My War – Part 1: Swimming in Addiction

Read the second part here, “Part 2: Recovery and Relapse

Read the final part here, “Part 3: Lifelong Recovery

Why Share This Story?

I share my story in the hopes that it could serve as a lesson for others to avoid the same mistakes I made, and to create opportunities where my experiences may help.

I also share my story that it could help others avoid picking up in the first place, or if they’re not deep in yet, inspire them to stop before it’s too late. Most of all, my story is for those addicts heavy in addiction. I tell them, “YES, there is hope. YES, you can actually live an amazing life without drugs.”

I lost a huge portion of my life in terms of time, resources, relationships, lost opportunities, and other things beyond measure. I also should have died several times. I simply want others to learn from my experiences.

For whatever reason, God stayed with me, even when I shunned Him. He protected me from the worst of my actions, even when I blamed my ills on Him. And when I did start to wake up, He pushed me ten steps forward every time I attempted to stumble ahead.

It is because of Him, as well as others like my wife, in-laws, parents, and other great people I met through addiction & recovery that I am still here today, living a life of purpose, fathering my children, and enjoying life with my beautiful, wise, irreplaceable wife and soulmate (may the Lord protect all of them).

As the Pastor Rick Warren says,

While it is wise to learn from experience, it is wiser to learn from the experience of others.

I beg you to learn from my experiences, of which the highlights are all-too-similar for many facing addiction, especially in the way I started and progressed.

How My Addiction Started

The first drug I tried, like countless others, was smoking marijuana. There’s good reason marijuana is called the gateway drug. I was around 18 years old living away from my parents (from the early age of 16). Although not the fault of my parents at all, they weren’t able to stay near me at that time. We were all living overseas for a long stretch, but I moved back to my hometown of Dearborn by myself to continue my college education.

So, one day, I decided to try marijuana.

Why?

I was working at a gas station selling gas, food, and drug paraphernalia to smokers daily. For a straight year, many in the Detroit neighborhood where I worked kept trying to sell it to me although I never, ever thought of partaking. I kept hearing about weed in music. I saw it in movies, shows, and even heard of admirable celebrities that turned out to be smoking it. Mainstream media and culture had planted the seed in my head. But the trigger was something else.

Right before I started marijuana, I had fallen deeply in love with a girl for the first time in my life. But it didn’t work out and I lost her. I was distraught. I was also working long hours, studying, away from my family. And so I looked for something to fill the void. It was when the relationship with my first love ended that I thought about trying it.

And so I tried it. Just for the sake of trying it. Just to experiment. I was bored and lonely after all. Yet I absolutely hated it that first time. It was a horrible experience.

I thought my heart would burst through my chest. I thought I was going crazy. I was out of it. I felt like I was dying. I completely regretted it. And I vowed to never, ever do it again.

Fast forward some time later. I was still recovering from losing my first love and looking to fill the void. So I rushed to find another girl. And, as fate would have it, that girl turned out to be a daily smoker. So even though I absolutely hated it the first time I tried it, I ended up smoking yet again! Not because I wanted to. But somehow, I did not want to disappoint her. Peer pressure and the fear of being alone overpowered my fear of the drug. So I did it again.

And this time, my body reacted a bit better to it, as if it eased into it. It calmed me down and made a lot of things livelier. It helped me to live completely in the moment and to forget my worries. I was hooked from that day.

How My Addiction Progressed: Experimentation and Tolerance

From that moment, I began smoking on an almost daily basis. My obsession with Marijuana grew quickly. But the problem was more than that. This phase in my addiction was also marked by heavy experimentation. My skewed thought process kept saying, “If I like Marijuana this much, what else is out there?” I had absolutely no idea the hell I would get myself into.

So along with Marijuana, I experimented a wide variety of other drugs. DXM early on. Ecstasy. Cocaine powder. Amphetamines. Barbiturates. Sedatives like Xanax. And opiates just to name the main ones.

My skewed thought process kept saying, “If I like Marijuana this much, what else is out there?” I had absolutely no idea the hell I would get myself into.

Out of this experimentation, it was opiates that clawed its way into my soul. I quickly became addicted. So I began mixing marijuana and opiates such as Vicodin and oxycodone very heavily, not knowing that tolerance would become the ruin of me. I started with Codeine, a couple pills here and there. That progressed daily, and once Codeine stopped working, I stepped it up to Vicodin until I was taking about 20-30 pills every single day.

I was working incessantly just to feed my habit. I started skipping classes. I needed 7 days of work to buy my daily doses of weed and Vicodin. I thought of quitting every single day. I knew I got myself in trouble. I went to the hospital several times from severe stomach pains. Not only did I come very close to getting liver dialysis several times (a horrendously painful and extremely long process that cleans the liver from toxins), but I was about to permanently damage my liver.

However, I was afraid to stop since I would hear about how withdrawals were really bad. I also would experience a taste of these withdrawals when I would go a couple days without dosing. I would get very nauseous. My body would become achy and tired. I’d become feverish and extremely depressed.

When I first started with pills, even though I was skipping classes and working like a hound, it numbed me too much to care. But as addicts know all too well, the giddiness of drugs doesn’t last long at all. It is so ephemeral and incredibly short. It quickly becomes something you need just to feel normal and stop your body from going through withdrawals.

Lucky To Be Alive … Yet Still Not Grateful

A 2-pill-a-day habit turned into 20-30 pills just to avoid withdrawals. I was knee deep into my addiction. I wasn’t even happy when I used anymore. I would simply use to avoid withdrawals, to feel normal (‘normal’ meaning not going through withdrawals).

I tried going to rehab several times but I didn’t get much clean time before I picked up again. When I did get clean, I would swear to myself that I’d only use ‘responsibly’ not knowing that this is not possible.

During a period spanning several years, I went into in-patient rehabilitation many times, at least about 6 times, maybe more since I honestly lost count.

The first couple times in a rehab program, I left rehab after about 30 days and I felt amazing. But my pride would get the best of me. Instead of staying clean, I told myself I could pick up but ‘manage’ it this time. Boy was I fooling myself. As they tell you in rehab, when you relapse after being clean, you’ll pick up almost exactly where you left off, in terms of the phase of your addiction as you come into rehab. It’s strange but it’s absolutely true.

And despite my efforts at destroying myself, God continued to protect me. Despite denying Him, He continued to love me and protect me from the results of my own actions. I remember one time, I had acquired so many different types of pills, thinking myself lucky. I began mixing opiates with downers like Xanax and barbiturates, not knowing the immense danger. I came close to dying several times. My mother and brothers would find my stashes, throw away my pills, call the ambulance for me before my breathing stopped.

One day, I woke up discovering that I had taken the entire bottle of sleeping pills. If I had more pills that night, I would’ve continued taking them without even knowing how much I’d taken since the barbiturates would completely wipe my memory. I should’ve very easily died on several occasions. Another time, I would’ve overdosed had my own mother not found my stash. There were at least ten different times where I should have died. But for one reason or another, God kept protecting me. He truly did – and continues to – love me. He has always been merciful towards me. But I just didn’t know it at the time. I simply thought I was ‘lucky.’

So I continued to go into rehab, and even though I had the intention of getting clean, I did not want to stop using. I simply wanted to find a way to ‘manage’ even though I kept failing at this task, not knowing that it simply is not possible.

Replacing Addiction with … Nothing Else

Although I kept trying to get clean, I never tried replacing my addiction with something positive. And this was to my detriment since it is a vital factor in recovery.

The drugs killed my ambition at that time since I lost motivation to continue school. I also never followed a 12-step program. I never went to NA/AA meetings. I never tried growing my relationship with God. I was blind to His mercy, blind to His love. I didn’t bother to conduct my daily prayers as required in Islam. If I had bothered to do any of these things at that time, I would probably have saved myself. But I felt too proud to go to NA/AA. I told myself that I was not an addict. I was better than the people at those meetings. I also felt I did not need God. I was my own man. I certainly was not one bound by rules and limits. I was my own God (may He forgive me for saying that). Or I would just think that God is for older people, that I was young and was entitled to enjoy life, not knowing that it was all to my own detriment.

I felt that recovery was in my own hands, when in reality it all begins with God.

The Jump to Heroin

Up until this point, around 2009, I finally graduated with my Associate’s degree out of Henry Ford College and transferred over to the University of Michigan Dearborn. It took my more than 6 years to finish 2 years of college.

I knew my addiction to opiates was not sustainable. I was doing 30+ pills of Vicodin or Oxycodone a day. I was fearful that I’d damage my liver for good. I was also working non-stop to barely make it but even that was not enough. I even began doing underhanded, illegal activities to feed my habit. I was extremely lucky I was not arrested or caught during that time.

In addition, the pills simply stopped working to make me happy so long ago. They simply subsided my withdrawals but did nothing more. I was depressed, anxious, shameful, and broke. I had arrived at a fork in the road.

I knew about Heroin. I was told, and tricked into thinking, that you needed a lot less of it to give you an immensely stronger opiate feeling. This is only true for the first handful of times before tolerance builds up (and it skyrockets extremely quickly with Heroin).

Still, I was scared of Heroin. My mind would play back the tons of movies and shows I watched seeing Heroin addicts doing anything and everything to reach their state of oblivion, lying like zombies on the floor, drooling, needles hanging out of their arms, and overdosing themselves death. I was scared shitless of the stuff.

But now my skewed mind began to tell me that if I were to continue on the road of addiction, that Heroin was the most efficient means. With $10 I was told (by other addicts), I would have a bag that would last me days. I tricked myself into thinking it was a better alternative than the 40 pills I was currently doing. To me, it was either going down the road of heroin, or getting completely clean. Getting clean, I thought, was too difficult. The devil tricked me and I chose the former.

So I began doing heroin. Since I never shot it, I was able to do it anywhere and everywhere. I remember using at University before classes, at the university library, at home, in bathrooms visiting stores, anywhere and everywhere.

On the other hand, what I thought would be a cheaper habit turned out to be super duper expensive, even worse than the 50+ pill a habit. Boy did the Devil play a number on me.

And so, my tolerance grew super quickly, and just like with the pills, I got to a point where I wasn’t happy doing it, but I needed it to simply avoid withdrawals. As any Heroin addict knows, the withdrawals for Heroin is on an entirely different level than other substances. They are pure hell.

As soon as I wake up the next day, I begin getting anxious, having extremely bad flu-like symptoms, feeling sick, nauseous and vomiting. I become melancholic and obsessive. Every bone in my body would physically ache to my core, unimaginably worse than with pills. As soon as I’d wake up the next day from using the night before, I could think of absolutely nothing except how to get my next dose to make that pain go away.

As any Heroin addict knows, the withdrawals for Heroin is on an entirely different level than other substances. As soon as I’d wake up the next day from using the night before, I could think of absolutely nothing except how to get my next dose to make that pain go away.

Basically, my reason for existing became finding a way to avoid the hellish withdrawals. I became a slave in every sense of the word. I was miserable. I was depressed when using and melancholic when withdrawing. What a place to be, a place I would never wish even upon my own enemies.

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

During this phase, I simply existed. I was working valet and stopped attending classes for my final year in undergrad University. I worked long hours just to support my habit. But even that was not enough. I got to a point where I needed at least $200-$300 a day to simply avoid withdrawals. Since I’d already burnt my bridges, I went through with the only alternative I had. I became a thief. I stole from my hard-working colleagues. I stole from family. I stole from cars I parked during valet shifts. I stole from my boss. I stole from my brothers. I even stole from my poor mother (gratefully, they’ve all forgiven me, long after I’d gotten clean).

But after I squeezed all those stolen melons, I came to my rock bottom. I decided to forge a check from checkbooks people left in their cars while valeting. I knew I would get caught. But I simply had no choice so I thought. I was in too deep and was afraid of getting clean. My withdrawals hurt too much. So I wrote myself a check and went into the bank to cash it. It wasn’t long before I received a call from the police department investigating the issue.

I remember the day I received the phone call from the police detective asking me to come into the station for a few ‘questions’ about a check. I told them I’d see them that day. But I didn’t show. I thought my life was over. As a result of my irrational fear, I decided to actually flee the country that day and begin anew in Lebanon (even though my issue was not that serious, especially as a first-time offender). I was so scared that I would spend the next decade in jail for forging a check. I was also sick and tired of my addiction. I wanted a blank slate.

So I admitted my addiction situation to some trusted people and before any criminal charges were pressed, these trusted people helped me get a ticket to Beirut, Lebanon where I would go to rehab and start a new slate.

And so I went to Beirut.

But it turned out addiction was not done with me yet. Relapse would only come back to hit me extremely hard. And this time, the victim wasn’t just my own self, but it was also my wife and newborn daughter.

To be continued in Part 2 ….

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