Kiambu County has been in the forefront in fighting alcoholism and other forms of addiction, to the extent that Mr Ferdinand Waititu, the county boss set aside a budget to support the county youth, with the hope that they would be gainfully engaged and motivated to quit their habits.
He went ahead and committed Sh400 per alcoholic youth per day in exchange of menial jobs in the county, a move that was criticised by other leaders in the County. They said the programme ought to have been carefully thought through, for it to benefit the targeted youth.
Sadly, we have read stories of how some of the youth run back to the alcoholic dens to quench their thirst once they have been paid their daily allowances. DN2 interviewed two men from Kiambu county, who narrated their personal stories of struggle with addiction and how they got out of their habits.
There are many parallels between the lives of Mr Gregory Muchiri and Mr Patrick Kimani. Now in their thirties, they share a similar history, that of addiction. They have faced family rejection, battled depression and attempted suicide, all because the frothy liquids had taken charge of their lives. In what one can call an escape from the alcoholics’ den, they have lived a dog’s life, but are now in charge of their destinies.
ADDICTED FOR 17 YEARS REBELLION FROM TEENAGE YEARS
If Mr Gregory Muchiri, 38, would get a good film producer and a talented cast, enactment of his life story, though just at half the human life expectancy, would make for a sad thriller movie. Scene one would open with a well-mannered boy, raised in a religious family, who, in teenage, drifts to waywardness after being lured by peers into rebelliousness, alcoholism, drug abuse and crime.
The behaviour, which he started as fun, not only made him a regular guest in police cells and courts as a teenager, but also plunged him into the world of addition and frustrations that saw him attempt suicide three times.
His conduct irritated his family who went to the extent of wishing him dead, but today, he has been able to pick up the pieces and is leading a campaign against the same vice that nearly claimed his life.
Born and brought up in Riabai Village, Kiambu County, Mr Muchiri counts himself lucky. “I don’t believe that I’m alive today,” he says. “Apart from surviving suicide, the world gave me a second chance to correct my mess.”
While at Kiuu Primary School, where his parents had transferred him to due to its good performance, he teamed up with “bad boys”, a group of pupils who used to sneak out of school and go for casual jobs in chang’aa dens in the neighbouring Kiamumbi Village.
Their affinity with dens, which saw them skip most of the lessons, introduced them to alcoholism and for a start, they consumed kangara — a fermented concoction comprising of different ingredients that are then distilled to produce chang’aa.
The behaviour put them on the wrong side of the school administration and before he could sit for his examination, Muchiri was expelled. His mother managed to get him a slot at Chief Wandie Primary School where sadly, he continued drinking alcohol and started smoking cigarettes.
Despite his indiscipline, he performed well in Class Eight. He was admitted to the high school of his choice, Kanunga, where he teamed up with boys in upper classes, with whom he would sneak out of school in search of chang’aa and bhang.
He was suspended in Form One for being part of a plot to burn the school, but the punishment did not tame him. With like-minded students, they started mugging villagers and stealing from fellow students to afford their alcohol. Muchiri somehow managed to clear high school, and soon after, his mother enrolled him for a computer training course, but due to his alcoholism, he abandoned the course. He got a casual job, but after receiving his first salary, he never returned to work. He headed straight to the drinking den.
Muchiri recalls how he would wake up at 3am and walk all the way to Githogoro, about 10 kilometres from his home, just to buy chang’aa. He began to sell his mother’s belongings and livestock to sustain chang’aa drinking.
At one point, he lost teeth in a bar brawl, and another time while he was pruning a mango tree at his grandmother’s farm, he accidentally cut his thigh with a panga. He was given Sh700 for medication, but instead of going to the hospital, he went to a bar and after taking beer, he went to a nearby shop, bought a needle and thread and stitched the wound which later healed but with a lot of complications.
In 2007, he attempted to take his life three times, two times by hanging himself with a rope, then with a telephone line cable and the third time he took poison. He never succeeded in all these attempts.
“People, including my family, used to say that even after trying to kill myself three times, I never died because even Satan had rejected me due to my bad character”, he says, recalling the pain he took his mother through.
Family rejection pushed Muchiri to Laikipia County, where he was employed as a farm hand, earning Sh100 a day, all of which he spent on alcohol. After a year, he went back to Kiambu and settled in the streets.
It was while loitering in the streets that Muchiri met his former high schoolteacher, who talked him into going for rehabilitation. Inasmuch as he was willing to give rehab a chance, his family was not willing to pick up the Sh105,000 bill.
“They said it was a waste of time and money. They even told my teacher that they were waiting for my death, and would readily bury me. My teacher was so persistent that they finally agreed to give me a chance,” Muchiri recalls.
For fear of relapse
After rehab, he didn’t want to go back home where he would meet his peers for fear of relapse. He begged the management of the rehab centre to allow him to take a short course on addition, after which he got a job at a rehabilitation centre in Nyahururu.
Muchiri, who also took several addiction and counselling-related courses later set up his Ahadi Treatment Centre on the land which he inherited from his parents at Kirigiti.
At this centre, addicts get free help. He says he knows what addiction can do to people, and his mission is to rescue as many people as possible from the terrible habit.
ADDICTED FOR 16 YEARS: FRUSTRATIONS LED ME TO ALCOHOL
Like Mr Muchiri, Mr Patrick Kimani, 34, also known as ‘Charen’, was raised in a religious home. That did not stop him from drifting to drugs and alcohol abuse.
His hope was that the two would give him solace for his frustrations, but before he knew it, he was addicted to both.
Mr Kimani is a talented singer and a guitarist, but instead of using the talent to earn a decent living, he used to play his guitar in popular night clubs in Kiambu Town. Instead of being paid in cash, he was paid with alcohol.
“My life headed south. My addiction was so bad that I could not function without having a drink. My relationship with my family deteriorated so much that they chased me away from home. I used to beg friends for a place to sleep, or spend my nights in the clubs,” Mr Kimani recalls.
Frustrations and depression caused by the rejection from his own family gave him suicidal thoughts and just like Mr Muchiri, he attempted to take his life three times, twice by taking poison and once through attempted hanging.
“At one time while leaving a den, I bought poison with an end game in mind. I would swallow the poison and bid my troubles good bye.
“Unfortunately, my mission failed because I blacked out as soon as I hit the pillows,” Kimani says.
“At another time, my friends thwarted my attempt to hang myself,” he narrates.
Kimani says he has been before a magistrate at least 20 times. All charges were related to alcohol. Often, instead of throwing him into prison, the magistrate would order that he does manual work around the courts but for about four times, he has served jail terms of between one week and two months at Kiambu G.K. Prison.
“At the prison, I was this unruly inmate with an emaciated body caused by 16 years of addiction. I was always on the receiving end of prison brawls, and by the time I was changing my ways, I had lost almost all my teeth,” he recalls.
A conscious decision
Mr Kimani watched as his friends drank themselves to death. He made a conscious decision to quit alcohol, but the decision was not easy.
“No one was willing to listen or help me. Not my family or the churches I went to, hoping to get help. Many ‘men of God’ chased me away,” he says.
One day, he met Bishop Absalom Ndung’u of the Kenya Redeemed Ministries, who agreed to help him. He went ahead and paid for his four-months rehabilitation journey at Greatest Life Concern, located at Mlango Kubwa on Juja Road.
Aware that his return to Kiambu would reconnect him with his drinking friends, Mr Kimani was hosted by his cousin at Kahawa West for six months and later, Bishop Absalom gave him some capital to start a small business.
He has also been recording music. His recordings include “Mama Pima”, which talks about the dangers of alcohol. According to him, the song is meant to educate society on the dangers of irresponsible drinking.
How addiction happens
According to Ms Gladys Chania, an adult and child psychologist, who also runs Thika-based Right @ Home Rehabilitation Centre, addiction cases might be different but addicts have a similar journey towards addiction. She says that addiction is treatable through rehabilitation, but if left untreated, it can be detrimental in certain medical ways, and even cause death.
Everyone’s way of falling into addiction, she says, is different because it depends of how the substance being used increases the levels of dopamine, a molecule that transports messages across the brains active centre to give people the feeling of pleasure.
“Different substances get into dopamine in different ways. How quickly each drug gets into the brain and how quickly it activates the neural circuits determines how addictive it will be. For instance, injecting or snorting a drug makes the effects and addiction happen very fast,” Ms Chania said. Addiction, she said can make the user physically sick and the feeling compels the addict to use more drug to relieve ‘sickly’ symptoms, thereby creating a cycle of drug desire, every time the ‘sick’ feelings kick in.
Relapse statistics on treatment and recovery from addiction is very discouraging, standing at 40-60 per cent worldwide but experts describe relapse as part of the recovery process and not a sign of failure.
Ms Chania says that the high chances of relapse are because after leaving rehabilitation centres, recovering addicts may be exposed to factors that lure them back to alcoholism and drugs.
“Rehabilitation centres are controlled and this is what makes addicts recover. If they don’t have a strong support system after the time in rehab, they will most likely relapse.
Outside the rehab centres, they are most likely to come across factors such as people, places, or even feelings that will cheat them back to their old ways. Other times, they go into denial, refuse that they have addiction problems, and because they want to feel like they are in control, they go back to their addictions, she says.