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‘It was a nightmare that turned into a dream’ – how drug addict changed his life to help others

An ex-drug addict, who was addicted to class A drugs like cocaine and crack cocaine for over a decade, has spoken out about the culture shame that came with using and how he finally managed to turn his life around to help others.

After years of struggle Rafik Ahad, 34, described how he finally mustered the courage to change when his wife and son left him due to his substance abuse.

Rafik, who is Muslim, spoke about the difficulties of his family accepting he was an addict needing help.

He said: “I was a substance misuser from the age of 15 to 31 or 32. I guess for me, it was hard because people were covering it up. In 2002, I did treatment in Bangladesh but I came back. In my culture, it’s common for friends and family to try and cover these things up because of shame.

“When coming back from Bangladesh, my using was covered up more gracefully. I got married and hid my addiction. It was only when the problem of my finances started appearing that I realised I was in trouble.”

Rafik went into private rehab and was then sent to churches to join support groups but he found the culture barrier difficult.

“In the support groups, when talking about the family hierarchy in my culture, people thought that I was backwards and they didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Over the years, Rafik said he used a lot of services which didn’t help.

“I’d be pushed into services that were slow connections, I’d use before for a buzz and then sit in therapy which clearly wasn’t working for me,” he said.

He had met a man named Asad Fazil in 2017 during a short clean period.

Asad created Al-Hurraya, a BAME specialist and multi-functional charity based at the Lenton Business Centre in Nottingham, which is where Rafik now works. Asad himself spent years battling an alcohol addiction and his organisation seeks to help those in the community with ‘hidden harms’ whether that be those in gangs, people suffering with abuse, self harm and domestic violence cases.

The charity works closely with mosques to break the stigma of drug addiction and does outreach work in Nottingham, Derby and Burton.

Asad said: “Only addicts can understand other addicts. As a full time addict, you just exist, you become soulless, you’re just numb and it’s very painful waking up everyday like that.

“Wanting to take your own life but you don’t have the guts to do it. I’m glad to have helped and supported Raf. We don’t just help individuals but we have family support too, we’re holistic. We can’t fix someone in 6 sessions, we’re open to them for as long as they need us.

Rafik Ahad has shared his over a decade addiction to Class A drugs and what his recovery process was like
Rafik Ahad has shared his over a decade addiction to Class A drugs and what his recovery process was like

Asad said he hopes that Rafik’s story can show what the charity – who help adults as well as children – can offer.

“We started off 5 years ago, it was just alcohol support but now it’s culturally specific help,” said Asad, who was presented with an MBE at a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace last year for his work in the community.

“We support refugees, self harm victims and identify the hidden harms in the community to help people. Mental health issues tarnish you in some cultures to the point where families don’t let you get married but we’re getting kids into mentoring and trying to partner with the violence reduction unit.”

Rafik continued and said how his road to recovery had been forged at his lowest moment.

“My rock bottom hit me, my wife left and my son left,” he said.

“I moved into my mums and rented out my house. Everyone was worrying about me, thinking ‘is he alive or is he dead?’ whenever I locked myself in a room.

“My drug of choice was cocaine and crack and I’ve used heroin which made me feel aches and pains.”

In 2019, Rafik went to a rehab facility in Derby called Jericho. But the family shame of what was going on led everyone to try and cover up what was happening.

“People from my family were never keeping the same story,” said Rafik.

“They’ve got a grocery store in Mansfield so everyone was trying to cover where I was up because people like to gossip.

“It was hard covering up my addiction and recovery when I came out of rehab, it was hard to settle back in.

“In our culture, you work hard, save and show people that you’ve got money. People like to say ‘he’s doing well’ but behind closed doors, you’re not.

“My turning point was when my wife and son left and I started asking for help. I went to the doctors and they did section me but the penny started dropping from 2017 to 2019. I started making connections and realised that with recovery, only you can make your recovery happen.

“Openly telling my family I was a drug addict was hard but coming out of that lie was a relief.

“It was massive for my wife’s side of the family and my side.

“Now, I’ve been doing volunteering and working since coming out of rehab. In time, my feet are working into recovery. My 12 step recovery programme is good for me because I can see what my life could have been like.

“My aftercare was intense. Looking back, it’s like a nightmare that turned into a dream.”

You can find drug and alcohol support and more information on Al-Hurraya on the below links