Out Loud: voices from Lebanon (part 1)

My experience with drugs started first while I was in Saudi Arabia. And even though alcohol was very expensive to buy, Hashish was rather common and cheap. Almost everyone that I knew smoked hashish or had at least tried it at some point. Being a foreigner, I used to live in a compound where there was no police present, making it much easier to get the hashish. So all that it took was some peer pressure from those around me and my desire and curiosity to live my life and try new things for me to start smoking Hashish.

A couple of years later, I came back to Lebanon. I had been using hashish for some time by now and was in no mood to stop anytime soon. One of my friends – who came back with me from Saudi Arabia – and me, used to get together and smoke hashish on a regular basis. This worked best for us because hashish was cheap and easy to get, much cheaper than it was to go partying somewhere. Moreover, my brother was a heroin addict at that time which made it very unpleasant for me to go home.

A year later, I started at high school where I started experimenting with ecstasy. But it was very expensive to buy from someone so I went into small dealing. I used to buy a patch for a lower price and sell them again for a 10000-15000L.L. (7-10 USD) profit, enough to cover my own stuff. Sometimes, I would end up with a good amount of profit where I would experiment with cocaine.

With the start of my third year in high school, I had stopped using hashish (since my mom was making me give urine sample for testing) but I was still using ecstasy. At that time, a person was arrested for using drugs and he was interrogated and beaten to give out names of other drug users that he knew. He gave out five names, one of which was my name (even though it had been six month since I last used hashish).

The police called my house on a Monday and told us that I was wanted for the charge of drug use. My mom and I went to the police station in Tripoli the next day where I was kept in custody for ten days. During that time, I was put in the same room with people who were arrested on different charges (fraud, trouble making…). I also remember a 70 year old man who had to be taken every other day for a dialysis procedure and had asked me once to help him to the toilet and back. Later, all of the people who were caught with me on the same charge were transferred to an adult prison and I stayed another day in custody before I was transferred to Roumieh prison which had a juvenile section.
What I clearly remember from being in Roumien prison is that I had access to drugs like Benzaxol and Rivotril (which are more harmful to your body and brain). But I didn’t dare take anything of that stuff because I was afraid that I would risk staying in prison for a longer period.

Since I was caught with a group of individuals (individual drug-related arrests take 3-4 days to process while group arrests take longer time), it took some time for the judge to finally release me. After being released, I didn’t use drugs for almost a month because I was afraid that I might get caught again. But the things that you see inside prison affects you and it’s not easy to deal with them. So I started using again because using gave me a way to deal with this stuff.

After graduating from high school, I started university where I met a different people who used cocaine. They introduced me to Shady. Shady was 29 years old and was drug dealer in cocaine. I used to meet with him on weekly where he would let me use at his place for no charge. I started to go to his place more frequently, almost every two or three days. I liked the cocaine more and more and wanted to start having more money to get it whenever I wanted. So I started dealing  it after a girl that I know agreed to provide me with the amount that I wanted from her dealer. I would buy the gram for 50000L.L. (33 USD) and sell it for 105000L.L. (70 USD). I would sell it to two groups of students who went to the same university as mine and to my brother as well who would share it with his friends.

I didn’t tell Shady of my arrangement because I regarded him as my friend because I considered him to be my friend and didn’t want him to see me as competition to him. I stayed at this small dealing in cocaine and would pass more often by Shady’s place to use. I stayed like this till my accident on the 26th of December 2007.

On Christmas Eve of 2007, my parents dropped me at our home in Beirut to spend the night with my friends in the city. I stayed the night at my Shady’s place where we got high on cocaine all throughout the night. I met with my friends after that and we drove to a one of the well known skiing areas in the country. When we got to the ski resort , I went to the bathroom and sniffed three more lines of cocaine. Then, I went to the highest slope though I was a beginner skier and had never skied from that high slopes before. I was too high on the cocaine and I wasn’t able to think straight. I went down the slope so fast that I quickly lost control of my decent and came crashing into the rocks.
My friends took the remaining cocaine from my pockets in the time it took for the ambulance to arrive. I was rushed into the hospital where I stayed in a coma for almost a week. The accident changed me, I lost my spleen and I can never see with my left eye again.

Even though I didn’t use drugs after my accident, I didn’t really deal with my emotions and my past till later on. After I recovered from the accident, I took a course at my university in theater production. The course had put me in contact with theater director who wanted to start a drama theater play. She chose me to play my story and encouraged me to do it even though I hesitated at first. But I went along and did the play. I performed my story on stage and told everyone what really happened on that slope. I told my parents, my teachers and my friends that it was not a random accident. I told them the truth that I had kept inside my cage all that long.

I was introduced after that to an organization who told me about the value that I can give to other youths out there. A woman who works there told me that the International Harm Reduction Conference will be held in Beirut and allowed me to participate in it where I was introduced to a group of young people who call for harm reduction services for drug users and for just drug policies. Along with this group of youth, we started a local NGO that is now advocating for the rights of young people who use drugs. With the help of this group, I want to try to change the laws in Lebanon that criminalize personal use of drugs because I know that people who are arrested and imprisoned usually start hardcore drugs.

Finally, I have a last message for those people who use drugs. If you do use drugs, smoke up but stay away from chemicals. Chemicals erase your mind and kill your feelings the way they did mine. And if you are using chemicals, then do your best to control them and not the other way around.