Emad has been in the Living Free program for the past ten months. Here is the story of his childhood, what brought him to Teen Challenge and his experience so far …

I was born in Mashhad, Iran in 1995 and lived there until I was about five years old. It’s hard to recall much. I didn’t go to school, but life wasn’t too bad. I then moved to Pakistan with my mum, dad, and sister, leaving behind the rest of the family. From what I gathered, new law had come in that time and Dad and the new law didn’t get along. The place was an absolute horror story. If you’ve lived in a third world country you would know. If you haven’t, trust me, you don’t want to! But what followed was paradise.

Mum and Dad took some risks in an Islamic country to visit Christian organisations. Once they were at a church when it got bombed. Following this event, and God’s blessing on getting them out alive, they met Christians who knew about an Australian couple. This couple soon sponsored our family to come to Australia. The love and grace these people showed us is indescribable. God had a pretty big role in how my family came to Australia.

We arrived in Australia in 2002 and I didn’t know a word of English, starting school in Year 3. During my high school years I came up with a way of shortcutting everything I did, to make life easier in every way possible – from school work to manipulating people. As long as everything ran smoothly I didn’t see a problem … until I graduated high school with a low ATAR.

I had a wakeup call that I didn’t handle well. Instead of trying to fix things up, I called it quits and decided to take the easy road out. I then decided to take a gap year to find out what I wanted to do in life. During most of this time I was consuming drugs, so I didn’t do much thinking. Drugs were a recreational thing until I got my hands on ice. While I was on ice, I had no fear of failure. It felt as though my problems had dissipated into thin air. After failing for three years of trying to change my life around, my lifestyle and ice addiction had completely taken over. I lost weight, my morals and a healthy headspace.

My gambling addiction started when I discovered a casino game called Baccarat. I quit my job because I no longer felt the need for it. I felt as though I had no chance of losing. Gambling was something that really took off the first time I ever sat at a table. It was like ice and gambling worked hand in hand for my set of problems.

I can barely recall what I did between the end of 2015 and the start of 2016. Usually to fix a problem you need to know what the cause of the problem is. My efforts in finding out this problem prior to coming to Teen Challenge were to escape reality. I had life problems I didn’t have answers for and this made me look as though I was throwing away an opportunity through taking drugs, with no hope or plan for the future. Until February 2016 when my journey started at Teen Challenge, I had absolutely no structure in my life and I was well and truly stuck in addiction.

Coming to Teen Challenge has helped me in more ways than I can write about; from finding out what I want to do in life, to feeling better mentally and physically. Through much trial and error, during this program I also turned to God. Since doing so I’ve handled things I couldn’t imagine handling. I’ve still had my down days and learning curves though, from almost getting kicked out of the program to certain events that just meant I had to work harder at what I wanted.

My future plans are to be an outdoor education leader, whether it’s at a school, for tourist groups or using outdoor adventuring as a tool to help people out with what I’ve been through. My near future plan is to get into a dual diploma in outdoor recreation, travel and tourism.

God has played a huge role in my life, from reuniting me with school friends I haven’t talked to in four years to restoring my life inside out