Mr. Nasim, 57, is manager at the Mother Camp, a rehab center in Kabul

Losing 37 years to learn how to live a life

“I compromised myself, my life, and my family to find pleasure in smoking drugs which took an irreversible 37 years of my life. My youth was gone, my parents died, and did not see me in the last moments of their lives, my wife divorced me in my absence, and my children left me,” says Nasim, 57, who is now the in-charge of the Mother Camp, a rehab center in the western neighborhood of Kabul.     

Unlike my expectation, Nasim looked old and humble. He had a warm smile on his face. Wearing tidy dress and welcoming me in the camp, he was slow in talking, which seemed like he was carefully choosing his words. Later, I realized that he was taking time to recall his painful memories and analyze the 37 years period of hard and difficult time he had gone through.   

Born and raised in a middle class Afghan refugee family in Mashhad of Iran, Nasim was the only boy in a patriarchic family. Having four daughters, his parents expected him to take the lead of the family in coming years. He says that his parents never tried to understand and accept him as who he was. Instead, they always compared him with his cousins, something that made Nasim live with a deep feeling of humiliation.   

Every human deserves to live a dignified life.

“I was a very mischievous, selfish, and proud kid,” he recalls now. At the age of 11, Nasim, under mental pressure, starts consuming hashish. High under hashish, he drops out school. When his parents realize that their only son does not attend school, they decide to wed him when he is 12 years old.

His parents thought that marriage responsibility may help their son quit smoking hashish and become responsible for his life.

But it backfired.       

“My wife, was just 9 years old. Under my parents’ pressure, and feeling humiliated, I continued consuming hashish, this time regularly in high dosage,” Nasim recalls.

“To me getting high on hashish and alcoholic drink was the only way to escape worries, sense of revenge, and grievances that I had from my parents, society, and of course myself.”

Convinced that she has no future with Nasim, his wife finally leaves him to his fate and gets divorced.

After a school dropout, Nasim enrolls himself in a madrassa. In madrassa he continued to drink and consume hashish. “My friends often made fun of me in those outfits,” he recalls what seems to made him dislike madrassas too.

He leaves madrassa and travels to Tehran to find a job. “By then smoking hashish wasn’t working for me, so I started taking opium which made me feel strong and work for more hours without feeling tired. I used all my salaries and sometimes I even had to take loans to get drugs,” he recalls.

In 1981, Nasim, then a-18-year-old worker, tasted heroin for the very first time after the Iranian government took a tough measure to stop opium sell and consumption.     

In the same year, he returns to Mashhad and marry his second wife, whom he says was in love with. Soon after his marriage, Nasim leaves Mashhad for Tehran to continue his work.

“After five years, I took a break and went to visit my family in Mashhad. Under heroin, I was feeling dizzy. I was sitting in front of a bakery. My sister happened to see me. She approached me, asking me to either quit smoking or leave for another country. It was a tough time for me, without saying a word, I went to bank, withdrew all my money and lost them in gambling,” says Nasim.

Losing his money in gambling, Nasim leaves for Isfahan. The next day, the Iranian forces catch Nasim and deport him to Afghanistan. Exhausted and confused in his life, on the way to Afghanistan, Nasim makes a plan to visit his father’s land, quit consuming drug, and go back to his family.

But his plan does not materialize.

As he arrives in Islam Qala Border, the first thing his eyes catch is delicate red flowers and small black seeds of a green poppy field. Forgetting what he had planned few hours ago, Nasim gets down of the bus, runs towards a poppy field where he gets a little opium from a farmer and use it on his way to Darwaze Malek, Herat.

“I spent many years in Herat where I was involved in illegal businesses such as robbing people, smuggling people to Nimroz and Zahedan, and forging documents. It was in the business of forging documents when the government arrested me. I lost everything that I had made—car and money. I had 170,000 afghanis, I decided to invest it on a hotel in Darwaz-e-Kabul in Kandahar,” says Nasim.

The main purpose behind opening hotel was something else. The hotel was a place where we would arrange parties, drink alcohol, smoke drug, gamble, have sex with prostitutes, bring boys and girls to dance for clients. After two years of running the hotel, Nasim not only loose his share, but also has to pay another 70,000 for his business partner.

Sunk in debt to his partner, Nasim subsequently finds himself working as cook in the same hotel which he had founded.

The day he left the hotel, he had neither money, nor a place to stay.

In a dire situation, Nasim joins the police academy in Kandahar where he attends a nine-month training and gets graduation as a second-lieutenant.

Upon his graduation, the academy appointed, Nasim, then the second-lieutenant to Helmand province where he served as a police officer for eight years.

The ghost of drug consumption is like a shadow following Nasim everywhere he goes. Every three months in his breaks, he would go to Deh Mazang Kabul to consume drugs for 15 continuous days.

Eventually, he gets tired of his job, which needed much discipline, resigning police department, and then works as a guard for Assadullah Khaled, then the governor of Kandahar. He leaves Khaled and joins UNAMA—working as security guard.

Since he enjoys none, he rejoins police department—this time appointed in Musa Qala Helmand, the hub of a bloody drug trade and conflict.

In a bomb explosion, Nasim loses both his feet while on duty in Musa Qala, Helmand.

“I was taken to Bagram airbase for treatment. Medicines the doctors prescribed for my pain did not work for I had consumed a large amount of drug in my life. I finally made an excuse and asked hospital staffs to allow me get treatment outside—faking that my sister was a medical doctor running her hospital in Kabul. They allowed me, I was discharged, came out, and get down of car as I reached in Pole Sokhta, and directly went under the bridge which became my home for the next seven years,” says Nasim.

Under the bridge, which is a place where thousands of desperate drug addicts consume heroin and stay, Nasim realized that he had lost his sense of smelling.   

“One morning, when I was sitting in front of Silo and consuming drugs, a group of reporters and doctors from French Medical Institute stopped by to take pictures. One of them saw my leg, approached, and requested me to open my bandage. As he cut many layers of bandages, thousands worms rolled out of my leg. I explained my story to them, they took me to Panjshir hospital, and cut my worm-eaten legs—one from knee and the next from ankle,” says Nasim.

Nasim gets discharged from the hospital a year later. But again he does not have money to feed himself and no place to stay in. He goes back to Silo area and lives with a group of drug addicted fellows, but this time does not consume drugs.

Again he starts consuming drug one day after ICRC staff, who made artificial legs for him, reproached him to stay away from a drug consumer company. The cycle of drug consumption kicks off again—this time with much difficulty as Nasim cannot walk to steal money and afford buying drugs.     

“Every day, I was squatting in a corner of Kabul University road and beg for money,” he recalls with a mixed feeling of guilt and shame.

“One day in winter, when addicted people were chased by security forces, I got some drugs which I planned to smoke before their arrival. I walked to a place where every sewage were pouring. I squatted in front of a house, under a sewage pipe, I felt like a bucket of shit was thrown on me. It wasn’t a good moment, but I didn’t move and smoked my drugs there. That night, despite the cold weather, I used the river to wash both my body and clothes.”

Life was passing, but it was an absolute struggle to survive. There were days when he did not get himself a piece of naan to feed. He was sitting before bakeries—begging for money to buy drug, a substance without which he could not take a step.      

“Once when I was coming out of the bridge, I found a piece of home-made bread which was completely rotten, but for me it was like a piece of gold. I soaked it in water and ate it.”

The pain he went through and the challenges he faced in those hard-hitting years made Nasim to search a new way of survival. Broken, damaged, and unable to walk, Nasim made his way to Mother Camp, a rehab where he could quit drug and recover.

The first months were not easy. Almost everyone in the rehab was convinced that he would pass away.  But Nasim recovered almost magically. Perhaps, it was his survival instinct that supported him to come over those hard days in the rehab. Soon after recovery, Nasim starts a new job in the rehab, this time as a cook.

A group of people, including Laila Haidari, founder of the Mother Camp, posing for a photo, Kabul, Afghanistan

The monster of drug continues to tempt him. He thinks how to make excuse and get out for heroin consumption. Under the rehab’s first and last rule, “I dedicated my time to practice 12 steps of quitting drug,” he says. The 12-step rule is an invention named by Narcotics Anonymous (NA), a global network of people who used to consume drug but no longer use.

It is now six years, eleven months, and a day that Nasim has not touched drug.

 “I never left the camp—rehab center—it has become a home where I live and count each new day as a rebirth to breathe.”

Mr. Nasim, now working as manager of the Mother Camp, helps his fellow human to quit drug and recover. He shares his 37 years’ experience of drug use with those drug consumers who wish to quit drug and start a new drug-free life.  

The painful experience of drug consumption has taught him many things. Every human deserves to live a dignified life. There is nothing in drug other than growing disappointment, blinding darkness and humiliating dehumanization, Nasim says while thinking about those bygone 37 years.