“I remember my wedding day, November 24 in 1973. It was sunny, that morning when I walked down the aisle at Our Lady of Consolata Cathedral in Nyeri. I was going to say ‘I do’ to the man of my dreams. He was handsome and in love with me. Today, though, at 62, I am single. ‘What happened, Terry Wachira?’ you may wonder! Let me retrace my steps.
“We didn’t have much at the start. My husband had just completed his university studies earlier that year and was working as an office supervisor in Nairobi while I was a student at Kianda Secretarial College. In February 1974, three months after sitting for my secretarial exams, I got my first job as an assistant secretary at the University of Nairobi. My husband’s pay also improved and our lifestyle begun to change. We had one daughter at the time. We would later be blessed with three more daughters.
“On Sundays, we would all go to church and thereafter, have lunch at some of the popular restaurants in Nairobi. My husband began to order a beer with his meal during these outings. It looked like harmless fun. As days went by, I gradually switched from taking soda to sipping small amounts of alcohol. The more I got used to the sharp taste of liqour, the more I took.
“We created a bar at home and began to stock varieties of alcohol – lagers, expensive wines, vodka, whiskeys. Over the weekends, we would hold house parties or bar hop, leaving our kids with our house-help.
THE END OF MY MARRIAGE
“My drinking got worse. At times I’d get so thirsty that my tongue would dry up. My throat would groan. On my way from work, I’d pass by our drinking joints. Every sip would end up with several bottles on my table. I would then stagger home later at night when our four kids were already in bed and ask my husband to open up door. Although he was also a drinker, he couldn’t take this. He started beating me up. The beatings became more frequent and lethal. In the late 1980s, I walked out of my home and left my kids behind. By then, I had a good salary from my numerous contractual secretarial jobs within Nairobi. I even had my own car which was a big deal back then. I rented and furnished a house in Umoja Estate. Now I could drink all I wanted. Hangovers from heavy nights of drinking would be cushioned with light beers and energy drinks, only to be cured later after work with more beer.
“I got into an intimate relationship and got pregnant. The pregnancy didn’t stop me from drinking. Luckily, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy in 1992. By then, my luck with jobs had run its course. I began to lose my side jobs.
“The last nail on my employment coffin came a few months after the birth of my son. I was retrenched from the last company I was working for. Instead of investing or starting a business with my golden handshake, I bought crates of beer. I would drink in my house all day, alone, and later join my employed friends for drinks. One day, my bank told me there was no cash left for me to withdraw. I quickly sold off my car and used the cash to fund my alcoholic lifestyle. Perhaps one of my intense regrets is that I was unable to raise my son. How could I, when I resumed drinking shortly after giving birth? When my sister and her husband asked if they could adopt him, I agreed, and took him to their home in Karatina. I missed my children, but I was in bad shape and I didn’t want them to see me that way. Deep in my heart, I wished that I could go back and make everything right, but in front of me was always a bottle, begging me to take a gulp.
“My turning point came in 2006. That January, my brother, who was also an alcoholic, committed suicide. He had spiralled from his wife and two kids, and a corporate job in Mombasa to the slums of Mukuru Kaiyaba. I remember standing beside his grave at Lang’ata Cemetery and feeling that I would be next. I had sold my car and my household items to support my drinking and was now living in a single iron-sheet room in Kangemi. My sister offered to help and in February, she took me to a rehabilitation centre where I stayed for three months.
TRAINED AS AN ADDICTION COUNSELLOR
“As I walked out of rehab, I wanted to believe that it was not all lost. Perhaps I could still get my family back. I returned to my husband’s house as a prodigal wife. He told me that he had remarried and though he wouldn’t chase me away, he’d not live with me either. He moved out with his new wife. Three years later, I trained as an addiction counsellor at Sapta College in Nairobi.
“I have been working with numerous rehabilitation centres since then. It is 11 years since I last touched a bottle of alcohol. I have been making amends to my children and seeking their forgiveness. I cannot thank my ex-husband enough for raising them. It is a debt that I’ll never be able to repay. There are times when I’ve wished I could turn back the clock, but this is my second chance in life, and what better way to ask for forgiveness than by helping a woman or man enslaved by alcohol just as I was!”