Monday, 25 January 2016

My Correspondence With a 31-Year-Old Reader Before He Passed Away

A meaningful photo taken from his profile

I have mentioned multiple times those last three years that I often get private messages from strangers. Following Opiated Then Hatin’ It I received several ones, one of which was from Sherif from Egypt. As I always do, and having been in his shoes, I responded to his message; and over the course of two weeks, we shared quite a lot of information in-between us. We discussed addiction, drugs, heroin, quitting, and parents.

I was living in Venice Beach at the time before I went to visit Egypt for six months. We didn’t communicate during this period, though he did cross my mind a few times, which led me to check his profile. In one way, I was curious about what happened to him; in another, I didn’t really understand why I chose to respond to his friend request instead of simply telling him that the "following" option works just as good since 99% of my posts are public, as I reply to most of the friend requests I receive from strangers. I guess I could feel his loneliness and that he truly needed someone to talk to.

In truth, for a while I was wondering if he was a real person or not, and that’s because of the fact that he only had five Facebook friends, myself included. Through this following correspondence, however, I eventually knew I was dealing with a real person with real problems...just as mine once were. 

“Hi there buddy, I’m Sherif from Egypt. I just happened to come by your "Opiated Then Hatin’ It" article. It really blew me away! Mainly, because I’m an addict and I really could relate to almost everything you were saying. Your writing was also, simply put, just beautiful. So I’m writing to you today because I really need your help. I’m 31 years old. Yet, I feel like 70! You know being Ramadan and all I made a promise to myself not to use in this holy month. So I was in the kitchen with my mom and she asked me if I’ll ever be clean and not use again. I couldn’t really answer her because even though I’ve been clean for almost 10 days now, I’m thinking about drugs 24\7. So to cut a long story short, I’m interested on how you overcame this vicious circle of addiction. I would really love to have a sober future. I’ve tried everything. I just end up relapsing every single time. I hope that you would write me back with your experience and any advice would really be much appreciated.”

“Hey there, Sherif

First, it’s cool of you to reach out and that already means you’re a step further ahead.

Second, know that overcoming addiction is one of the most enlightening experiences one could go through. It is a subtle blessing, because it is through which you know and conquer yourself. So look forward to it.

When I quit, I traveled to Canada and was on a med called Subutex (Buprenorphine) for a long time, lowering the dose everyday. Until that one day, I didn’t take anything but a Tylenol Night, then half a pill, then I slept without any aid for the first time in almost 10 yrs.

This was when my new life began.

However, if as you say you’ve been clean for 10 days, then really you’re done with the physical shit. Now, you need to be engaged into something. As a new hobby, a new sport, any novelty would do and bit by bit you’ll be able to see and enjoy that new "sober" reality.

27/06/2015 09:57

“Thanks a lot Omar for taking the time and replying to my message. If one thing, it shows what a respectable person you are... So from what I understand you didn’t follow the 12-step program or any other psychiatric help? Because in my case I went to a psychiatrist and he put me on really strong meds. Like an anti-psychotic, some antidepressant, and two other pills. Some really strong meds and from what I gather some of these pills are really bad for your sex life, plus they also make you gain weight... So should I come off of them? I would like to hear your opinion on that.”

27/06/2015 14:13

Yes. I did it alone. But I’m a rarity and I had to move to the other side of the world for a few years to be able to keep going. My 2 other best friends had to go to NA.

I also did my own research on how to taper down the Subutex.... This was a relatively new drug at the time and doctors didn’t know shit about it, prescribing insane amounts and doses.

To give you an opinion and help you more by diagnosing your case, I need to know more details.

How many years have you been doing it? How do you take it? Did you ever quit during those years, if yes, then for how long? What are the meds they gave you (exact names) and how long have u been on them? And how long have the docs told u to remain on them? Do you mix H with anything else?

Each case is different so that’s why I’m asking. I hope you’re well on Day 11. Keep it up ya batal :}
” —  meaning ‘champ’ in Arabic.

27/06/2015 16:06

“Well, let’s see, I will try and answer your questions as frankly as possible.

I’m 31 now, I started using when I first moved to Egypt, I must have been 20 then. I started with pain killers (mainly Tramadol), Benzos, and hash. When I was 24 I moved to England, London. That was when I graduated to heroin. I stayed there for almost 2 years. Due to a medical condition with my leg, I was given Oxys and Codeine pills, Valium and, needless to say, marijuana too. If I may say so buddy, they were 2 magical years. I was swimming in an ocean of pharmaceuticals! Then I moved back to Cairo. That was when I tried "beesa". It’s a very shitty heroin substitute. I didn’t like it at all. So I stick’d to what I best know. 

Well, I forgot to tell you about my leg. It started when I was 20 too. I had a benign tumor in my left tibia, that is the bone below the knee. Of course been in this God forsaken country I was wrongfully diagnosed and given 30 sessions of radiotherapy and had like 4 or 5 major surgeries here in Egypt. I spent most of my twenties in a cast and 2 crutches. Lonely at home and in pain drugs were my only friend or at least I thought so.

So, to cut a long story short, when I moved to London The doctors confronted me that because of the radiotherapy I now have gangrene and the only treatment would be an above knee amputation. The funny thing was when they told me that I shouldn’t be sad at all because I can sue the doctors back in Egypt and have lots of money. Those naive doctors, they didn’t know that here in Egypt the doctors can make me pay money instead!!!

Needless to say I refused to have the amputation and spent those 2 years trying every drug known to mankind since the dawn of time. That was when the gangrene was going to kill me at the end of the second year. I was literally killing myself but I wasn’t at all ready to meet my maker. I was faced with the hardest decision I had to make in my life amputation or death. I chose to chop off my leg. After the surgery, I had a shit load of prescription and street drugs. Yet, the joy of using was simply just gone. Tried to kill myself but ended up calling 911... I made a horrible decision of going back to Egypt, to be beside my family. 

Back in Egypt, I was and still am employed in a 24\7 drug life...
I am not blaming it all on those fuckers labelled doctors but that is simply how I started my downfall... 

My dad passed away after having a stroke. I’m now living with my mother and 3 sisters; a doctor, a teacher, and the youngest is still studying. I didn’t do anything since then. I didn’t even finish my college degree. I refuse to work or do anything in my life. Other drug addicts work or hangout. Me, I just buy enough drugs that would last me for a month, and lock myself up in my room living in solitude. Sorry I can see that I’m babbling here...

I tried to quit more than I can remember. However, like everything else rehab and detox places here in Egypt is just a 'SABOOBA' — money. 

My mother must have spent more than 70,000 E.P on hospitals and halfway houses opened by ex-users who want to make money on the misery of other addicts! I’m sure you know this country. The longest period off the drugs was when I did quit for 3 months. I found myself without a job, friends, or life. I was clean but still locked up in this room of mine with a shit load of medication. Needless to say, I relapsed again.

I’m now on Risperdal, trileptal, Biperidine, Achtenon, and Chlorpromazine Hydrochloride - Neurazine. I’ve been on these drugs for a month now.

Basically the doc says that my mind is deranged and I’ve to stay on these drugs for a year or so...

I rarely leave home, unless it’s that time of the month and I need to score. Or I’ve a docs appointment. I also rarely use my prosthetic leg, I just use my crutches. Sorry, for all that writing, I guess that I just miss communicating with someone.”

28/06/2015 13:04

“For communicating, you can always join the Bluelight forums. They helped me a lot during the first year. It’s nice to have like-minded folks who can relate to share with.

As for meds, I see those are to treat bipolar and other stuff, why are you given all this if only trying to treat addiction? Ever heard of Subutex/Suboxone?

“Yes, surely I’ve heard about Subutex. However, no docs prescribe it here in Egypt. Docs see it as another drug, whatever that means. There are ways of getting it from the streets, but it’s very expensive if you find it they sell it by the pill. Something like 300 EP for a pill.

As for the bipolar and like you say 'other stuff' meds, that’s what the doctor says I suffer from. He says that the years I spent in addiction has taken their toll on my brain! What do you think??”

28/06/2015 15:55

“There are doctors for Subutex in Egypt. You don’t need more than 5 to 8 8mg pills. Again, Drs. don’t know much about it. I researched and reduced the doses myself. I learned a whole lot from Bluelight...check it out.

As for bipolar and the other stuff, hard to tell for me. But if you lived all your life without all those meds, then most prob you don’t need them least not all of them. But again, it’s not for me to diagnose your case.

So I suggest you do your own research and learn about all these meds you’re ingesting. Everything is online now. Once you 'know' talk to the doctor...or even change him and get another opinion. But one thing for sure, you don’t need to be a zombie to function.

Good luck

29/06/2015 14:45

“Thanks a bunch Omar, I really appreciate your help. I’ll talk to you again after my doctor’s appointment and let you know what happened.

As for Subutex, even if the doctor agrees on me taking it, I would have to buy it of the streets because it’s not provided legally in Egypt!”

29/06/2015 18:45

“Keep me posted. One last thing, you writing skills are too good and sober to be bipolar and all that other shit  :}

You’re doing well. Stay positive and check Bluelight for so many like-minded people whom you will learn a lot from.

08/07/2015 17:01

“Hey there my dear friend. I had a really bad week. Relapsed!!!”

What did you take?”

“Opiates (Tramadol), Benzos (Amptril and Abetirl) clonazepam. Smoked Hash…Amotril, Abetril.
I’m sure you know it as Klonopin.”

I know everything :}”
 How did you feel during, and after?”

“Well buddy, frankly speaking here and no judging. I felt like I’m in heaven.
The world seemed really good. I left home (prison) and sat on a café and was really happy.”

Nice...did you take the next day? I’m really not the one to judge you...feel free, man.”

“4 days. Now I feel Like dying cause I’m broke…”

“Do u want to go back to the cycle ...walla mesh awy? — or not really?”

“Everything is so black and I feel dull…”

So you want to go even more black and dull or get more light and go back to being healthy?”

“I want to break the cycle. Yet something keeps on making me get out this vicious circle. My Mother.”

Well, it’s good u acknowledge the effort she puts into this. Actually, one way I wanted to get clean is to "ar7am" ahly — Have mercy on my parents. It’s a responsibility that comes with maturing.”

“That’s the only thing I want to quit for. She is old bro. She wishes to see me sober and living life like Allah intended for us. One needs to feel that they [the parents] grew up.”

“Sure. Yes, my mom cried for years, dude. 7aram — pity.
 You’ve been clean and we’ve seen how good that feels. However, you haven’t been clean enough to know the beauty of what lies ahead.”

“That’s it bro. Enta keda fahemteny — you made me understand.”

Enta mesh fahem el 7alawah — you don’t understand the beauty —  and the way your mom will look at you later. Once you have really conquered yourself, it will be full of pride, yet full of respect too. Because you become a motherfuckin fearless individual once you do that. Yalla ya batal. Make her happy...and you’ll be so happy.”

“I’m soooooooooooooo skeptical…”

“That’s “the secret”. Na...fuckin’ believe....and I’m a live example :}”

“7ases 2eny ‘7awal — I feel I’m a sissy. Can I really do it?  We akbar shama3a 3andy regly — my leg is my biggest hanger.” 

Tab manta 3aref aho ennaha shama3a — So you know it is a hanger. You’re smart enough to conquer. Ya3ni reglak — your leg — and it’s how it need to make it way worse with drug addiction?

Akeed la2 — definitely not. Once you’re clean for a while, you’ll have so much positive energy, you
can help others. You can create stuff. You can find yourself, we tensa reglag deeh khales — and totally forget about your leg. It’s a mental process, and it needs some training. Just like everything in life.

“When I do I feel like dying all the time, even after the withdrawal and all that shit. I did it for 3 months. life felt empty. galy sho'3l — I got a job —  in Vodafone for 4000 and I didn’t go, I just stayed at home. don’t see no body and no one sees me.”

“Dude, you’re young and have many decades to live. It’s your choice how you want to live them.”

“31 is young?????!!!”

“Feeling sorry and sad about yourself or feeling like you’ve conquered that self despite the hardship.
YES, it is young!’re a fuckin’ kid. Self-pity is a killer

“Why do I feel really old, and that my youth is over??”

I speak about that in my book [there is a full sub-chapter about addiction]. Because you’re an addict  :} YA AZKA EKHWATAK — you smartest one of your brothers.” (sarcastic description in Arabic)

“You put a smile on my face!!!”

Your perception is still fucked. Yeah to life and I’ll smile back. So simple.
Just need to go with the flow of nature and don’t fight your biology. Eat, smoke joints if you want, sleep, poo, pee, reproduce if you want...and that’s it. We’re dying in a few decades. Life is sooo simple.

“I fuckin’ love talking to you when my world is black. I feel the hope. But how CAN YOU REFUSE OPIATE HEAVEN??? SO YOUR ARE SAYING THAT I CAN SMOKE HASHISH??”

Everyone is different...for some who have been convinced by AA and NA that one joint or one drink will bring them back to addiction, this is the case. For others, it’s not. Really, if you master your mind you can do anything you want.

“Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. So do you puff the magic dragon from time to time?”

Dragons, no. Just weed or hash. 
Master your mind!

“How does one achieve that???”

“Meditation, isolation, reading.”

“What type of meditation?”

Psychedelics can also help. There are many types.”

“Like dxm?”

Noo. LSD, DMT, and mushrooms.”

“Acid then, ha.”

But, they are not magic potions. You need to be ready to change your whole mental paradigm.”

“And why the isolation part?”

Because this is when you get to reflect without the distraction of people and their drama.”

“I see...You’re one hell of a thinker.

If I’m not bugging you, what do I start reading. Because the only book I read in my entire life is Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
 I sent you a friend request by the way if that’s cool with you.

 And by the way if you’re into music listen to this track: Portishead - Roads.”

09/07/2015 16:32

“You there buddy?”

Hey…just busy with some stuff.”

Chat conversation end

Back to Los Angeles almost seven months after the first message Sherif sent me, I decided this morning to check his profile once again. Only to find that one of his few friends posted on his wall that Sherif had passed away and the time and whereabouts of the funeral. Hm.

I could also see one of his last status updates, almost 10 days before: Ashhadu an la elaha ela ALLAH wa 2ana MOHAMADUN rasoolu ALLAH. This is a phrase Muslims say, often before they know they are about to depart. It literally translates into:

“I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is his servant and messenger.” 

Another post from the same day:

Here is the truth,
We were born to die,
That is the awful fact.
Days and nights passing by,
Loneliness and solitude all the way...
Suddenly and out of the blue,
You take your last breath...
Nothing left, but a memory,
Fading away into oblivion...

It’s like he sincerely knew.

The reason I chose to share our correspondence is to show that addiction is a serious issue which sometimes life just throws at you. It could happen to anyone, so try to never judge an ‘addict’; for they are human beings, just like you, just like me.

Again, I was there myself for years, so I truly understand how real the struggle to get, and to stay, clean is. I also understand the helplessness and the aloneness one constantly feels.

I must confess that I never checked Portished, Roads. I had my own song that I would listen to during my all-time low days and it was Pink Floyd’s Wearing The Inside Out. So in honour of Sherif’s life, which I only got to know through his heartfelt words, I’m sharing the song and lyrics below. 

I would like to end this with a few lines to all the brave people who reach out to me through private messages. The fact that you share with me some of the things you do humbles me. It teaches me so much, while reminding me that we are all the same. Some of you have been through abuse, torture, toxic relationships, addictions, and severe illnesses ― mental and physical. Others simply feel lost or empty and may be seeking guidance. The amazing thing is that you all constantly inspire me by how you have survived your own battles or are on the way. Along these lines, I would like to thank each and everyone one of you for that trust. Stay strong, we’re all in this together.

May you Rest In Peace, buddy. I hope you were ready for your next adventure and to meet your maker.  

Oh, can’t anybody see
We’ve got a war to fight
Never found our way
Regardless of what they say
How can it feel, this wrong
From this moment
How can it feel, this wrong
Storm, in the morning light
I feel, no more can I say
Frozen to myself
I got nobody on my side
And surely that ain’t right
And surely that ain’t right
Oh, can’t anybody see
We’ve got a war to fight
Never found our way
Regardless of what they say
How can it feel, this wrong
From this moment
How can it feel, this wrong
How can it feel, this wrong
From this moment
How can it feel, this wrong
Oh, can’t anybody see
We’ve got a war to fight
Never found our way
Regardless of what they say
How can it feel, this wrong
From this moment
How can it feel, this wrong

EDIT (April 2016): 

A few days after publishing this article, I found a message from one of Sherif’s sisters in my filtered-messages inbox. Understandably, the girl was devastated; we chatted for a while and she told me how he passed.

Apparently, after relapsing his mom decided that he had to once again go to detox. Once in, he was tied to a bed and given some injection, and that was it. His sister said she later found out from people who were there that he had a fight with the supervisor or someone in charge. They heard stuff breaking inside the room he was in and then he was gone.

I have heard many times before about such awful way of dying in detox “clinics” and “rehabs”. Certainly not only in Egypt, but in some places in the U.S too, among other countries. Those are usually the places that are in it for the money or as Sherif once worded it: “SABOOBA”.

What a shame that you have the responsibility of taking care of someone who desperately needs help and you end up by taking his life away and traumatizing his whole family.  

A couple of months afterwards, the story was still on my mind. So I decided to investigate...

I wrote Sherif’s sister, asking about the name of the place. She said it’s called Beit el Horeya ( بيت الحرية ) in Hada2ek El Ahram (حدائق الاهرام), under the supervision of a well-known doctor called Ehab El Kharrat.

I then reached out to someone who works in the field in Egypt who told me that indeed a young man with an amputated lower leg passed away a few months ago there. However, I was also told that he was diabetic and that he didn’t inform the staff, which may be why he passed away.

When I confronted the sister with the diabetes bit, she assured me that this is nothing but a lie used to cover the fact that Sherif had been murdered by the detox staff. “He told you everything in details and there is no reason to hide such a thing from you if it were true,” She explained.

When I Googled Dr. El Kharrat’s name along with “a young man dies in detox”, I could find a few articles in Arabic. One of them is from El Yom El Sabe3 newspaper ( إليوم السابع ), where it is written that the doctor is denying his affiliation with this unlicensed detox place and with the death of the young man. Apparently after the passing of Sherif, the police headed there and this is when several members of the staff linked the place to the original Beit el Horeya ( بيت الحرية ) rehab in Wady El Natroun managed by the Dr.

El Kharrat also mentioned that his Beit el Horeya is a rehab place and not a detox. Meaning they only take people who have already cleaned up from the drugs in the first stage — after the passing of the withdrawals — and are ready to be socially rehabilitated. Sherif was indeed once there for a period four months, but according to Maher Gaber, an administrator there, he stopped going since August 2015 — because he relapsed. Once again, emphasising that they are not linked to the death of Sherif.

His sister has once again reached out to me, assuring that El Kharrat is the one responsible and that he was the one who suggested the place to Sherif’s mother in the first place.

At the very end, I do not exactly know what really transpired. What I do know is, we have a man who paid money to people who are supposedly in charge so he can recover and it ended it up by being given an injection which instantly killed him. Whoever is responsible should be held accountable. As simple as that.

May Sherif Rest In Peace.  

“An addict is someone who uses their body to tell society that something is wrong.”
— Stella Adler
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