An article of mine that was published in Dawn Magazine on August 3rd, 2008.
If you look at Rameez now, you would never guess that he has had a long affair with drugs. He wears slick suits, designer eyewear and works for a conservative international bank.
Rameez spent his late teens and early 20s in drug-addled haze. He started doing drugs during his GCSE days in Islamabad. Initially he did soft drugs and did not get caught so the pattern continued when he moved to the US for his degree. It was much later in life when he nearly died of an overdose that he decided to quit. This is his story, as narrated by him.
A friend’s older brother who was studying in the US was home for vacations and introduced us to cocaine. At the time he told us that it was the real thing from Columbia. Getting drugs in Islamabad was not that easy 12 years ago, or may be we were not resourceful enough to know the right people but for the next six months, most of our waking hours were spent planning ways to get the best stuff at minimum cost. As we couldn’t afford cocaine and did not know how to procure it, we resorted to good ol’ charas or cannabis as it is known in the West.
When I started doing drugs, I thought I had changed – for the better. I used to be quite an angry and unhappy teenager or at least that’s what my mom used to say. My attitude changed after I started taking drugs, I was happier, spent time with my parents without getting into arguments, and did not pick fights with my younger sisters. I would not go out as much but stayed cooped up in my room with my friends doing drugs and my parents would be happy that I am home, no matter what I did in there; it could not be as bad as what I would get into if I was out on the streets. As my grades were always good, my parents never suspected anything unusual. At times, I think they perhaps chose not to suspect anything because it is impossible to miss the acrid smell of cannabis.
I went to California afterwards for my degree and tried just about every drug under the sun. I started off with marijuana which is herbal cannabis and soon moved to hashish. I was also part of the rave scene in Los Angeles so popping Ecstasy at parties was also part of the routine. Much to my parent’s chagrin, I decided to take a year off after graduation and do absolutely nothing. I moved up north, worked as a waiter and hung out with what most people call dubious characters. I was the wine waiter and had access to all kinds of liquor at discounted prices so I would mix drugs with alcohol and take whatever came my way. I also started taking heroine. I spent a year like this; living in a commune, working for about 25 hours a week and wasting the rest of my time in drug induced lethargy. My parents had no idea where I was, as I moved cities without taking any money from them. I called them twice in 16 months to let them know that I was alive.
Things changed for me that spring. I overdosed. I spent a day in a pool of my own urine and vomit. According to the doctors, it was a miracle that I did not go into cardiac arrest. I had abused my body far too long with so many substances in my blood that it was difficult for doctors to distinguish what it was that I had been taking. I spent three weeks in hospitals and was in and out of rehabilitation centres for the next two years. I was doing okay, but did not contact my family. I guess I feared rejection by them. Two years later when I was given a clean bill of health, I packed my bags and moved back to Pakistan. To my surprise, my family accepted me with open arms and like any good family, did not ask why and where had I vanished for three long years.
While talking to me, Rameez said he never gave too much thought to drugs when he started taking them and believes that the typical “just say no” lectures do not work with youngsters. “They never have and they never will,” said Rameez. Another factor that he believes contributed to his drug addiction is lack of communication with his parents and school authorities. No one at school or at home ever talked about what can happen if you take drugs and most people who start off rely on other people’s experiences about a particular drug. So you have teenagers who are either being told by people their age or older ones that popping a pill can take you to heaven and back while no authoritative figure is ever willing to discuss it with you. Young people are curious and want to try out new things just so that they can boast about it. Peers generally do not talk about the possible dangers of it.
Rameez does not know if talking to a counsellor or his parents would have helped him to say no to drugs when he was young but he strongly believes that most parents go into denial and that does not help matters at all. The only time that his dad ever spoke to him about his drug addiction and the three years of absence, he also categorically asked Rameez never to talk about his experience. “After putting them through so much trouble, this is the least I can do,” he said.
Rameez was blessed to get his life back but not everyone is either smart or lucky to take the reins back. It is time we came up with more innovative, practical and effective ways to get the message across, just saying no to drugs has not worked in the past nor will it work in the future.
The names of people and some of the locations have been changed for privacy.