She took her first sip of alcohol for fun. She was in the company of friends, but Ellen Marwa, a Kenya Police officer, did not know that the single sip would culminate in a struggle with addiction and depression that would make her attempt suicide twice.
Marwa’s depression followed her separation from her husband just after giving birth to their first child. She admits that her addiction to alcohol broke their marriage.
“After the separation I felt as if I was a bad mother to my daughter and the more I thought about it the more I drank,” says Marwa.
The last-born of five siblings says that she overdosed on medicines twice in an attempt to kill herself. The first time she bought the pills over the counter.
But she was rushed to hospital, where she remained for a week. The second time was in a rehab — she stole the pills.
“I used to feel like no one wanted me, whenever I looked at my daughter I felt I was not worth to be a mother as I was a drunkard. I would drink until I forgot to go to work, but my bosses were understanding and encouraged me to check into rehab, I was in denial,’’ she says.
When she lost her cousin to alcohol, her parents and everyone around her was concerned about her addiction. This led them to take her into rehab on April 21 this year.
It took her time to adjust, but she says she is getting better. “I have managed to curb my addiction to alcohol and as much as I am still struggling with depression I am looking forward to getting better and returning to work,” she says.
Above all, she wants to be the best mother to her daughter. She is also grateful to her employer and colleagues.
“I still get my salary and my bosses visit me to check on my progress, they are so concerned about my well-being. I will go back to work as soon as I feel well,’’ she says.
Marwa is not alone. Software engineer Susan Muranda, a graduate of Strathmore University, started taking alcohol when she was in high school.
The 35-year-old says she started boozing in Form Three by stealing her elder sister’s wine. A glass turned into a bottle and within a short time she could not control her drinking.
“It was so bad I was once expelled from school when I was in Form Four after I used my pocket money to buy and smuggle a box of wine into school and hosting a girls’ night party,” she says. “My mother begged different schools to admit me. After a lucky break I scored an A- in KCSE.”
“I became a full-blown alcoholic after joining university. I had a reckless sex life that saw me get pregnant in my second year. I gave birth to a baby with ruptured veins who died immediately.
“I could not stop drinking and I got pregnant again, and developed goitre and serious convulsions.”
She admits that her alcohol dependency made her feel unwanted and a loser. She was fired from several jobs, moved back upcountry and attempted suicide twice.
“I used to drink changáa as I had no job. I would drink and forget myself. I felt I was not a good mother to my daughter. I couldn’t take it anymore and one day I mixed my drink with a handful of tablets, I drank it all and woke up after three days.”
After surviving the first suicide attempt, Muranda later mixed chang’aa with rat poison. Her sister came to her rescue and took her to hospital. She realised that the only way to get her life back was to check into rehab. She says she is clean now but will live with goitre for the rest of her life. She is looking forward to completing her detox programme. “I’m doing this for my daughter, I would hate to see her turn out to be like me.”
Reformed street boy Dominic Okari, 22, found himself in Nakuru after the post-election violence of 2008.
Born and bred in Kericho, Okari separated from his parents at an internally displaced people’s camp and boarded a truck to Nakuru.
“I started abusing drugs when I was 11 years old,” he says. “I would do bhang, heroine, mafuta ya ndege and others.”
Okari says that he stole mobile phones and other valuables on Nakuru streets and sold them at throwaway prices to buy drugs.
“I attempted suicide three times. I would intoxicate myself, sleep in trenches wishing to die and when I woke up, it made me angry that I was still alive,” he says.
Well-wishers noticed his impressive dancing skills and checked him into rehab. He completed his detox programme and is now a volunteer at the rehab centre.
The World Health Organization estimates that someone commits suicide every 40 seconds.
“Working with a suicidal patient gives us a chance to help save a life,’’ says psychologist Cecilia Kariuki.
John Mututho, former chairman of the anti-drug abuse agency Nacada and founder of Jomec Rehabilitation Centre in Nakuru, calls on the government to set up rehab centres in all counties.
“The only way to prevent the high number of suicidal cases is to create awareness,’’ he says.