Beryl Ogutu, 33, had her first drink when she was 12. For 18 years, her system ran on alcohol. She shares her sobriety journey with Jacquline Mahugu.
“I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My dad was not there for us emotionally and neither was my mother because of domestic violence. There was a lot of instability at home but we never lacked,” she begins. She is the third born in a family of five children. As many middle children are prone to feeling, she felt forgotten and never felt love from her parents. “I learned to cope and accepted that it was just how our family was.”
Curiosity killed the cat and it almost killed her too. “I started experimenting with alcohol at 12 years. Before that, I had dabbled with alcohol but never really got into it. Things changed when my dad died in 1996 under mysterious circumstances. They say he choked,” she says.
That left the family under the care of her mother, a housewife who did not know what to do now that the house was void of the provider. It was a huge change for the family, who moved from being comfortably middle class, as her father was an engineer at Schindler Limited, living in Golf Course, to living in the less prestigious Highrise estate. The move was a shock.
“My mother did not manage the money she received as a beneficiary well, so by the time I finished class 8, I could not join Form One due to lack of fees,“ she says.
It was traumatising for her, seeing her peers head to school while she stayed home. When a friend introduced her to jam sessions in New York and Florida clubs, she gladly got into it. “Those days there were no restrictions. They served us alcohol at that age and I felt like it was what I had been missing all my life.”
Her mother was rarely around, up and about trying to fend for the family, so she never knew that the little money she gave her daughter went into drinking.
A teacher who heard that she was still at home came to her rescue and helped her land a scholarship at Eregi Girls, where she continued to drink over the holidays. For unclear reasons, the scholarship was terminated after a year.
While in Form Four, her mother passed on and the death hit her hard. The family moved to Kisumu to stay with their grandmother as the eldest daughter figured out what to do, but something inside her had snapped. “I felt a lot of anger and I directed it to my family members. I became rebellious and my drinking and smoking got out of control. I gave my grandmother a hard time.”
Her family finally noticed she had an alcohol problem when she got arrested the day a friend she was with insulted a police officer. It was a wake up call for them, and after discussions, an uncle took her in. She began living with him in Ngong.
“I had always wanted a place where I felt some love and belonging, but when my uncle got married, I felt left out of the transition and I had no place in his life. So I moved to my aunt’s place in Kibra,” she says. Here, her drinking problem worsened.
“I lived a life of drinking and partying and started clashing with my aunt because I felt she that she and another aunt were invading my space. I felt I needed more freedom, so I moved out.“
Her friend and age mate who was married to a white man visited her one day and saw the life she was living. Shortly, Beryl decided to run away from her aunt‘s place.
“She introduced me to some of her friends whom I started living with,“ she recalls.
If her life had been going downhill, it now began hurtling towards the bottom at top speed.
“The guiltier I felt about my decisions, the more I indulged,“ she says.
Bad to worse
Regular beer soon stopped giving her the high she wanted, so she ventured into the hard stuff.
“By then, I had stopped hanging out with my friends because I did not feel like I belonged to their social circles. They also did not want to hang out with me because my intake was out of control.”
Rich men no longer provided because she had dropped out of their circles. She resorted to stealing. “I would take anything left carelessly by other tenants and sell it for alcohol. The people I was with would introduce me to men to try and con them out of money – all for more alcohol.”
It temporarily came to a halt when she could no longer pay rent and had to move in with her sister.
Her sister moved to Donholm, Nairobi, where Beryl got new drinking buddies and caused havoc in her sister’s life. At one point, she almost burnt the house down after leaving food on the stove and blacking out.
“When my sister stopped giving me money, I started selling her belongings to finance my drinking,“ she says.
At some point, she stole her sister’s documents and went to present them at a bar to look for a job. She got the job but was fired the same day after drinking her self silly.
She left her sister’s home to start a fresh life on her own but this meant she had all the freedom to drink all she could.
The first time she broke down was when her sister and a friend sat her down and she admitted she could not control her drinking. They took her to a rehabilitation centre in Embu, finished the 12-step programme and after treatment, became a recovery coach.
In the middle of her training, a patient she had been taking care of died and Beryl became traumatised. Unable to sleep, her doctor prescribed sleeping pills that she got addicted to.
She got clean in 2015 but her eldest sister never got to see her recover. She died in an accident in Tanzania.
Beryl partnered with Job Maina, one of the people who sponsored her treatment, and today she is the director of a rehabilitation centre they formed in August last year.