Words by Theo Hermanns. Images by Sang Tu.
Amy Winehouse sang and was sure about it: “They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no! no! no!” If I would have known upfront the outcome of my stay at Bali Silent Retreat, my lyrics would have been: “I do want to go to rehab, oh yeah! yeah! yeah!!”
In September I hit rock bottom, and some friends thought the only option was to have me admitted to the only madhouse on the island, which was not an option. They feared I would take my own life. I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. One of my dearest friends found a doctor who prescribed me Xanax, mother’s little helper. During a total checkup, it turned out that my blood pressure was 150/100. Another problem to deal with!
In October, my condition was worse than ever, due to some addictions I had. Before nine o’clock in the morning I would have drunk 1.5 liters of Bintang beer and smoked a full pack of cigarettes. Otherwise I couldn’t face the day. I almost didn’t eat anything at all. Depression and addiction very often go hand in hand, but what was first: the chicken or the egg?
I was, and felt like living death and knew I had to take action, otherwise I wouldn’t survive. Going back to Holland, my home country, was no option, I could barely walk! That was the reason, based on advice of my closest friends, to check into Bali Silent Retreat. The plan was to stay for a month, but I stayed for 7 weeks. In a way, it was a strange choice, because I never did any yoga or meditation, was for sure no vegetarian, and certainly not known to be silent. Bali Silent Retreat, BSR, is not a real rehab. There were other rehabs on the island, but as I am claustrophobic on top of it all, and they were ruled out as a possibility.
BSR is in the middle of nowhere, located in the UNESCO-protected rice terraces of the eco friendly regency of Tabanan. The grounds are very lush and large, around 6 hectare. Nearby is a very small village with about 20 houses, with only one warung, where I could buy cigarettes (they didn’t sell Bintang beer). During my stay I had no transport, 900,000 rupiah in my pocket (for cigarettes), and no phone. My room was the very spacious Deluxe Single Room at the end of the property. It was enormous, which is very important during a long stay. It took me 15 minutes to walk to the smoking area—single way!
The retreat has a very strict but gentle set of programs. Before 5:30am, ginger tea was delivered outside my door. During my first seven days I was very weak, but tried to walk as much as possible (with a stick) around the grounds, the jungle path, and a little bit amongst the rice terraces. The fresh organic vegetarian food impressed me, the quality was very good and diverse, so I started to eat a lot and enjoyed it!
During the second week I made my own program:
- 6:30am I would go out for a walk through the rice terraces—beautiful, and on clear days it was possible to see all the mountains of Bali.
- 8:30am I was back in my room with some flowers from the garden.
- 9:30am I had my lavish breakfast. I drank a glass of cashew milk everyday. I didn’t drink milk for about 40 years, so that was one of many novelties I encountered at BSR.
- 11:00am to 1:00pm I did the water meditation (a small stream of holy water from the temple flowing upon my head) and a meditation walk through the labyrinth. Around the labyrinth were 10 big crystals, which I touched a lot to get strength.
- Lunch was served at 1:00pm then at 2:00pm, it was time for my yoga class. The four rotating teachers, who turned out to be my personal archangels, were all aware of my medical condition. They made some kind of a special program for me. It’s called Yin Yoga. At the beginning it was very hard for me, but after a while it became easier.
- 5:30pm An organic freshly picked vegetarian dinner buffet was served. Every day, there was a soup as a starter, many options for a main course and always a dessert. I ate like a pig! Imagine—I used to eat like a mouse. But what else could you expect from someone who drank 5L of beer and smoked 50 cigarettes a day? After dinner I would make my evening tea, made from fresh herbs from the garden and would go to my room. I had the most comfy chair to read in.
- 9:30pm Bedtime.
Within a week, I reduced my cigarette consumption from 50 to 15. Strangely enough, I didn’t miss alcohol at all. No craving for it whatsoever!! After 3 weeks, I made the decision to stay longer, I felt at ease and very relaxed. After almost 7 weeks, it was time to go home. Patricia, the co-founder, was at reception to say goodbye. She gave me a telephone number I could call 24 hours a day, in case I had a relapse. I could call, and get transport in the middle of the night, if needed.
One day later, she wrote me an email: Hi Theo, if you need to talk with someone who understands substance recovery, you can call Alyssa. She has written several books and set up recovery centers in the US. She is inspired by your situation and story and has offered her phone number, in case you need to chat. What generous hearts. Everyone at Bali Silent Retreat was in service to various forms of what they call the greater good.
Staying at BSR for 7 weeks worked for me as a rehab. At the moment I am very aware what kind of influence my addictions had on my body. Alcohol came out of all my pores, my body odor made me almost pass out (not the booze itself). My sheets would be totally wet every night. I came to the conclusion that the damage done from my addictions was just too high, so I don’t want to go there anymore.
I had two options: swimming or drowning. I was drowning, in an ocean filled with alcohol and hit rock bottom (literally and figuratively). Now, I am swimming (again literally and figuratively) and will keep on doing just that. At home, I swim 1.5 km a day, go for a morning walk, and do two hours of yoga and meditation.
I haven’t drunk a single drop of alcohol, not even during the festive season, with lunches and dinners every day for a week. I feel proud of myself, never expecting this result in my wildest dreams.
When I left BSR, I felt happy as a puppy. To be honest, the last time I felt like that was many, many moons ago. In addition, my blood pressure reduced to 128/85—how incredible! I will always be grateful for this experience, to Patricia, the founder of the BSR, the teachers and all the staff, who made this possible for me.