Staff Stories: Karim

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Meet our Clinical Supervisor Karim. He recently celebrated eight years of sobriety and has been a part of the Pax House team for over five years. We got a chance to sit down with him to get a glimpse into what has been on his mind lately.

“Every time I have a sobriety birthday is a time for self-reflection. Not just about the past year, but about the beginning. How different my thoughts were, my feelings were, my attitude, my view of the world. Every encompassing molecule that makes up my body has changed.

I really believed that I could never get better. I truly believed that to my core. There was no way in hell that anybody could tell me any different. I believed that the way I was living would be the only way I would exist. I knew the highs were temporary and that I would die soon from it; but that was okay with me because I didn’t see any other way.

I felt that nobody could possibly understand the way that I felt. Nobody could possibly understand the pain that I was in. And nobody could possibly accept the life I was living. I was so embarrassed and so ashamed of who I was, who I had become. I just remember thinking, time and time again, that this was it for me.

Then at some point just a little bit of magic started happening. A little bit of hope, and the right circumstances, and some support started to open my world up to a whole new way of existing.”

Karim was born in Alexandria, Egypt where he was raised in a well-to-do family with both parents and multiple siblings. He was well educated and brought up with strong values of faith, family, and achievement.

When Karim was 15-years-old he moved with his mother and his siblings to the United States; settling into a new home and a new culture in Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C.

What can you recount about what drugs and alcohol did for you the first time you used?

“Wow, the first time. It is still, all these years later, so clear to me. I was 17 and I had been having a serious spiritual, cultural, identify… crisis of all sorts for the two years prior since I moved to the United States. I had felt like I had a different plan for the way my life would go because I was raised in a different country and my parents had me believing that my life was heading in a certain direction. Then suddenly I was thrown into a country where everybody spoke a different language; where there were a completely different set of social norms. I felt lost, that I had no support, and was confused. I didn’t know what was going on.

By the first time that I drank I immediately felt a sense of comfort, ease, and relief. I was 17, spending time hanging out with guys in their early and mid 20’s. We were at a nightclub in Washington D.C. and I had gotten in with a fake ID. There was a promotional event going on that night for a new drink Bacardi Limon. I don’t remember leaving that club. I drank to a blackout that first night.

What I remember so clearly, after the first few shots, is that in that moment I knew this was the best and the worst thing that would ever happen to me. In that moment it was like I turned into a psychic and I had predicted that this was going to be the end of me. I liked it too much. I got drunk and I remember thinking that night that if people knew about this how was it that they didn’t stay in this state of inebriation at all times? I wanted that feeling 24/7. I wanted to sleep like that, wake up like that, this feeling all of the time, no matter the cost.”

What did the best days in your active addiction look like?

“It was good, I won’t lie. There were good times, or at least what I thought at that age were good times. It was about music. I was DJ’ing up and down the coast. Going to raves and from club to club. It was friends. It was having a lot of money and not working for it. It was about finding the best sources of drugs.

I look back now and see how many of the people I was surrounding myself with are now in jail. A lot of them are dead. I don’t know why I was so fortunate to walk away from that without the same consequences as those people that were doing the same things I was doing. I was carrying drugs onto planes. I was taking trips to Mexico to purchase drugs to package up and sell them back on the East Coast. Some of those people are doing 10, or 20, or 25 years in prison. Some didn’t make it at all, getting shot by gangs in Mexico. I can’t believe that was my life. But in my mind, at that time, it seemed glamorous and dangerous. In my mind we were invincible.

Tell us about what changed for you. What did it look like when the drugs stopped working?

“The change happened when I started using heroin. Up until that point I had used a lot of other drugs in different combinations and at different frequencies. But when I used heroin, I knew that was the one drug I wanted to use. Of course nobody tells you when you first start using a drug like heroin about the withdrawal and how bad that experience is. You go from the best feeling in the world to the worst very quickly. From that point the chase began.

I hate that term that I always hear clients say – ‘I used to get well’. It didn’t feel like getting ‘well’. It got to a point where it felt like I was using to not kill myself. They say that as if feeling ‘well’ means to not feel pain. But well is not the absence of pain. Well is healthy. Well is happy. It got to a point where I was using to not kill myself because of the pain. That was not getting well.

I tried to detox myself several times. Eight separate times I bought out a hotel room for a week and locked myself in. I decided I couldn’t live that way anymore and I was determined to get myself clean. I felt I had no other options at that time. I couldn’t keep living that way and I also couldn’t kill myself because I was raised that suicide was the worst thing you could do to yourself. But I really wanted out.

Ultimately though, after each time of detoxing myself and getting to the other side, I would start using again. I would wake up from the fog and remember all over again why I had started using in the first place. I would find myself not agreeing with my reality. I would focus on how I didn’t like where I was at in my life. I didn’t like the body I’m in. I didn’t like the shape of my face. I didn’t like the people that were around me. I didn’t like the career I had chosen. The list goes on and on; then I would have to escape again. It was this whole thing, over and over again. The minute I would start thinking about how I was going to put my life back together was the minute I would have that first craving again.”

How did you escape that cycle? How is your thought life different today?

“The ability I have today to not feel as though I have to have answers to those concerns is the best relief in the world. Relief that drugs never gave me. I’ve come to realize that I don’t even need to ask those questions. I’ve realized that I don’t need to make those answers a requirement to my happiness.

I have come to think that maybe the truth is I am very limited. I know what I am going to do today, and perhaps a little bit of what I will do later this week, and that is enough. Why do I need all of these guarantees that I am going to be successful with a wife, two kids, and a white picket fence? It is none of my business.

I am happy in the moment, in today. I am happy that I am breathing. I practice self-love today and I accept that my limited understanding of the world is because my higher power made me this way. I don’t need, nor will I be able to, understand why children get cancer or why we have wars and disasters. There is relief in that. What makes us think that we need to understand these things and what makes us think that we are required to figure out our own lives?”

Do you remember a moment in your recovery where sobriety went from feeling like work to realizing that your life now is better than most people are fortunate enough to experience?

“I don’t think it was an exact moment, but somewhere in my first year of recovery I had enough positive experiences accumulate. Experiences and moments that were filled with joy and real laughter. Sober connections with other human beings that meant something. The sum of those experiences brought me to a place of realizing that there was no turning back. I realized that this was the way to go. This was yielding so many better results than all the drugs combined ever did. I knew before I took my first year cake that this was going to be the rest of my life. I have been on a pink cloud for eight years and I don’t think I’m ever coming down.”