N. Kasturi shares with Soma Basu her tough and intimate story of saving her son from the grip of severe drug addiction

Nothing can be more painful for a mother than to see her son self-destruct. "I felt powerless to pull him back to safety," she says of her 15 years of trauma and despair, "but I never gave up."

"Even when he was most unlovable, I stayed with him," In saying so she conveys a strong message -- the importance of staying close to a loved one even after all relationships get corroded.

Like any mother, Kasturi pinned her hopes on her two sons and a daughter. But when her eldest son, M.Sundar strayed away at the age of 20 trapped in the web of cannabis and substance use, she was at a loss to understand why this was happening and why as a mother she was not able to stop him.

A wonderful son, a loving brother, a brilliant student and a carom champion was losing himself to drugs. She admits that the family failed to understand the issue initially and lacked proper guidance or information about the deceptive and addictive qualities of drug abuse and the treatment available in Madurai.

Trouble started when Sundar joined Polytechnic College. From a friendly and sensitive boy with a zest for life, he became quiet and irritable. "He started concealing things, blaming us for everything, became irrational and resented the family's financial condition," recalls Kasturi.

The resulting dysfunction of the family was not easy to cope with. Her other two children moved into hostels as they found it difficult to feel sympathy for a brother, who had started stealing money and lost respect. The situation turned bad enough driving Kasturi to think of even killing him. Both battled depression at different levels.

Today, the same mother-son duo want the society to know the good results of treatment and patience. The most important lesson I learnt, says Kasturi, is that drug addiction is a disease. "It is frustrating to love someone with this disease. But the only way to help addicts is to treat them as sick and not bad."

Sundar has defeated his guilt and the shame of being manhandled by goondas, beaten by the police and hounded by college ruffians. He realises how he robbed his family of money, peace and happiness. "That time I really did not want to see what I was doing. It was an illusion. I was always on a high."

The problem was Sundar found it easier to get his hands on drugs than his mother found information for his treatment. Much of the credit for Sundar's recovery goes to his sister who happened to attend an awareness camp organised by M.S.Chellamuthu Trust and Research Foundation in her college. She was the one who convinced and influenced her brother and mother to attend the two weeks de-addiction camp at MSC Trust in 2004.

Sundar did not cooperate initially and was put under intense management therapy programme. He had multiple relapses and was under acute treatment for three years for substance induced psychosis.

Says Kasturi, he became suspicious and always feared people were following him to kill him and would keep the lights switched on 24 hours a day. "I sensed he was powerless over his condition. I could no longer blame him." She knew her son would recover only with her constant support and help. "Though the condition a youth brings upon himself is a matter of choice, the real criminals are the ones who make these substances available easily and lure young people into ruining their lives. They need to be punished," she says.

Coupled with MSC Trust's intervention in terms of guidance, counselling and medication, Kasturi's sincere attempts at affection, encouragement and consolation to her son changed the situation in 2008.

Put on maintenance dose, he first found a job with a printing press and then in a TASMAC shop. In 2010, he was taken in as an office assistant in V Sky Computers earning a monthly salary of Rs.4,500. Here he has been recognised for his hard work, sincerity and honesty and such is his reputation now that the company trusts him for official financial transactions.

"I have given a lot of hurt and pain to my family. Only now life is beginning to progress slowly, " he says.

There is a lot of positivity in my office. Everybody appreciates and encourages me, says Sundar, who now dreams of starting a computer centre of his own and also become a lawyer one day.

And his mother has taken on the role of a counsellor spreading the message through Chellamuthu Trust that there should be no stigma attached to the disease of addiction. Having delayed her son's treatment due to lack of awareness and ignorance, she now briefs other parents struggling with addiction.

Theirs is an ideal case, of a son who returned home and a mother who never gave up hope.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to soma.basu@thehindu.co.in to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)