It is always wine o’clock somewhere in the world –a phrase taken quite literally by women aged 25 to 34, the majority of alcohol imbibers among Kenyan women.
When you think of Ernest Hemmingway, you think literary genius. If you are a reader, you have probably come across his works.
What you may not know is that in the last few years of his life before he committed suicide, he was living in Kenya and was very much a functioning alcoholic.
He would drink two large bottles of alcohol every day, and had to have wine with his meals. Yet he managed to churn out award-winning books.
Carol Kagia knows all too well what being an alcoholic is. She was first introduced to alcohol by a friend in high school. She was still a teenager. This would lead her down a two-decade long affair with the bottle.
“I remember it was a bottle of red wine with 12 per cent alcohol. I remember that number because I checked to see why it had no effect on me yet I had downed a bottle of the stuff,” she recalls.
Alcoholism ran in her paternal side of the family with many of her relatives unsuccessfully struggling to quit.
According to Alex Kiraithe, an addiction counsellor at the Retreat Rehabilitation Centre, Carol had two things working against her.
“Besides the genetic component, there is also the time she was introduced to the substance. Addiction can develop at any age but if a person is exposed to substances at an earlier age they are likely to develop addiction to them,” he adds.
After completing her high school, she joined a university abroad, and the drinking escalated away from the watchful eyes of her parents.
“I cannot count the number of times I almost got raped or caused car accidents,” she says regretfully.
“I couldn’t complete my studies either so I had to come back home. My disappointed parents then enrolled me in a local college to pursue a certificate in advertising.”
On completing her studies, she secured a job, but her love for the bottle would see her crash often.
“I secured some good jobs, but I couldn’t keep them as I was sinking deeper into alcoholism. I remember once being sent to South Africa to make a presentation but I was so high I couldn’t perform,” she says.
She would quit out of embarrassment and as luck would have it, secure another well- paying job the following year. But again, she would quit.
“My rock bottom was when I started selling household goods to sustain my habit as I had no income. I have even sold doors to my house,” she says.
The scariest part of the addiction for her was realising that she had lost control of her life.
“I knew I had a problem because whenever I would try to stop the drinking, I would suffer hallucinations and very bad withdrawal symptoms,” she recalls.
That realisation sparked the journey to quit.
“My recovery journey started in January 2017 when I walked up to my father and told him that I needed help. I went to rehab for three months. It worked. I stopped. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since.”
After rehab, Carol signed up for a diploma in addiction counselling and today she spends her days helping alcoholics kick the habit.
“I am now a professional addiction counsellor,” she says.
What getting clean entails…
Addiction is a disorder that may need psychological and psychiatrist methods of treatment. This helps get to the root of the problem causing the patient to use substances.
“The recommended period of treatment is normally 90 days. We do not advise to go cold turkey. There are processes involved to help someone recover from addiction while caring for their health. We first begin with detox to reduce the effect of withdrawal symptoms. It can take seven to 14 days to detox,” says Alex Kiraithe, an addition counsellor at the Retreat Rehabilitation Centre.
After rehabilitation, it is important to follow up with support groups to keep one from relapsing.
“Relapsing is part of treatment and in case it happens, they should be given support and helped to get back on their recovery path. No one is beyond help,” Kiraithe says.
“If you are going to start the rehabilitation journey, do it for yourself and not for anyone else. Doing it for parents, friends or siblings would mean you expect them to watch over you so do it for yourself as you are the only one who can look out for yourself.”
Carol has been sober for four years now. And if there is any advice she would give to women walking in her shoes, it would be three fail-safe methods she thinks work.
“One, get rid of temptations like hanging out with friends who may end up taking you to drinking dens.
“Two, announce your goal to family and friends and let them know how firm you are about this. Then learn from your past. Anything that has led you to fall back in to drinking habit, cut it off.”