A moment of reflection by guests at Ukraine’s Nazareth Center in the midst of the natural environment A moment of reflection by guests at Ukraine’s Nazareth Center in the midst of the natural environment  Stories

Ukraine: Natural environment helps heal addictions

Despite the bombs that have rained down incessantly on tormented Ukraine for over a year, there is an oasis in the Lviv region that helps those suffering from various forms of addiction to heal and enter back into society again. Since the outbreak of the war, displaced persons and members of the military also come here to learn how to live in harmony with others and creation.

By Svitlana Dukhovych

"A powerful weapon of the evil one against the human person and the world is the devaluation of everything: of oneself and others, the environment and relationships. And all those who suffer from addictions take this path of devaluation." Affirming this is Fr. Vasyl Bilas, spiritual director of the Nazareth Recovery Center in Ukraine. The institution helps people overcome addiction to drugs, alcohol and gambling, accompanying them on an alternative path of love: "We help them feel loved and to believe in their own value and, as a result, appreciate the surrounding environment and people as well. In other words, we try to make them perceive the gaze of God the Father," explains Fr. Vasyl to Vatican News.

The center, located amidst the green environment of the Lviv region, has been operating since 2004 and is supported by the Sambir-Drohobych Eparchy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It is no accident that it is called "Nazareth" because like the birthplace of the Virgin Mary, it makes hope take root and leaves a mark on the heart, changing people's situations.

A home where you can live again

But what does this Center have to do with Laudato sì? "In order to change, people who come to us need a healthy and comfortable environment. That is why more than just a health or social facility, the Center resembles a real home, surrounded by greenery. The Center has never halted its mission despite the war. It is a place where those who come to heal can live continually and comfortably for up to two years," explains Maryna Poturay, psychologist and project coordinator of the Recovery Center.

The concept of "home" refers not only to physical space, but also to an environment where one feels welcomed and encouraged to grow. The support framework of the Nazareth Center utilizes the combination of psychology, religion and spirituality. "This allows the person to work on oneself, on values and inner life,” explains spiritual director Fr Vasyl. “The beautiful thing is that those who come to our Center are not always practicing Christians. At first they do not even ask the question whether our Center is related to religion: they come here knowing that they need help and the Church, as always, says, ‘We will try to help you,’ and they accept this help and trust in us. Only later do many embrace the faith, and that is what radically changes their lives."

"It is very important that the people in our center have the opportunity to speak to the priests, participate in the liturgy and slowly build a new relationship with God," adds Maryna Poturay, “because people suffering from addiction have very low self-esteem and feel abandoned by everyone, including God. So, when this contact with the Creator is established, confidence in oneself and one's future also grows."

Fr. Vasyl Bilas, spiritual director of the Nazareth Recovery Center
Fr. Vasyl Bilas, spiritual director of the Nazareth Recovery Center

Finding real happiness

Reflecting on the causes of the exponential increase in addiction in Ukraine and beyond, Fr. Vasyl notes that the modern world has become very materialistic. "Materialism, the quantity of things a person possesses," he says, "is never a value that can make a person better. This has been clear for a long time, but now a “lifestyle” is being promoted that gives importance to having many things."

We find an echo of this in Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato si'. The Pope writes: "Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending.” (LS, 203). "It is not a sin to have things," Fr. Vasyl continues, “but it’s important to put everything in the right place, to reestablish priorities. For believers, first there must be God; for non-believers, relationships with other people, and then come other things. Selfishness, on the other hand, means 'everything is for me, everyone owes me something, I must have a lot, and if I have little, I am miserable.'"

Processing grief

Another frequent cause behind addiction comes from unprocessed suffering. It is precisely this reason that often brings Ukrainian soldiers to the Nazareth Center who have experienced great trauma, lost a friend or relative at the front, or suffered physical injuries. Here at the Recovery Center they have been taking in soldiers since 2015 after Russia's first invasion of eastern Ukraine. "Very often soldiers are left alone with their grief," Fr. Vasyl explains. "When they return home for a vacation, whether on temporary or permanent leave, they don't talk about it because they believe no one can understand them. And indeed, how can any person explain the hatred? The horrors? The deaths?

Many then try to anesthetize the pain they carry inside by drinking or using drugs. Instead, it is important not to silence that suffering, but to relive it, to ‘metabolize’ it with someone's support. And that is why the Nazareth Center becomes for them, also those who remain in the military, a kind of ‘buffer zone’ between the battlefield from where they came and their home. So, they stay for some time with people who can help them overcome this pain, so that they can return home more at peace, more ‘settled’ for their loved ones or back into society in general."

Group therapy for women recovering from addictions, often victims of violence
Group therapy for women recovering from addictions, often victims of violence

Recovering with others

Addiction poisons several aspects of a person's life, and certainly one of the most significant is the relationship with others. "If a person suffers from an addiction for many years," Maryna says, "the person loses not only values and sight of the meaning of life, but also all social relationships, when breaking ties with family and friends who could help. At the Nazareth Center, the reality of living in a community where everyone has responsibilities and work to do (in the kitchen, garden areas, vegetable garden, etc.), people learn again to build and maintain relationships, taking care of themselves, others and also the environment around them."

The psychologist says that this community approach is also important because people who have suffered from addiction understand very well the behavioral dynamics of this disease and can quickly discern if, for example, one of them uses manipulation in approaching a Center worker or tells lies. They can talk about all these problems in the group and try to solve them together with the specialists.

The community also plays a key role in case someone decides to stop the rehabilitation process and leave the facility. Maryna explains further that when a person goes down this path, he or she signs a type of contract with the Nazareth Center that acknowledges it is possible to stop at any time, but when choosing to do so, the person is obliged to gather the community to personally announce his or her intention. After listening, the group then offers its feedback. "Very often," the psychologist explains, "people want to leave because the healing process is hard and it is difficult to change. But they don't want to acknowledge their weakness and usually, unconsciously, they look for different excuses: 'I have to pay back debts. My wife is waiting for me,' and so on. And it is the group that during this meeting helps them understand what the real reason is for this abandonment and manages to help them change their minds."

A celebration at the Nazareth Center church attended often by non-believers who learn about the faith
A celebration at the Nazareth Center church attended often by non-believers who learn about the faith

In harmony with creation

“These settings influence the way we think, feel and act. In our rooms, our homes, our workplaces and neighbourhoods, we use our environment as a way of expressing our identity. We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy.” (LS, 147). This passage from Laudato si' notes how a healthy environment is essential for healing.

The Nazareth Recovery Center consists of a few buildings located in the middle of a forest. It offers the opportunity for people to focus on their healing without being distracted by the hustle and bustle of daily life, the abundance of things to consume, and the frenzy found in cities. Here they spend much time outside, taking walks, gathering wood in the forest, working in the garden areas and vegetable garden, and learning to praise God for what the earth gives them. "Depending on how a person treats others and oneself, this is reflected in how one also treats the animals we have in the area of the Nazareth Center, how one takes care of the trees and the bushes we have planted. We can see if a person is healing and if we have done our work well," the spiritual director concludes.

An aerial view of the Nazareth Center
An aerial view of the Nazareth Center

An ambience that heals

After the start of the war in Ukraine, requests for accommodation at the Nazareth Center located in the west of the country came in from displaced persons fleeing the combat zones. The facility's management decided to take them in because they had a suitable building available, separate from the one used for care, and the resources to offer basic necessities. Since the outbreak of the conflict, some displaced people have been housed here for a few days, others have stayed for months having nowhere else to go. Here they create their own small group, but they also interact with the entire Nazareth community. Together they work in the garden and go to Mass. Maryna says “it often happens that after a few days or weeks in the facility some of the displaced people will approach one of the people in their care and ask, 'they told us there are drug addicts here, but do you know where they are?' And the person would answer with a smile, 'I am one of them.'"

Internally displaced persons welcomed by the Nazareth Center
Internally displaced persons welcomed by the Nazareth Center

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04 April 2023, 09:14