After Addiction Nightmare, Waking to Happiness

About the fifth morning of his stay at addiction rehab, an unusual thing happened to Basim H. He awoke with a smile on his face. “A kind of happiness had returned to me,” he remembered, “and that’s when I started realizing that all the drinking and drugs I’d been using for so long — I thought they were making me happy. I thought that was what I liked. But I had slowly discovered, oh, you know what, there is another life out there. There is another option. I don’t have to do this anymore.” He took that fresh perspective into his addiction recovery efforts “and just kinda ran with it.” As a result, after more than 20 years of substance use, Basim, now 35, is not only sober but more content than he ever imagined possible. “I took alcohol and drugs out of my life and, literally, like 97% of my life just healed itself automatically. And each day, each month, stuff keeps getting better.” Now he looks back, “and I can’t believe I did the things I used to do. It’s almost like I’ve lived a couple of different lives. It’s weird. When I run into people who haven’t seen me in a while, they’re like, ‘Whoa, you seem like a completely different person.’” And he agrees with them. “This is a more authentic me. This is a genuine me.”

‘I’m Just Going to Have Fun’

The substance use that would ultimately end up threatening not just Basim’s happiness but his life began when he was 14 with marijuana and alcohol. “I’d say I was a functioning pothead. I was able to graduate high school and college. I had varying successful careers. I was kind of maintaining, kind of floating along.” In his 20s, he experimented with other drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and mushrooms, usually just partaking in what his friends had on hand rather than seeking it out. In 2008, he got a shock — a diagnosis of cancer. After successful surgery and chemotherapy, “I came out of it rejuvenated, happy and thankful to be alive.” In time, however, Basim began to struggle with what he realizes now was depression, and everything in his life seemed to go wrong at once. His career as a real estate agent faltered. Debt piled up. His relationships became troubled. “I remember saying, ‘You know what, I’ve already lived through cancer and I’m not happy. If I’m not going to have success at work, I’m just going to have fun and start partying really hard.’ The cocaine, the ecstasy, the alcohol abuse really took off at that point.”

Walking the Plank

By around 2012, Basim began to give up on his real estate career and instead would spend his time at warehouse parties, happy hour at the bars, late-night clubs, often staying up until 7 or 8 in the morning. “I was constantly buying cocaine, just living a dangerous lifestyle.” He also eventually added ketamine, meth, crack and heroin to the mix. By 2013, his use reached a whole new level. “Pretty soon, a lot of my friends had disappeared,” he said. “A lot of people had written me off. I thought, ‘Oh shit, I’m a drug addict.’ And that’s not saying I wasn’t a drug addict or an alcoholic all those years before. I just think maybe the depression made it take on a whole new nature.” As his use continued, his tolerance to the drugs grew, and before long “I was just going so hard it was like I wasn’t even getting high anymore.” Another problem, he said, was that whenever he used drugs and alcohol, “I always wanted to see how far I could push myself to the edge. And it turned out that the edge just kept pushing further and further out. It was like I was walking a plank, but the plank just kept extending. It was definitely self-destruction. I guess I was just trying to kill myself but my body wouldn’t allow me to die.” There were more than a few times, however, when he came frighteningly close. “I remember two or three different instances where I felt like my soul was leaving my body, like I was vibrating at a weird pace, and I would land on my knees and lose my balance and the world would start spinning around me. … And I would go weeks without really eating or sleeping and I would think, wow, how is that even possible? Then, eventually, sleep deprivation started taking its toll. I was pretty close to going insane.”

‘I Can’t Do This Anymore’

In early 2015 came an event that sparked a desire to change — the birth of his niece. “I had a moment of clarity where I realized I’m going to die and my niece is never going to get to know me.” Or even if he did beat the odds and survive, “I’m not going to be in her life. My brother and his wife are scared of what I’ve become.” He tried to stay sober but the best he could manage was a few days in a row “and then a weekend would come up and I’d get drunk, and then once I was drunk I’d start buying drugs.” On a trip to Las Vegas, he lost his money and his control. He estimates he sniffed about 6 grams of cocaine while he drank nonstop, popped ecstasy and smoked marijuana and meth. He called his brother and mother, trying to convince them to put more money in his bank account. Their answer was no. Instead, his brother began to research addiction treatment options. When Basim returned, he faced up to the reality he’d been trying so hard to avoid: “I need help. I can’t do this anymore.” The main eye-opener, he said, was that it just wasn’t fun anymore. “Even through all the gambling and drugs and everything I’d done on that trip, I wasn’t happy at all.” His brother had found Promises Malibu inpatient addiction treatment facility, and Basim, his brother and his mother went to talk to the staff. Basim had started to get cold feet about rehab, “but we sat down and talked with them, and they showed us what it was about and I decided I was willing to give it a try. At this point, I’d lost everything. My career was done. All my relationships and friends were gone. I had no money. I was pretty much just defeated. And then another thing too — I felt my life kind of slipping away and passing me by.” He had to wait a few weeks for a bed to open up, but by the time he checked into the facility, “I decided I was really going to give this everything I have. I was always a stubborn type of person, kind of like a general telling people what to do.” Now he allowed himself to “become a soldier where I’m going to do what they say and I’m going to be honest about my drug abuse and everything I’ve done and about where I’m at and what I’m feeling.” He admits, however, that it wasn’t always easy. “In the beginning, it was like, well this is depressing. I’m a loser. I’m a weakling. I can’t believe I pushed the envelope to the point where I needed help. But once we started going through things, I realized, this is a good thing. I’m trying to make my life better and these people are here to help me. Once I got to that level of thinking, things started to change for me.” One of the most helpful things through the entire process of rehab, he said, was the concept of remaining in the moment. “If I say I’m never going to use or drink again for the rest of my life, that would be like ‘Oh, I don’t know if I can do that.’ But if I can just say, ‘OK, today I’m not going to use,’ well, I can do that. And that’s where I’ve had my success.”

Gratitude and Growth

Now, a year later, “my life has gotten better in every facet,” Basim said. He has picked up the pieces of his career, his health has been restored, he works a 12-step program, friends who supported him through rehab are again part of his life, he sees a therapist and a spiritual advisor regularly, and he never forgets to pay it forward by being of service. “I have a lot more gratitude. I’m lucky to be alive, and I remind myself of that daily.” He has also come to understand, he says, that “I have a broken off switch,” and he knows the key is not allowing that switch to be turned on again. “There’s been a lot of growth in this last year where I’m doing a lot of discovery about what I really like and about the things that really make me tick. I’m just more of a genuine person. I care more so I’m not so selfish. I try to help people when I can. Even at work I’m having more success than I ever did before. I’m building a foundation for a better life. With my relationships, I’ve regained the trust of my parents, my brother, his wife. They allow me to babysit my niece, which would have never been an option. I get to be her uncle and I get to be in her life, which is probably the most important thing for me right now. It’s just a miracle, to be honest.” These days he says his only regret is that he didn’t reach out for help sooner. “I could have saved myself a lot of pain and misery.” As part of his service work, he often shares his history as a way of helping those with their own addiction struggles, and he’s gratified that he’s so often told that his words have been inspiring. But he notes that his storytelling efforts are not completely altruistic. “This is the truth: I forgot I’m a pothead and smoked pot every day for 20 years. I forgot how if I have a bag of cocaine I’m going to sniff it all, or whatever alcohol or drug it is, I have the tendency to go big, fast and hard. I already forgot that. It’s almost like it was another person. “So when I tell these stories it reminds me of how I used to be and not to go back to that. So the reason I do this is twofold: one to help them and one to help me.” By Kendal Patterson Follow Kendal at @kendalpatterson

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