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Overcoming the demon that is alcoholism: Former MTV Shuga star Waihiga Mutero tells her story

Lady Speak

The gods of fortune had always been on Waihiga Mutero's, side. And why not? The eldest among two children was the daughter of a successful scientist father and journalist mother. She got her education in the best private schools where, as was evident during the interview, her regal mannerisms and mastery of the English language immensely developed. When she was only nine, the family moved to South Africa.

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"My dad landed a job as an entomologist with a private research firm there. We lived in Pretoria," Waihiga explains. Like in Kenya, she was enrolled into another private institution where she had to adapt to the local matriculation system. Apart from the obvious culture shock, life was great both at home and in school. "I excelled in drama class, social sciences and the arts. I was glad that the system there was all-rounded unlike the academic oriented one we have in Kenya. Otherwise, I wouldn't have discovered that I was a really good actress. I was also an A student."

After graduating from high school, she decided to study drama at the University of Cape Town. "I wanted to go live in a new town. I just yearned for the freedom away from home." Her intention put a strain on the close relationship she shared with her parents. Her father wanted her to study at the University of Pretoria where he'd now become a professor. His reasoning was that she'd be closer to home, but Waihiga would have none of it. The issue became so contentious to the point that Waihiga and her father stopped talking. It was then that she made a very drastic decision. "I decided to move back home to Kenya. It was 2011. I abandoned drama and decided to study journalism at the United States International University (USIU) because they didn't have that option at the school." Her parents remained in South Africa.

Waihiga's big break came in the same year she moved to Kenya when she heard that a production by MTV titled Shuga was looking for two leads – a man and woman. "I had watched the show's first season in South Africa and it was amazing. Now here was my chance to be part of it." She went for auditions and landed a role as Njoki in Shuga Season Two. "The pay was good, really good." In 2013, Waihiga fell in love with a fellow student. He introduced her to alcoholShe started drinking heavily. She could easily afford it because the role she had played in Shuga had opened up more doors to local acting gigs. The drinking got so bad that she abandoned going to classes alltogether. Her personal hygiene also declined. Since beer couldn't get her drunk fast enough, she turned to harder gins like Kibao Vodka. Many nights were spent in sewer drains.

"I could be found drinking in very dingy joints with watchmen and boda boda riders. I didn't mind the company as long as there was alcohol. My friends tried to talk me out of it but I ignored them. My boyfriend broke up with me too." When the acting gigs dried up, she started manipulating her parents by lying about all manner of things. "I'd tell them that I needed money for upkeep. In 2014, I dropped out of school completely. Alcohol made me feel like was in control, happy, invincible, and empowered.

Although her parents moved back to Kenya in 2012, they didn't find out about their daughter's alcoholism until 2014. Her lowest point came in 2015 when she attempted suicide for the first time. "I ingested anti-psychotic pills I had received form a rehab center. I passed out and found myself at the Aga Khan's High Dependency Unit (HDU). I was in the hospital for nine days. When the doctors performed a lumbar puncture to check if I had meningitis, the spinal fluid revealed that I had heroin, cocaine, alcohol and marijuana in my system. It was shocking because I knew wasn't into hard drugs, but maybe I used them but couldn't recall." The second suicide attempt came shortly after when she relapsed and started drinking heavily again. Her parents kicked her out. One of her cousins took her in, but she didn't let up on the drinking.

"There was a time I drank 15 bottles of Guinness and in between I was having shots of tequila." Waihiga also became psychotic. She started hiding knives in the couches so that she could slit her wrists when the cousin was away. When that didn't work, she ingested another dose of pills. "I waited for my cousin to leave and swallowed the pills. I just wanted to die. My whole body became paralysed. It was extremely painful. Breathing became a problem. I knew I was going to die and go to hell. I wasn't spiritual but I said a prayer to God. I asked Him to save me." That episode was her turning point. She joined a rehab centre in Kiambu for three months. She returned home to her parents and began a blog to share her experiences. She slowly worked on regaining her parents trust. In February 2017, she joined a Halfway House in Nairobi. Here, there's less restriction compared to rehab centres. "I'm planning on staying here for as long as I can. There is a pub close by but I know that if I relapse again, there's no coming back – I'll die!"

She plans to go back to school to finish up her degree. "Five of my drinking mates succumbed to alcohol-related deaths. I know I have a purpose on earth so it's not yet my time. Eventually, I will go back to acting."

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