How I Found Light After Witnessing My Husband Battle Addiction

By Ria Ahmed

Living a double life was something I mastered since hitting puberty. It wasn’t proper for a decent Afghan girl to have guy friends and definitely not crushes. It didn’t matter that we were living in Canada now. Throughout high school and University, I kept my love interests separate from my family life, never daring to combine the two worlds.

At age 20, when I met Mohan*, an Iraqi-Canadian, we hit it off immediately. He was the tahini to my hummus, the lamb shanks to my qabili! For the next decade, as we grew closer and mapped out our future, I skillfully kept his existence a secret from my family, relatives and community. When I said “I accept” three times during our Nikah ceremony, in the presence of 300 of our closest family and friends, I was sure that my days of sneaking and lying were over. I could be open about all aspects of my life, a new chapter in my life.

But five years and three kids into our marriage, Mohan came to me and admitted he had lost over $200,000 gambling and was addicted to prescription pain medication. Once I recovered from the shock of his news, I went into Type A planning mode and tried to come up with an effective treatment plan so he could overcome his addictions and our family could remain in-tact.

Over the course of the next several years, we battled not only addiction but also mounting debt and the relentless cycle of failed attempts at sobriety. What added an extra layer of complication to this dilemma was concealing my family’s ordeal due to the religious and societal stigma surrounding substance abuse and gambling.

A handful of immediate family members knew the truth about what Mohan was struggling with and they remained tight lipped for fear of ruining our reputation if word got out. To everyone else, we plastered fake smiles and dug deep to find the energy to host Iftar dinners during Ramadan, attend Eid and Nowroz celebrations and organize splashy birthdays for our kids with all their cousins surrounding them and singing “sana helwa ya gameel”.

We managed to fool everyone at first but eventually, it became too hard to juggle everything and the intricate web of deception began to unravel. The very traditions and occasions that filled me with pride and shaped my identity were the ones I was trying to avoid. I just didn’t have the patience or energy for all those social interactions when I had to feign and put on a mask.

When COVID-19 swept over the world and everything shut down, I was scared for the fate of humanity. But I was relieved to finally give in to the devastation brought on by Mohan’s addictions, which were ruining our family little-by-little. At long last, I could be sad, worried and overwhelmed in peace. No more having to attend parties with a face-full of makeup and sequined body-con dress. No more scrambling to clean up the house and cook mantu and kebabs for company while Mohan hid in the basement trying to stabilize on the opioid maintenance drug Suboxone (subs).

Relapse after relapse, he kept trying different doses of the subs in hopes that he would feel ok but it always left him feeling depressed, lethargic and in a zombie-like state with zero emotions. The gambling he managed to quit, but no amount of counseling or Narcotics Anonymous meetings could help him stay on the path of sobriety when it came to the pills. I stood by him, thankful that the pandemic had temporarily relieved me of constant and draining family responsibilities.

In 2021, as the ongoing global pandemic unfolded, I discovered a one-word miracle that breathed new life into our family: ibogaine. A psychoactive plant medicine that is used as an addiction interrupter, ibogaine was instrumental in helping my husband detox and get sober in a humane way, minimizing suffering. 

Mohan took a 3-month leave of absence from his job and we moved our family, including four children, to Mexico to give him a real chance at sobriety. Ibogaine is not a cure-all magic bullet but it can serve as a catalyst for change and that’s exactly what it did for my husband. While in Mexico, he focussed on sobriety and I got a chance to be myself, truly free of all pressures and expectations since we were physically removed from our relatives and community.

This experience has taught me how truly isolating and devastating addiction can be, especially when factoring in the religious and societal stigma surrounding substance abuse and gambling. Individuals battling all kinds of addictions hide it from their neighbors, coworkers, relatives and communities for fear of being labeled as dangerous, incapable of managing treatment, possessing moral failure or being faulted for their condition.

I walked away from this experience with a newfound empathy and understanding for individuals and families who are crippled by addiction. There is no one path to recovery but ibogaine can be a catalyst for change and form an alternative, more humane approach to addiction treatment and I’d like to share that message with others. 

Ria Ahmed is a mother of four living in Toronto, Canada. She holds a Masters degree in Public Policy and an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Economics. She is currently working on a memoir detailing her experience supporting her husband’s drug addiction and recovery through ibogaine. She is passionate about spreading the important message of the potential of ibogaine and other plant medicines to form an effective treatment for those suffering from addictions. You can get in touch with Ria by emailing her

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.