I learnt how to smoke cigarettes from my friends at school. I was living in a Gulf country with my family and was a good student. I was one of the top 10 in preparatory school, but before high school I began smoking hash. Why? I lived all my life in that Gulf country and my parents were focused on their work. My father is an engineer who used to smoke cigarettes and my mother worked at a university. I was the eldest son and the first grandchild, so I was spoiled and was always on the streets without any supervision. Without supervision and with a lot of money, I continued smoking hash throughout my high school years.
In my last year of high school, I did not attend most of my exams and went on smoking binges, or I would go into the exam but not write anything. The result was that I failed even though my parents were not discouraged and wanted to help me. But I was only focused on drugs and how to get money to buy them.
Days of darkness
At a party, I met an Egyptian girl who came to the Gulf country when her father, a physician, brought her over to take her away from the bad influence of friends back home. When she saw me and my friends smoking hash, and because I was known to have access to dealers, she asked me to get heroin for her.
Dealers were imprisoned and I would arrange with them through telephone to receive narcotics after I made money transfers to the dealers. They would call back that the money was received and let me know where to go to pick them up. The police discovered this scheme so we changed tactics. I would send money via prepaid phone cards, and they would leave the package somewhere where I could pick it up. Then I would leave the money in a public place, and then told where the drop-off would be. I don’t see them and they don’t see me.
If I didn’t leave the drop-off spot, they would call me and ask why I hadn’t left yet because the police are very vigilant in that country, and they could be watching me. The dealer did not break any deals because he needs my money like I need his drugs. Heroin is more addictive than hash and I became addicted to it for more than 15 years.
Curiosity killed the cat
I never liked or wanted to try heroin.
When the physician’s daughter asked me to score heroin for her, she was very happy with the drugs I got her because it was of better quality than what she had in Egypt.
After five or six days she asked me to buy more heroin, and I got some from a friend who, until then, I did not know also abused drugs.
I went to her house to deliver the goods; her father was at work. She asked me to try it. Since heroin is administered differently than hash and I am curious and like to try anything, I did. I continued supplying her with heroin for five or six months and we would shoot up together. She always had money and was always looking for me to buy drugs for her. I would shoot up with her every day until she flew back to Egypt.
All this time, after three years of hash and one year of heroin, no one in my family noticed anything, except my mother whom I heard say, “This boy must be taking something”. Mother’s intuition. My father and uncle denied the possibility.
Since I only have a high school diploma, I did odd jobs including data entry. I did not last in any job longer than one year because of my habit. Hash was readily available and we smoked 10 to 20 cigarettes a day, and when I started taking heroin I had the telephone numbers of dealers but it was very difficult to score for myself and others.
My first overdose was in the car by myself but I was able to revive myself.
The family finds out
The second overdose happened when I came home and passed out in front of the family and almost died. They took me to the hospital and there the doctor told my mother that I am a heroin user. My mother telephoned one of her friends in Egypt and drove me straight from the hospital to the airport.
I arrived at our family home in Alexandria at noon by myself. I was 30 years old. I did not know anyone. My parents did not see me in Alex but my mother was suspicious that something was going on. She was right. Two months later, I found out where to score heroin in Egypt from my friends in the Gulf country.
I had about $35 (LE200) which my mother gave me when I was leaving to Egypt. I went to a coffee shop near my house and met a man who was 10 years older than me. And I knew he was an addict. Addicts can recognise each other by the look in their eye and manner of speech. You can tell when they are high, and can tell when they are in withdrawal because they are jittery, anxious and upset.
This man was able to supply me with heroin. He was a drug dealer in Italy and had gone to jail there.
My mother took me to a renowned hospital in Egypt for treatment and paid a lot of money. I recovered from my addiction. Fifty-five days after leaving the hospital, I returned to the Gulf country, in 2010. The entire family was there and were ecstatic to see me. I was always the favourite child.
However, because I am weak willed, when my friend asked me if I had kicked the habit, he encouraged me and I shot up again. I fell off the wagon and began losing weight. My mother was very focused on me and we returned to Egypt once more. Within six weeks she gathered all the information about treatment and checked me into several rehab centres. I recovered for six months and another time for two months and another for nine months.
Throughout this time, recovery was successful as long as I followed up, played sports and participated in recovery programmes. I relapsed with a friend from Cairo. I went through six or eight times of recovery and relapse.
A way out
The decision to stop abusing drugs comes either because you are scared of dying or because your family takes the decision for you to recover. Personally, I decided to stop because I hit rock bottom and my grandmother, mother and aunt threw me out of the house. They told me they didn’t want to know me anymore and to never ask them for anything.
At the time, I had stolen three phones from the home and sold them to buy drugs.
Recovery, rehabilitation and treatment
After I left home I struggled on the streets and had to sell my cell phone. I did not seek out my addict friends because addicts only care for themselves and where their next fix will come from. When I ran out of money, I called my aunt and I heard my mother tell her: “Ask him what he wants to do. Either treatment or nothing. That’s all I will do.”
She was very upset because she had spent more than LE100,000 on my treatment, and she wanted an end to my addiction. I told my aunt about Maamoura Hospital where treatment costs only LE1. My friend had told me about the treatment programme there.
I met Dr Ahmed Abdel-Fadil at Maamoura Hospital for the first time and he told me not to stay there. He said I should go to Al-Azeema rehab in Marsa Matrouh. He said it was a new and clean centre for drug addiction and rehabilitation which would be more suitable.
I told the doctor “I take 5-6g a day of heroin”, which is a high dose and costs a lot of money. He gave me treatment for 11 days, 27 pills a day. Since the detox section was not yet opened at Al-Azeema, I spent my withdrawal period at home. Most of that time I was asleep and did not feel any withdrawal symptoms.
After that I went to Al-Azeema and spent three months there. The day there began at 8am with chores which included cleaning the chalet which had three bedrooms with two patients in each. We then had breakfast, then meditation, followed by noon prayers and then group therapy, followed by classes on drug addiction and treatment.
After that we would have lunch, followed by socialising time, then rest and then treatment through action (wood shop, illiteracy lessons, gym, billiards, music, weaving, table tennis). After that, we would go to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings where patients meet. The day would end with dinner and evening exercise playing football, dominos, backgammon, or playstation.
Determination and decision
Since I relapsed several times, I was very worried that if I failed this time and left, no one would ever help me. I would remember the years of drug abuse and struggles and tell myself that I must stop. Relapse is a choice: either call the dealer or call for help.
Since I am a very committed person, I followed the rules and didn’t make any problems. I was one of the first to recover at the centre.
When I was discharged, I was an outpatient at Maamoura Hospital three days a week. I went to the hospital for meditation, group therapy, then blood work. I was dedicated and did not miss a single day.
All this time, I had a goal with the doctors and my mentor that I would continue in this field and work with them at Al-Azeema. Since I tried everything except being a counselor to drug addicts, I decided to help people.
I work as an assistant supervisor and spend all my time with patients and help them with any problems. If something is too difficult for me to handle, I refer them to the supervisor or doctors. I wake patients up and send them to bed. I often feel I need more hours in the day. It is hard work to take responsibility for the illness of every patient.
When I go home for holidays and see an addict, I tell them, “Sorry, I’m in recovery but if you want any help I can help you.” Any time off work, I spend at the gym, at home or coffee shops with people who do not abuse drugs. I will begin attending addiction treatment classes.
I am also looking for a wife. I will tell her my story and let her make up her own mind.
My story began 20 years ago between addiction, relapse and recovery. I was in a coma. I have seen a lot in my life and have imagined a lot. There are things I remember and things I don’t. There are people I met whom I remember and many I don’t remember.
Addiction is similar for everyone. Two of my friends died of overdoses. I was married and divorced in less than one year because my wife refused to continue in the marriage when she found out I was a heroin addict.
Thank God I didn’t die or go to jail. Thanks to my family, friends, doctors and specialists. Apologies to my family because I really hurt them, and to myself because when I was young I wanted to be a police officer, but now I am a treatment officer.
Words of wisdom
Bad company is the core of addiction. You can judge a book by its cover. Families must keep an eye on their children, the company they keep and things they do. Parents should not force their children to do things, and make sure they have a strong bond and connection.
The reason I lost my way is because I was always out of the house, and my father was never close to me.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly