The advent of my illness or the first major symptom was perhaps a suicide attempt around late 1999. I was 19 at that time. I think I was depressed for a while. By that time, I had become a social outcast. By the age of 12, I had started isolating myself from my family. I spent more time outside the house than inside. I had no connections with anyone in my family. Home felt very abrasive and uncomfortable, so I geared my life towards the outside. This of course came with its own problems. People were asking where I was all the time, so my parents had to lie to pacify them. Or people began asking me of what was going on.
I began to adopt the role of the pitiful victim, someone who is hard-done by life. That became my script. The bechara, as they call it in Urdu. My disease progressed after I got some sympathy after my suicide attempt – I decided to play that card. I was a very risky person, climbing dangerous places, just doing a lot of dangerous things in my life. I did these things to make myself feel better about the pitiful existence I had, to cover the reality of my situation. These risks led me into anti-social behaviour. My first anti-social relationship was with a gang which was appropriately titled ‘bad-boys’ – we were big in Karachi in the late 1990s and early 2000s. All we did was to create problems for people, socially and individually. Just a lot of violence, vandalism and public damage.
The journey evolved from the suicide attempt, to victim hood, becoming a bully myself and going out into society as an angry young man, exacting revenge on society. It got worse: I got into substance abuse. I started taking all kinds of drugs and alcohol. Eventually I became a dealer to support my own habit. There were three more suicide attempts between 1999 and 2010, when I think the last suicide attempt occurred. That was rock-bottom for me, that’s when I hit the floor.
The last time I tried to commit suicide, I locked myself in the house. I knew sleeping pills would not work, I knew slitting my wrist would not work. So in my infinite wisdom I decided to starve myself to death and locked myself in the house with nothing but vodka, cigarettes, pot and cocaine. When my brother and friend decided to break down the door and find me, I decided to set the whole house on fire by using the gas supply. They managed to rescue me. I was physically so weak, they easily overpowered me. That’s when it finally hit me that I was in a whole pile of not very pleasant smelling organic substances.
My very dear friends came around and staged an intervention. I realised that what was at first my solution – substances, drugs, escape – had now become my problem. This is when I checked myself into a drug rehabilitation centre for the first time. The centre that I checked myself into was a horrible, aggressive, violent place. The methods that they used were pre-historic: they chained people and punished them by sitting on an inverted school for nine hours a day in the sun.
I came back from there and I didn’t use any drugs for two years simply out of fear. I did not change my friends, my social circles, my habits and activities – and the inevitable relapse occurred in 2013. This was followed by another period of about 15 months and the damage that I have done in the 15 years prior, is nothing compared to the damage that I have done in these 15 months. This is the most horrible period of my life. I found myself on the street. I begged for food and I broke everything that I had ever been able to built. I did things that I thought that I’d never do, I became aggressive and violent to my own, by which I mean my fiancé, my dog, my house (which wasn’t even mine, but those of a generous family that adopted me).
I did not know what to do, how to do and when to do anything. So my impulse just took over completely. If it meant robbing someone, I’d do it. If it meant hitting someone, I’d do it. If it meant cheating someone, I’d do it. During this period, I began to pray because everything else had failed so far. Psychiatric help had failed. Drug rehabilitation had failed. Suicide attempts had failed. A normal lifestyle, which I never had but which I though I had, had failed. So this time I began praying.
At this point, I reached out to a couple of people outside of the country who knew my story. Luckily, they came to the city and asked me to sign up for a therapy course. When I went to register for that course, it so happened that the owner of that institute was also the owner of Pakistan’s best and most effective drug rehabilitation centre. That gentlemen saw me on the stairs – two years before he had already seen me as a recovering drogue addict – and said he wants to have a chat with me. We had a chat, I broke down and started crying like a baby. I told him I did not know what to do, that I had no control over what I did. He heard me out very patiently and then just said one simple statement: ‘Son, you can go down the road you are going down and continue to kill yourself or I have a rehabilitation facility you can check yourself in for a few months.’ That felt so good, and by good I mean I felt heard and understood and cared for. That’s a feeling that I had not felt in a long time, just knowing that there is someone who understood what I was going through, someone with compassion who offered and has the means to help.
I eventually decided to smoke my last joint and walk into a rehabilitation treatment centre. That was 23 March 2014. A month ago from today, I celebrated two years sober, healthy and sane. Life has changed now. It is not a bed of roses – no, it still has thorns. But I am much better prepared to deal with it now that I am sober and sane. My depression, my compensation for depression, which was substance abuse, there are still around, those cravings are still around, those thoughts are still around… but now I have knowledge, information on how to deal with it. This has helped me the most, to know about management techniques, to know that I need to be an active part of a support structure, that I first need to surrender my will and then offer myself to service to others who are suffering.
This is what my life is now, my life is all about service. I want my life to be about this until the day I die. I want my life to be about recovery, rehab and service. I am eternally grateful to all those powers that have helped on this journey, which gives me the strength to now stand up and help others who feel unheard or misunderstood.
One thing I would like to share with others: you are not alone, you are not unique in your suffering. Others also go through this. Others find solace in people like themselves, If you got it, don’t hide it – share it. There are cures, management technique and support out there. Others who suffer need people like us to come forward and speak about it, to challenge stigma and raise awareness.