Pen on Paper 18.11.2019

Empire of dirt

BY Asif

There is a thin line between drug use and abuse! A young boy shares his heart wrenching story about his battle with drugs.

Began writing this article to explain who I am, what I had and what I had lost; why I did the things that I did, and how I fell into the same hole over and over again. But I realised that this was just a small part of a very big picture. This is more about ‘us’ rather than just little old me. This is about something that is destroying our country from within. This is about the only thing that both the poor and the rich share: drug and alcohol abuse.

I have been asked to talk or write about the reality of our country and how it is being eaten from within. I have never really had the guts to come out and speak openly as I belong to a certain class of the Pakistani elite ( naam kay hee buss). The reason I write this now is because I wish someone who actually understood this pain had written this article when I was so lost. Although I remain anonymous, I hope you read this and something within suddenly lights up.

Welcome to our great country, Pakistan. This is a country that will eat you alive and spit you out just after filling your senses with the sweetest desires and a million and one promises. You want power? You have to sell the damn country. You want to be popular? You better be ready to give up everything that you have. You want money? You really have to sell your soul or sometimes even yourself. This is a country where anything  goes but everyone pretends that no one knows. God help you if anyone finds out that you’re in pain, lost and broken. There is no one coming to pick you up and teach you how to walk all over again. Reality bites, true, but down here reality bites and is the king of deception. I write this not because I have a PhD in psychology, I write because I am the guy that got eaten alive and spat out. I am one of so many and this is my story.

I have spent most of my life in the city of Lahore. I went to the best schools and made many friends. I had a relatively normal childhood and wasn’t concerned with who was rich and who was poor. I had been stuck in my own personal cocoon, dying to come out into the world and become king of it all. One thing I realised while growing up was that in order to survive in this place I needed to be strong, stronger than anyone around me. I fell in love quite early in my life and by early I mean just as I hit puberty. It was time for me to come out of my cocoon and face the world. I was excited and couldn’t wait to fly so very high. I was ready to say ‘Hello Lahore!’ but just as I came out I was bombarded with the ‘cool bomb’ of smoke and alcohol. I had no experience with these things.

I realised that I would never get the attention I wanted by being the kid who got pushed around. Then and there I decided I was going to win this war and be feared rather than afraid. I was a kid in a vicious city. Only two things could happen now – eat or be eaten. I decided to eat. I surrounded myself with friends and decided to lead rather than be led. In the beginning I faced all sorts of competition: bullies, gangsters and little wannabe politicians. But I was good at this;  it was in my blood and I cleared them from my way in no time. Lahore became my world and I was on my way to the top. I had the most beautiful girlfriend, powerful friends, powerful parents and now a powerful reputation. I thought I had it all. Popularity and fear were my weapons and I was unstoppable.

Here, entered a so-called friend. A friend that introduced me to something I had never faced before: drugs. Although I was an early smoker and would have the occasional teenage drink, drugs were not a part of my life. The first time I tried dope was the beginning of it all. The problem was that I thought myself to be invincible and unbreakable.

Islamic Republic of Pakistan would show me its true face as I became a member of the secret society. The one so many of us belong to but none of us ever speak of. I had made a deal with the devil and it was time to start paying up.

At that time parties only took place on weekends and were thrown in someone’s house. To throw a party all you really needed was a lot of alcohol, a dance floor and enough contacts among the opposite sex. My girlfriend wouldn’t get out much because of her conservative background so I would just party by myself and quite often be seen dancing  by myself. I had all my best friends around me, friends that would supposedly die for me. It wasn’t long before my excessive lust for partying, drinking and smoking started to affect my life. In retrospect, I don’t even remember what I enjoyed so much. I was always a bright student, but school did not matter to me anymore.

My only priority became getting high and being powerful. By the age of eighteen I was officially a name to fear and, for the ones I victimised, despise. I still had a lot of friends and a relationship with a girl that I was madly in love with, somehow hanging by a thread. I was getting reckless and the consequences of my actions were of no importance to me. I didn’t care what anyone thought as no one was important enough to matter and no one was strong enough  to raise any questions. I destroyed everything that came in my way but soon everything was about to change. I was to face the only enemy strong enough to bring me down, a battle I was too proud to back down from. I only wish now I had stopped then.

When the partying got too much and the drinking started to show in my daily life, a few people tried to warn me but I didn’t care. I wish I had listened then but life is just not like that. I still remember, it was the month of Ramadan and although any sort of substance-induced high is forbidden in Islam and our country, drinking is especially forbidden in the Holy month. The hypocrisy of our country is that in Ramadan people usually don’t drink, or party but start doing drugs. The bootleggers go into hibernation and the drug dealers come out to play. When I got desperate for a drink and didn’t know what to do, that same kind friend offered his help. The help came in the form of a cigarette that didn’t quite burn like a cigarette and didn’t quite smell like dope.

With my ego still in full throttle, I didn’t care what it was as long as it took  the edge off. This was my first Heroin cigarette. A drug that so many of us think is only for the poor under the bridges. The feeling I got from this was something I still can’t explain. Only someone who does it can know. It was a feeling of extreme bliss. The trees became greener and roads became cleaner. The air smelt fresher and language became more poetic. Before this I could handle anything but after this my life changed. I didn’t get hooked on Heroin just yet, even though most people say if you try it once it’s over. Well it wasn’t over for me, I had to be different, I had to be one step ahead.

Ramadan passed and I was drinking and smoking again. I was partying more and more and trying everything new. Just drinking or smoking didn’t cut it anymore and Lahore had begun to change. New drugs started to pop up. Ecstasy and cocaine started to be the new things to do with alcohol only as an appetizer. These weren’t so cheap to do so only the rich would indulge and offer a line or two to those who couldn’t afford it. I fell in love with ecstasy and coke. A friend and I would be at every party with lots of cocaine for ourselves and to share too. Everything was just so much more fun that it became a part of our regular hangouts. We felt like kings. The feeling was just insane. In a second you would turn from a frog into a prince. The only problem was everyone else still saw you as a frog. I was no frog so for me it was like being king of the world and Pakistan was just a small piece of my domain.

In all this mayhem, I lost the one girl that I had always been with. This was it. The bomb had exploded right on my head and there was no coming back. Before this we were having issues, but I never thought anything could make her leave. She was the first real thing I really lost and now I faced a pain that no amount of alcohol could take away. No number of joints made me forget and no amount of cocaine or ecstasy helped me move on. I fell into major depression and had fits of rage. I would make a fool of myself at  every party by getting so drunk that I wouldn’t even know what I was doing to the extent of beating up random people trying to take out my frustration. Screaming and shouting and at times crying and howling. Everything I saw myself as had now been shattered even in my own reflection. I begged her to come back but I became so pitiful that she would never see me as the same strong man again, no one would.

You might think what happened next is because this girl left me and that became the reason for my complete downfall but no, I must make this clear that much before her I had dug my own grave. The day I tried to get external bliss was the day I became unable to handle such a situation. There were other people too who had lost the loves of their lives and moved on after maybe getting drunk a few times and spending a little time being sad and low, but for me it was different. This is where the difference between someone who is prone to be an addict and someone who is just a user comes in. It’s a very thin line between drug and alcohol use and drug and alcohol abuse; so thin that to this day no doctor or scientist in the world can tell you if you will be an addict or a user after you try. It’s a game of chance, you either are or you aren’t. I was and I just wasn’t ready to admit it.

By Getty Images

As time went by and the memories of the one I had lost got worse,  nothing seemed to work. I ran into my friend again, the one who had  offered me my first joint and my first Heroin cigarette. I was offered another cigarette of Heroin and promised that this would take all the pain away. I had already made a few deals with the devil before and was paying up in installments so for me it was just one more deal added to the list.  This was the final one and the one that cost me everything. I had sold my soul and taken a puff to sign the deal.

By the time I finished my first Heroin cigarette she was long forgotten. I didn’t care anymore and my life was now in my pocket. I avoided my usual friends and only wanted to meet people I did Heroin with. Heroin sucks you in quietly and deceives you into believing that everything is fine. You only realise the severity of the issue when you look inside your pocket and find an empty folded paper, something we call a poorri. That moment is like all hell has broken loose and nothing in the world matters. I still remember an episode when I didn’t have my car and I needed Heroin fast  and didn’t know how to get to the dealer immediately. My body started to hurt and my vision became blurred. My eyes started to get watery and I just felt like I was being pulled into Satan’s boiling couldron. I tried everything, I called everyone I knew for a ride but nothing worked so I set out on foot in the blazing heat and rushed to the dealer in a rickshaw. I was desperate and the dealer took his good time because they know that the addict is going to wait no matter what. It was their way of establishing the rules: always pay the amount you are asked and get as much as you can because it’s never enough. From a guy that everyone feared- for whom tables were emptied at restaurants- I became a guy who was at the mercy of a two-bit dealer who lived in alleys of old Lahore. 

From then on I was at the dealers every morning with a friend getting my daily dose. My face and body shriveled up and I looked like the walking dead. My mother expressed her concern but I just snapped back at her and told her I was fine. I dropped out of college and went into a spiral of pain, lies and deceit. For a long time I was completely lost and cut off from everything normal. Heroin took me away from my friends and family. All I can tell you is that nothing was ever the same again. It made me beg, lie and steal from those closest to me, something I thought I was incapable of.  I started to hide my stash at home, under the tub in my bathroom, in a bottle full of vitamins and even in my computer case. The guy that did everything so openly was now just a mosquito flying in the shadows, looking for someone’s blood to suck. While I write this and go through all my memories, I can’t help but cry because there is nothing worse than losing everything you loved and remembering every choice that made you lose it.

fter a while my family had no choice but to find professional help for me. I was sent to the most expensive drug rehabilitation centre available. I spent approximately five months there and cleaned myself up. I could go on and on about what they tried to teach us there but the reality is that this is a country of blood suckers and the establishment there was no different. Drugs would be brought in easily as money buys everything and power breaks every rule. The man who owned the place was a millionaire providing his personal services only to the elite and in many ways very intelligently making sure that they would keep coming back to pay around five hundred thousand per month. The place showed me a million new things but also where I would end up next. I wanted to get away from all this insanity. The hardest part was the void in my heart after losing everything, including the drug that made losing everything seem okay.

I didn’t go back to using Heroin, but it became very clear that any drug I tried or any drink I had, I abused. I had no control over my addiction anymore. Everything had now become like Heroin and every high took me one step closer to Heroin. My good friends had now all disappeared and I was now completely alone. Friends whose pain I had made my own when they felt so alone were now too cool to share my pain. If you want to be popular in Lahore, a part of the great society, you can’t be associated with people as helpless as I was. So I cleaned up once again, going through the process of detoxification and came out with a new vision. I was alone and no one would fight my fight for me. I decided to start by changing the way I saw my own reflection. I was a warrior and this war wasn’t quite over yet. I decided to live for my own self and forget about receiving any sympathy. I didn’t want sympathy.

Although we don’t have any real rehabilitation centres, any kind of help is good. You can’t fight a war unless you are clean and free of drugs and alcohol. The war I started to fight was a war I am still fighting to this day. Every morning I wake up and start a new day knowing that I am powerless when it comes to drugs and alcohol,  there is no one to comfort me and so I must take care of myself. Today I don’t have any real friends; they all left a long time ago. I see them on and off at random places but I know they are embarrassed to associate with me. I pray that Allah doesn’t give them the pain I went through and go through every single day. I admit that there are times when I want to reach out to them but I know it is no longer an option. I can only pray that they distance themselves from the sort of life I chose for myself but I know in my heart that even though they abandoned me in my weakest days I would still hold their hand in times of despair.  Most of them are married now and I pray everyday that the Lord keeps their children away from the kind of people that came my way.

I know that my story and my fight against drugs is far from over, but I realise that real friends are almost impossible to have. Everyone has a boiling point and everyone I love goes away. Before I end this article (which has been the most difficult thing for me to write) I would like to make a few things clear. I have referred to the guy who introduced me to my first joint and first Heroin cigarette as a friend as he too was an addict and  sadly is no longer in this world. He was shot dead by a dealer he owed money to. We were a total of six guys who did Heroin together and only two remain. One is married and has completely sobered up. I am the second; sobered up and trying to make a place for myself in this vicious world. We try and stay away from each other as seeing one another only brings back the memories we try so hard to forget. I lost another friend very recently, a guy with a huge heart who unfortunately couldn’t survive this war. We are all in our twenties now and this is no time to die. These guys weren’t bad people; they were just lost, like so many of us are. People who needed help, perhaps a shoulder to cry on or a hand to desperately hang on to. They were the sons of their mothers and fathers, the hopes and dreams of their families. Some the only hope for their families. They were our brothers, Pakistanis lost in Pakistan.

Salaam and may God always be with you!

A Friend