Judy Wambui Mwangi is a drug addict survivor. Her addiction not only took her life through a bottomless pit, but also ruined her relationship with her family. She lived the lowest life possible until by God’s grace she was able to remove the shackles and start her life afresh. Now, together with her drug addict survivor husband, she runs a rehab centre for drug addicts. She shared her experience with MWAURA MUIGANA.
When Judy walked into our offices for this interview, she looked so sure of herself. And when she exchanged pleasantries with my colleagues, they blended so well and easily cracked jokes. It is difficult to envisage that for years Judy had been a junkie, especially since it doesn’t show on her classy look, eloquent speech and great mannerisms. She narrated the events that led her into a life of drugs.
“My parents were preoccupied with their difficult marriage when I was growing up. They didn’t seem to have time for me and never affirmed or openly expressed their love for me. Consequently, I felt unappreciated and grew up as an insecure girl, looking for parental love and acceptance. I didn’t know how to express myself and bottled up everything, a habit that persisted throughout high school at Matungulu Girls in Machakos, but changed little when I enrolled at a college in Nairobi after high school.
I made new friends in college who introduced me to alcohol when I was 21. I found that alcohol helped me drown my inner fears, albeit temporary. I remained insecure, unfocused and lacked personal identity. Life just seemed to pass by and I went along with it. Upon graduation from college with a diploma in cosmetology, I got a well-paying job in Nairobi.
An attempt at relationships with boyfriends didn’t seem to work until I met a Nigerian man when I was 24. He showered me with affirmation, love and money, and for the first time in my life I felt accepted. It was therefore no surprise that I moved in with him in his house in the up-market Kileleshwa neighbourhood of Nairobi. He was so loving and caring and such a good provider that I didn’t even bother to find out what he did for a living. And so when I learnt that he was a drug trafficker and addict I was shocked but couldn’t get myself to walk out of the relationship. The man had become pivotal to my life and I couldn’t let go. I wish I knew better then.
The first puff is the strongest…
My boyfriend housed one his drug couriers, a young girl, in his house. Her work entailed trafficking drugs from Pakistan and other foreign countries to Nairobi. I recall one time complaining of fatigue after a sleepless night and she offered me a prescription, stating that it would cause me to sleep like a baby. What she gave me looked like a rolled-up cigarette, which she lighted and asked me to puff. It felt good – a surge of sensation in my body accompanied by a warm feeling on the skin and a dry mouth.
The more I puffed, the more it permeated a heavenly feeling inside of me and was incomparable to an alcohol high. Simply, I felt out of this world. I became drowsy and as promised, slept like a baby. That was the first puff that started me on the five-year journey to hell, literally! I woke up the next day with an unappeasable craving for the feeling I had experienced the previous day. The lady was glad to offer me more of the prescription and thus started my journey with drug addiction.
When my boyfriend realised I had smoked what he referred to as ‘stuff’, he didn’t seem to mind. It took me two years to realize that this ‘stuff’ I craved so much for was heroin. I became hooked to it and any attempts to stop were futile. My body couldn’t function properly without it. When I missed a puff, I would become restless and my body ached all over. I also had frequent bowel movements, stomach pain and nausea. Sometimes I ended up vomiting. So, to keep my body functioning I took more heroin.
But the drugs were taking a toll on me. Anxiety and lack of sleep made me very agitated most of the time and I constantly felt depressed and became easily irritable. I also experienced hot flushes frequently. And the more I smoked heroin, the more I wanted. I needed increased amounts to feel normal. And so my life became a pattern of smoke, relax and enjoy the feeling, then smoke some more.
An addict often becomes lazy and the only thing that makes sense to them is taking the drug and sleeping. That was my life and eventually I stopped working when drugs took over my life. My life took a turn for the worst when my Nigerian boyfriend and his lady courier were arrested for drug trafficking while on a business trip outside the country. They were jailed in Pakistan for a year. Unfortunately, reports that reached me were that both of them died while serving their prison terms.
Now fully hooked to drugs and my suppliers gone I used all the money he had given me to support my addiction. When this run out I sold his household items and it was time to move to the streets when the last of them – a carpet and mattress – were gone. My home became dark streets around River Road where most of the drug dealers operated. On few lucky nights when there was someone to pay, I would sleep in dingy lodgings in River Road. I sunk so deep in drugs that my life was worthless.
Return of the prodigal daughter…
At the verge of death, I resolved to return home in Kandara in Thika. My parents didn’t know of my drug addiction but were shocked to see how changed I had become. I manipulated them often to give me money to quell my dependence, as I could not stand the withdrawal symptoms.
My secret came out the bag one day when I went home high yet didn’t smell of alcohol. I had used a drug known by its street name Bogizi, which left a blue colour on your tongue. My uncle picked this out and told my parents that I was high on drugs. Mum, a prayerful woman was distraught. She sought treatment for me at Mathare Hospital where I was confined to a psychiatric ward.
After two weeks in hospital, I lied to my mother that I had recovered fully and urged her not to waste any more money with my treatment. Oblivious of how deep my addiction was, mum was convinced and had me discharged from the hospital. On the day I left hospital, I manipulated mum to give me Kshs. 1000, ducked her and returned to River Road to catch up with my friends. I continued doing drugs and generally lived the lowest life one can imagine. My relentless sisters traced me and convinced me to go to a drug rehabilitation centre.
My parents milked themselves dry to pay for the expensive rehabilitation, but I continued to be in denial about my addiction. After doing three of the six-month programme, I left the rehab centre and went back to the streets and continued doing drugs. To finance my habit, I started stealing and conning everyone from family members, friends and even strangers.
Hitting rock bottom…
When life became unbearable in the streets, I convinced a married man to take me to his house since his wife was away for about one year. Upon her return, she learnt that her husband had been living with me and a major family disagreement ensued. She refused to re-occupy the house and I think they shifted to a different home because I was left alone in the house. Within two weeks, I had sold all the items in the house to buy drugs. When the man returned to an empty house, he assumed I had moved out and taken his things with me.
My drug problem caused me to hurt many people including my parents and siblings. I became a marked person in some of the streets became of swindling brokers and stealing. For instance I would steal a phone, give it to a broker to pay a debt only to return and claim that the police were after it. I would get back the phone and use it to con another person. At some point, I ran out of people to con as I had gone through everyone within reach.
This is the time I became a drug-taster at a drugs making laboratory in River Road. This was such a dangerous undertaking that looking back, I think it’s only by God’s grace that I didn’t die. Most of the chemicals used to make the drugs are so poisonous that a taster is used to determine their efficacy and suitability for human consumption. Most die from drug poisoning.
Broke, desperate and a junkie, I ended up living in Nairobi’s Mathare slums. I changed my identity so no one knew who I really was. Meanwhile mum kept praying and fasting for my recovery. She prayed for my salvation and healing. Despite her frustrations, she never gave up on me.
Suicide mission turned salvation…
I lived for drugs and efforts to control the side effects didn’t get me anywhere. It was apparent that I didn’t know whether I was taking drugs to control the withdrawal symptoms or get the enjoyable high that was always temporary. It was obvious that I was going to end up dead unless I did something about my addiction.
One day, I decided to undergo an HIV and Aids test, with the resolve to end my life if it turned positive, or admit myself into a rehabilitation centre if negative. I was certain of a positive result because a life marred with drugs came with promiscuity as well. Astonishingly, the test turned negative and in February 2007, I walked into a rehabilitation centre in Nairobi and convinced the administration that my parents would pay for it. They never did and fortunately the centre waived the bill.
Alongside the programme at the rehabilitation centre, I learnt to forgive and stopped blaming my parents, siblings, relatives and friends for my addiction. I started taking responsibility for my mistakes and realised I needed to move on. After completing the programme and ready to face the world drugs-free, I didn’t have anywhere to go. The proprietor agreed I could stay on to help other addicts.
He later found a job for me at a rehabilitation centre in Embu. I worked there for two years before enrolling for drug addiction counseling course. My dream was to establish a rehabilitation centre to help addicts, a dream that came true in 2010 when I started Recovery Options at Nkoroi in Rongai. I run the centre with my husband, Richard, who is also a drug addiction survivor.
Having been drug-free for six years now, I can confidently recommend that giving one’s life to God is the solid way to protect a recovering drug addict from relapsing. You need power beyond yourself to recover fully from drugs. I now cherish my sobriety and the only way to keep it is to extend it to those grappling with addiction.”
Facebook name: Judy Mwangi
Published in June 2013