New Times interviewed Ismaeil Gharedaghi from Iran, aged 32, in Dianalund asylum center in Denmark.
Overcoming drugs and darkness, Ismail became a strong believer in Christianity. He tells us about his journey to a clean life in Denmark where he shares with other former drug addicts a community in belief and troubled pasts
When Ismaeil was just 10 years old, his dad died in right in front of him. He was stabbed by thieves who came to rob the family’s house. This is how Ismael lost his father, what he calls “the hero of his life”. This became the beginning of a long struggle for a renewed belief in life.
The loss of a hero and a family
“Two months later my mom remarried,” Ismaeil says, “and I had to live with a step dad and see my mom with him every day. This was even harder for me than losing my dad. My mother could not control me and my life anymore. I had lost concentration on studying and I was failing every year.”
Turning 14, Ismaeil distanced himself from his mother because, as he says, “of all the sayings that if I was a man I should not let my mom live with this man.” Ismael felt helpless. He would rarely come home, and when he did, he would be punished. “So I started smoking and drinking, because I thought it makes a grown up faster.”
When Ismael was 18 or 19 years old, he was familiar with all sorts of drugs and he had a steady consume. This time was dominated by aggression and distance to his family. Bitterly, Ismael remembers that he “hated everyone and had lost the love of my family”.
Almost a grown man, Ismail had litle contact with his family. But when he entered his 24th year, they wanted to reconcile with him and help him become clean – and married. Grasping at a form of solution, Ismael instead decided to get married and run away.
“I did not know that my life will turn into a bigger mess, and that I would ruin someone else’s life too. And all of this happened eventually.”
Becoming clean and getting to know a new God
With the help of his friends, Ismael came to realize that he had an addiction problem, but he struggled to get rid of it on his own.
But when he came across a 12 steps program by the name of Narcotics Anonymous (NA), an American association that has spread across the globe, he felt a change. NA is a Christian organization, and Christianity is a central part of their program. Ismael had grown up in a Muslim family and community, but the shared values of this new community appealed to him.
“I had started to stepping into Christianity before I know it. I think the founder of this 12 steps program, William – or is it Bill? – Wilson got the idea from bible. Because these spiritual steps are so much like the Christian teachings.”
Ismael had found both a new God and a new feeling of community that would eventually extend all the way to a future life in a cold, northern country.
“Gradually I was losing my old perspective and my bitter past was transforming,” Ismael says. “Now I had gotten to know some Christian people and I was witnessing their beautiful life and inner peace.“
Ismael would spend his time with his new community, sharing with them experiences of Christianity and drug abuse.
After some time though, his belief got him into trouble, and he had to leave his home country forever.
A new community in a foreign country
“When I arrived to Denmark I decided to stay active in the same path; Christianity and addicts anonymous fellowship,” Ismaeil recounts of the time as a newcomer to Denmark. A lot of asylum seekers and refugees struggle to create a social network, when they have arrived in Denmark. But not Ismaeil.
Apart from the three days a week in which he attends language classes, Ismael now has a full schedule on Thursdays and Wednesdays. Here, he shares with Danes and other newcomers the same things that he used to share with his community in Iran: Experiences with drugs and a common faith in Christianity.
“Every Wednesday under a church in Slagelse there is a class for drug addicts anonymous which I found and asked to join,” Ismael says. “Over there we share our pain, problems and feelings and pray together. There are only two Farsi speakers. We don’t speak much Danish or English, but we really want to fit in and be a part of their fellowship. Because it is the goal of our life to stay clean and live a healthy life. They all are clean people and have beautiful lives. Every former drug addicts is a teacher for the other, and we all use each other’s experience.”
“Maybe here with the help of Jesus,” he says, “maybe out of hundred, one would quit and stay clean of drugs. That will be the best reward for me.”
Ismael has decided to stay on his path for now. He even considers starting up his own fellowship program to help others to not experience what he had to go through. The teachings of the Narcotics Anonymous and the Christian vision of the good life is central for him, and the community it provides is essential for his life in Denmark.
“That is the secret of my life; believing in my God and asking for his help to reach out to all the people who suffer from the pain that I did before. I think this is in someway actually reaching out to myself again and again.”
NA or Narcotics Anonymous is nonprofit fellowship or society of men or women for whom drugs have become a major problem.
Narcotics Anonymous uses a traditional 12 steps model that has been expanded and developed for people with varied substance abuse issues and is the second-largest 12-step organization.
NA is an association of American origin. It was established in Denmark in the early 1990’s, hosting meetings daily in Copenhagen. Today, the organization hosts meeting weekly in all major Danish cities: Århus, Aalborg, Vejle, Esbjerg, Odense og Silkeborg.
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