Caring for You and Your Family

James Macharia and Millie Mburu Alcohol nearly wrecked our marriage

After 13 years together, 37-year-old financial and retail consultant James Macharia and marriage counsellor Millie Mburu, 32, reckon dealing with alcohol has been the greatest challenge their marriage has ever faced yet. They narrate their struggles, how they overcame them and lessons learnt to ESTHER AKELLO.

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  • Interviewer How did you meet?
  • James One Friday evening after work, a friend suggested we pick up his girlfriend from her office and go out. His girlfriend came with another friend. That friend is sitting across from me now. That was in 2004.
  • Interviewer So who made the first move?
  • James We had good rapport right from the first day we met. I was talkative and she was humorous. Later on, I pretended my phone had a problem and asked for her phone to make a call. I dialed my number and later on saved it. I called her a week later.
  • Millie Despite being born-again, I was curious about James. He was bold, articulate and interesting. After a few dates, I was taken in so much so that I also started drinking.
  • Interviewer That doesn’t sound like a good influence!
  • James I didn’t introduce her to alcohol. I just made it available!
  • Millie His entire clique used to drink so I also caught on.
  • Interviewer When did you notice alcohol was a challenge to your marriage?
  • Millie Personally, I didn’t have any struggles with alcohol. James, however, did for almost seven years I’d say. He’d go drinking every Friday only to re-appear late Sunday night.
  • James I was young and I think faced a lot of peer pressure as well.
  • Interviewer Every weekend?
  • James Yes. I’d be on my best behaviour every day of the week but I would binge drink from Friday to Sunday.
  • Did you have any remorse or guilt regarding your weekend-long absenteeism?
  • James Not really. Honestly, I enjoyed drinking and I was very generous with my drinks as well. People would drink on my tabs and there were entire strips of bars where I was well known and even had a personal glass engraved with my name.
  • Interviewer You already had your first-born son by then. Did the drinking affect him?
  • Millie I shielded him from our reality as much as I could. Thankfully, as drunk as he was, James would never cause a scene when he came home. He’d simply walk in quietly into the house.
  • James We used to have around six taps of different drinks at the very top of our wall unit and friends would sometimes come over for a drink! When I realised my son could reach up there, I removed them. Looking back, this may have been the start of my reformation.
  • Interviewer Millie you used to drink as well. What changed?
  • Millie When our first-born came, I knew I had to stop. We couldn’t both be out drinking! Additionally, as much as James was quiet in the house after his drinking sprees, he was quite the rabble-rouser in the bar. I grew tired of the brawls. Thereafter, I re-dedicated my life to Christ and began praying for my marriage.
  • James When Millie cut down her hours in the bar, I was happy. My wish was to marry someone who would really take care of our kids and be a role model to them.
  • Interviewer Was it an easy transition?
  • Millie For me, fairly, albeit progressively. It took James longer and there were very difficult, painful moments along the way. When we started going to church, he would come home from the bar on Sunday mornings, try to get himself together and fail miserably.
  • Interviewer How miserable are we talking about?
  • Millie He’d try to shower and fall asleep in the bathroom with the door locked! On several occasions the kids and I had to go shower at our neighbour’s house amid tears.
  • James There were times I’d wake her up and tell her we needed to pray and then fall asleep or unconsciously leave her in the living room, go to our bedroom and unintentionally lock the door. She’d then be forced to sleep in the children’s room.
  • Interviewer That sounds trying!
  • Millie That was just one part. Sex, or lack of it thereof, was a big issue in our marriage. I would never let him touch me after an entire weekend of drinking and missing in action. To be honest, I used it as punishment.
  • James Which was very frustrating! As soon as the prospect of intimacy went out the window, I’d walk out the door and back to the bar where I’d fall asleep on my chair and in the event I woke up, I’d start drinking again until I couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when I’d go back home. Ladies, don’t use sex as a weapon. It simply deteriorates the relationship. Luckily, my love for alcohol blinded me. Other men would look for other alternatives.
  • Interviewer Did you ever think of walking out?
  • Millie Yes. But then I thought about my son. I didn’t want him to grow up with his father and I living in separate houses. As a measure of last resort, I suggested we try marriage counselling. Initially, James refused until the doctor wrote a note saying it was a matter of urgency since I was depressed. He agreed to come for the session, but again, not without a fight.
  • James In protest, on the morning of our appointment, I arrived home at 4am, drunk. The first thing the doctor said to me when he saw me was that I was an addict. I vehemently refused despite the fact that I was reeking of alcohol.
  • Interviewer You didn’t think you were out of hand?
  • James Back then, no. Secondly, the thought that my wife was depressed cut like a knife because I love her. It also made me feel inadequate. I felt it was my responsibility to make her happy! Later on, I realised that Millie wasn’t depressed. It was just a ruse to get me to go for counselling!
  • Millie I had to. I was desperate. There was no other way to get him there.
  • James It was worth it. I had a problem admitting it then but looking back it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. I did attend an alcoholics anonymous meeting once with a friend but we found it to be more humorous than sobering.
  • Interviewer So when did you know you needed to make a turnaround?
  • James When Millie started going to church, I also became interested in getting my spiritual life together although the frequency of drinking never abated.
  • Millie Funny enough, a saved friend of his would find him in the bar and the two would share scripture. James would then write the passages at the back of his bill, come home, ask for my Bible and research the passages thoroughly! He was rather proud of the fact that as a drunkard, he could recite scripture and even started sharing them as posts on his Facebook page. In a way, I think he was ministering to himself.
  • James I had quite the reputation even at family functions. I’d either show up drunk, make a technical appearance before disappearing to drink in the next town or sometimes never even show up. All those years, my mother and wife consistently prayed for me. Women’s prayers are never in vain!
  • Millie One day in church, he stood up to go to the washroom not realising he was going to the altar. He’d just come home from the bar in the morning so though not drunk; he had a bit of alcohol still in him. Anyway, when asked why he’d gone to the altar, he started rambling about his life. One thing led to another and he gave his life to Christ.
  • James (Laughing), Now that I look back, I must have sounded like a mad man or a man in a lot of trouble. That must’ve been one unbelievable moment because apparently, one of the owners of a bar I used to frequent was part of the congregation and sent word to others saying I had shifted sides. Immediately after, someone sent me money to go get some drinks because they thought I was suffering from a severe hangover. With that money, I sent text messages to all my friends telling them I’d quit alcohol and cigarettes and that I had dedicated my life to Jesus as my saviour.
  • Interviewer How would you describe those seven years of marriage?
  • Millie Lessons. I wanted to prove that marriage could work. I’m from a single parent family so the prospect of a failed marriage haunted me. I now work as a marriage counsellor.
  • James I’d call them lessons. I wouldn’t call those years wasted entirely although I could have used that money to do something more productive. I’m a really good accountant, so I like to account for every coin I spend. I think I went through that so that I can be a testimony that God heals and gives second chances.
  • Interviewer Did you ever think you’d reach this point in your relationship?
  • Millie I always knew James would come around. Just the fact that he became born-again is enough to make me love him now. Now, just as he was in his drinking days, he is committed to his new life. He even challenges me! I have a happy marriage.
  • James (Teasing) How come I don’t feel happy? Anyway, I have never felt better. I honestly felt like sobriety is what was missing in my life.
  • Interviewer Are there things that you do now as a couple that you never used to do back then?
  • Millie I used to pepper him with questions regarding his whereabouts; I don’t do that anymore. He gives me a run-down of his diary before he leaves the house. We also go for road trips and outings, a former preserve of his friends. He rarely goes for any social occasion without me accompanying him.
  • James Men are egoistic and can sometimes mistake concern with control. But women ask about one’s whereabouts out of care. Wives just don’t over do it and husbands appreciate your wives. I feel secure when I’m around Millie and try to compensate the time we lost and also try to be a good example to our children
  • Interviewer Any advise to other couples?
  • Millie Wives need to be authentic. Be true to yourself and have your own identity aside from your role as a wife. You’re there to complement your husband, not complete him. Think hard before walking out. You may not have money or muscles but you can pray for your marriage. Despite all the counselling classes I offer, I still tell women to pray.
  • James Husbands love your wives like Christ loves the church; wives be submissive to your husbands. Above all pray. That’s the secret.
  • Interviewer You have three children now. Tell us about them
  • Millie Shawn Macharia, our first-born, is now 10; he is followed by Brandon Wangai, six, and Jeslyn Wanjiru, four. Parenting has been a learning experience and especially an appreciation of what it took for our parents to raise us up.
  • James Shawn is talkative, helpful and loves school and music. Brandon is more playful, athletic and jovial. He is also very honest and his word is his bond. Jeslyn is talkative, inquisitive and very intelligent but generally, they are also God-fearing.
  • Interviewer Which main lessons have you learnt regarding parenting and marriage?
  • Millie That this is a crucial age for our children. They watch what we do and imitate it. There’s an age a child reaches and there’s nothing they will learn or do differently no matter how hard you press them. Also, God answers prayers in His own timing.
  • James We make sure we are around for our kids. We drop them to school in the morning and pick them in the evening and do homework with them. There comes a time as parents you will miss these small moments so when you have a chance to do them, maximise on it. Regarding marriage, it is a good institution, but it requires a lot of nurturing.
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