to confess especially since the stealing continued even after the couple was caught numerous times and publicly humiliated.
Sheena cannot remember the specific point at which she realized that she had hit rock bottom but she does remember feeling a growing sense of urgency that motivated her to seek help. She also tried to convince Sandeep to enter a rehabilitation programme but soon realized that he had no desire to change his life.
With her mother’s support, Sheena became one of the first women to enter Chanura Kol’s short stay home where she went through detoxification treatment and also received counseling, economic support and vocational training. Sheena says that the support that she received from the staff members at the short stay home and from the other women who were also going through detoxification treatment was invaluable to her progress. Sheena has stayed off drugs since she left the short stay home. Her partner, Sandeep, unfortunately, passed away while she was in the rehabilitation programme.
Sheena says that she feels like a stronger person emotionally, psychologically and physically, and is currently trying to help a friend who is addicted to heroin seek rehabilitation. Sheena says that, for the first time in a long time, she is excited about her future.
The India HIV/AIDS Alliance in partnership with SASO, implements the Chanura Kol project in Manipur. This project is funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation and serves to expand interventions to decrease HIV transmission and reduce drug relapse among female injection drug users (FIDUs).