The statistics on alcoholism from the National Authority for Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) is worrying. The rate at which Kenyans imbibe has led to the country being labelled as a drinking nation. This vice has negatively affected the lives of many people and if by God’s grace they awaken from their drunken stupor, they find a gaping hole of unaccomplished things in their lives. Gregory Muchiri is one of the lucky few that have managed to overcome alcohol addiction. He shares his story with WANGARI MWANGI on how alcoholism crippled his life at a young age until he came to his senses.
Gregory is from Kiambu County, a region in Central Kenya that has become synonymous with alcoholism. Not so long ago, he was an unkempt man who would wake up in a trench in Kiambu town drenched in dirty water and reeking of alcohol. Those were the days he drunk himself to oblivion and only cared about where his next sip of alcohol would come from. His drinking problem started as an innocent encounter as a class seven pupil at Kiuu River Primary School in Kiambu. Gregory looked up to his alcoholic maternal uncles for guidance as his father had passed on while he was still young. “My uncles used to drink alcohol and never lacked small bottles of gin or vodka in their pockets. Once in a while, they would give me a few sips to taste and from those seemingly harmless sips, I developed a liking for the stinging taste of alcohol. I started to look for ways of satisfying my new-found craving for alcohol,” he recalls. At school, he teamed up with three of his classmates and would sneak out of school to fetch firewood for chang’aa brewers in Kiuu River in exchange for a cup of the brew. For two months, their escapades went unnoticed until they were caught and expelled from school. He repeated class seven in a different school. The strict administration at his new school, his tough mother and the realization that his peers had left him behind academically left him no choice but to bury his head in books in preparation for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) that was fast approaching. Within a year, he had transformed into a top performer but the thought of gaining freedom to abuse drugs still lingered on his mind. “I still longed to get high on drugs especially alcohol. By class eight, I had identified Kanunga High School in Kiambu County as my school of choice because I assumed students there enjoyed a lot of freedom. I worked hard to join the school,” he explains. Gregory imagined that joining his dream school would allow him the opportunity to continue abusing alcohol from where he had left off in primary school. He was among the KCPE in 1996. To cap it all, he gained direct admission to Kanunga High School where he was oriented into the school’s notorious gang within the first two weeks. The gang was responsible for organising student unrest and sneaking in drugs. He willingly joined the gang. “The older members used alcohol as an incentive and before long I got so hooked to it. We would sneak out during night preps and spend the night drinking and sneak back early the next morning in time for breakfast. I would sleep through most of the lessons and repeat the cycle at night,” Gregory recalls his high school days. When they depleted their pocket money, they either stole from colleagues or stole beddings to sell at night outside the school to sustain the habit. Clad in home clothes to conceal their identity, Gregory and his friends frequented different bars in Kanunga and after they had exhausted all drinking joints, they would go as far as Banana town to quench their thirst for alcohol. By his third year in Kanunga, education was the last thing in his mind. He was only alert during examinations,which he failed miserably. He says that by the end of his four years in high school, he had been suspended thrice and would be readmitted after his mother had pleaded for him. He even sat his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam at the headmaster’s mercy.
One too many…
His drinking problem escalated after high school with more time and freedom in his hands. He took up odd jobs in construction sites to afford his daily dose of cheap brew. “Alcohol was more of a need for me. I felt I needed to drink to relax and if I didn’t, I would get shaking spells or nightmares when asleep,” he says. To distract him from drinking, his mother enrolled him for a computer course at Multiface College in Kiambu town. He took to insulting his classmates and carrying alcohol to class. He eventually took a bow from computer lessons when he could not keep up. Next, he threw away his opportunity to join the disciplined forces as an administration police officer after sailing through the recruitment process. Even then, his mother did not give up as she helped him secure a job as a casual labourer at the Ministry of Public Works. Gregory says he quit as soon as he had received his first salary. By the time he was 30 Gregory was an alcoholic. His family had given him so many chances to redeem himself without success. Unlike most men his age, he did not have a family or children. He abandoned his own personal hygiene and food was no longer his priority. He turned to selling family property including valuable possession at a throw away price just to get money to buy alcohol. “I became the face of terror in my home after I had sold all my possessions. I would steal anything that could be sold including those of my neighbours. At some point I got used to getting arrested and being released since the police knew I was an alcoholic,” says Gregory. His mother would get pastors to talk to him to no avail. Eventually his relatives got fed up and kicked him out of their home. He felt unwanted and resolved to commit suicide by hanging. mThis first suicide attempt failed as he was admitted at Kiambu Hospital with minor injuries sustained when he fell off the tree where his hanging noose was tied. The second attempt came after his grandmother had also disowned him and barred him from attending her burial inthe event of death. This second attempt failed as the rat poison he had swallowed failed to take effect on his body. When all these failed, he went back to drinking.
The wake-up call…
During the run up to the 2013 general elections, he was contracted to campaign for one of the candidates vying for an elective seat. Most of his money was wasted on illicit brew dens entertaining himself and his friends. “I had even employed one of my drinking mates to carry alcohol for me. I would stick posters on myself as clothes and walk all the way to Kiambu town in the name of campaigning for that candidate who lost miserably,” he says. Gregory finally came to his senses in 2013. After 20 years of drinking, he accepted that alcohol was his undoing and wanted to change. “I sat on my bed and reflected on how I had wasted away in alcohol. I was cognisant of the fact that the other young men, whom we had been campaigning together, had invested their money wisely while I had squandered mine in alcohol,” he says adding that he went back to his mother to help him overcome alcoholism. In July 2013, his nuclear family gave him another chance by enrolling him for a three months addiction recovery programme at Asumbi Treatment Centre (ATC) in Karen. By the end of the three months session, Gregory had already resolved to quit alcohol. He says he feared relapse so he asked his mother to pay for his certificate course in addiction counselling at ATC to keep him preoccupied after he had been discharged. This time he completed the course and has since enrolled for a diploma in Counselling Psychology in Maranatha College. In December 2014, he graduated with a diploma in Addiction Counselling Prevention and Treatment from the same college. “I wasted my youth in alcohol and despite being faithful to it, I gained nothing. I think anyone who wants to attempt drug abuse should look at what alcohol did to me. My life should serve as an example of how destructive drugs can be,” he says as we conclude. At the age of 35, he has settled for a career in addiction counseling at Promises Rehabilitation Centre in Kirigiti where he employs his skills to recovering drug addicts. He also spends time in high schools and churches around Kiambu County dissuading the youth against experimenting with drugs. He has been sober for more than one year now; something that he is so proud of.
Published in January 2015.