I started with a little sniff from the butt of a freshly discarded cigarette.
At first, the taste was awkward but within days, 13-year-old Taire Clarke had already gotten used to the illusive soothing nicotine feeling from every stick of cigarette.
He soon graduated to smoking cannabis at 14 and before long, joined the league of teenagers hooked on hard drugs. For three decades, Taire wallowed in ecstasy, smoking and snorting all manners of stimulating substances until he ended up at the psychiatric hospital.
As a teenager, Abraham Shallanwa was a well behaved and intelligent boy until his friends introduced him to hard drugs at 17.
From a cheerful and energetic young boy, Abraham became a shadow of himself as he embarked on a 15-year turbulent voyage of drug addiction. At 35, he had dropped out of four universities, engaged in various crimes and sold everything he had to sustain the habit.
For Tolulope Sobomi, the urge to fend off her regular bully was the turning point. Tolulope was a constant object of bullying by her cousin until she found a way to fight back. With the boldness cannabis gives, Tolulope soon became a drug addict as a teenager. For two decades, she became a regular patient at various rehabilitation centres across the country until she found help.
In this edition, Encounter shares the drug infested life experiences of Clarke, Abraham and Tolulope who were among the 31 drug addicts successfully rehabilitated at the Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry, CADAM, in Araga, Epe, Lagos State. CADAM is a faith-based drug rehabilitation Non-Governmental Organisation under the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
It was fun until I was almost destroyed — Taire
Recounting his journey into drug addiction, Taire said: “I started doing drugs when I was 13 years. I was going through my rebellious teens at that time and having issues with my mother. I had a group of friends who had already started smoking cigarettes and dabbling with cannabis. At that time, I had a fight with my mother over going to church. I refused to go to church and instead followed my friends to Fela’s shrine where I had my first taste of cannabis. That was in 1985. When I smoked it, I felt good and different.
“It seemed to lock out my problems and all the things that I was thinking about, at least temporarily. Issues like family, fighting with my mom as my dad wasn’t around, a lot was going on with me. And then our African culture that says you are a small boy, you are too young to know what was going on. But I did know a lot because it concerned me.
If I see my mother unhappy and I ask what is wrong with her, she won’t tell me because she feels I was too young to understand. All she did was like ‘let’s go to church,’ but then the church didn’t seem to be doing anything to help our situation at that time. It was a lot to deal with and I wanted to get out. Unfortunately, my friends at that time were already into drugs, that was how I started.”
Explaining how he funded a lifestyle of drugs for years, Taire said: “I stole, begged, sold things, you name it, whatever it took, but basically, it was funded through crime. I went on from stealing from my immediate family to stealing from anybody. I actually made a life out of crime as I went on from cannabis to cocaine, name it, I have used it for decades. When I started drugs, it was a bit of fun. It was all great at first. It felt nice like most things do at the beginning. I used to look at junkies at that time and say, ‘I could never be like them’.
“The deception with hard drugs is that it shows its good face at first. It makes the music sound better, sex feels better, and the food tastes better. I continued, till I got to the point where I wouldn’t eat until I used drugs, and the food always tasted better after I had taken drugs. I would eat, and all the sensation made me feel good. And then, I became dependent on it, I couldn’t function till I did drugs.”
Relationship with family, friends destroyed
“Gradually, it started to take more from me than it was giving. At a point it began to take its toll on me, I began to have mood swings, with my friends and family. When my friends and relatives wanted to know what was going on with me, I went defensive and shut them out. I gradually started pushing all the good people out of my life and welcomed the useless ones. We partied, failed exams and dropped out of school.”
Dropped out of university
“I didn’t finish university. How could I? I dropped out in my final year at South Bank University in England. I just woke up and said I am not doing it. My mom was heartbroken from when she discovered that I was into drugs to when I dropped out of school but she never stopped praying and believing that God would save me. I lost my mom while I was graduating into full-blown addiction. With her death, I nosedived deeper into drugs.
“Several times I tried to come out of addiction, but couldn’t. I went to different rehab homes and I found out that a lot of rehab homes out there offer programmes that are not necessarily beneficial to the addicts. For most of them, it is business. They aren’t interested in addicts’ recovery.
I have been to different rehab programmes within and outside the country. I was at a rehab in Kaduna a couple of times; I was also in rehab programme in Abuja and Jos thrice but eventually found peace, strength, and direction at CADAM. That is the thing, without Jesus, it is not going to work. My personal experience has taught me that every drug addict needs Jesus.”
I became useless after four botched universities — Abraham
Narrating his experience, Abraham said: “Hard drug addiction affected me in different ways. My education was the worst hit as I went to four different universities and didn’t graduate in any because of the use of drugs. It affected my interaction with my relatives. When I started taking drugs, I distanced myself from all my family members. We lived in the same house but I didn’t communicate with them. Somehow I felt they hated me. This was untrue as they hated the habit I developed, not me.
“I actually started using drugs when I was 17 years old because of friends and peer pressure. They were using drugs, so I joined them because I wanted to feel better. I used drugs for about 15 years. During the period of my addiction, the first thing I think of when I see someone is how to extort the person. When I see a signboard for instance, the next thing on my mind is how to sell it and make money for what I want to use. From morning till evening, my thought process was filled with negativity. The cycle was: money, drugs, high, money, and drugs, high.
“The feeling after taking hard drugs would make you start thinking that in the next one hour, you’ll be the President of Nigeria. It will be giving you wrong views of yourself. You’ll see yourself and feel like you are a mature man, you are stable, you can be the President, you can rule Nigeria, and you are the only correct person. So it gives you a different personality.
“It affected me psychologically as well; it affected me so much that I developed a low Intelligence Quotient. I couldn’t read. The worst part was that it made me develop and started having seizures. For five years, I had seizures. I had to stay on medication. I couldn’t go out, drive or stay alone. I was always with someone because, at any time, I could have an attack. But God was so kind; I never had an attack outside the house. It always happens when I am at home. I have been free from seizures for almost three years now.
“The use of drugs drained me financially as well. I started selling gadgets, laptops, phones, anything I could lay my hands on. When I hit the red button last two years was when I realised I needed help and rehabilitation urgently.
That was when I came to CADAM. It was not easy: for iron to bend it has to pass through a furnace before it can be reshaped. So CADAM is like that fire. You have to stand strong, after heating you, they’ll reshape you into God’s pattern, then they allow you to dry up so that you will stay strong. Those that couldn’t stand the heat, left before graduation.
I escaped from psychiatric hospital— Tolulope
Also narrating her experience, Tolulope said: “I was 18 when I started taking drugs. By then, I had finished secondary school. It was actually because my cousin always bullied me at home that led me into it. I took hard drugs; I drank alcohol, and smoked cigarettes. I took hard drugs for 17 years without taking a break. The lifestyle didn’t come cheap.
At the peak of my addiction, my family took me to a psychiatric hospital and I escaped from there. I wasn’t mad but they thought I was because of hard drugs.
“I decided to end it last year when I started feeling like if I didn’t stop, I might die. CADAM isn’t the first rehabilitation centre I have been to. Since I came here, I never felt the urge to take drugs. It is not all about drugs but Christ-less drugs.
I am from a Muslim background but thank God for me today, I am a Christian and I love being a Christian.
‘As someone who was into drugs for almost two decades, my advice to young people is to stay away from drugs. Hard drugs take you away from your family, it takes children away from their parents, and drugs are dangerous.
I am the last born but my family members are not happy because drugs took me away from them. I wasn’t even there when my dad died. When my siblings all got married, I wasn’t there. My life was almost ruined before I found help in CADAM.”