My Nigerian boyfriend introduced me to drugs
Judy Mwangi, a former heroin addict, clean for 13 years now
When I was 24, a friend introduced me to a Nigerian man who was selling and doing drugs. It was the first time I felt loved, so I did not care what he was doing. He showered me with money and love. He had so much money sometimes we would catch a flight and go to Mombasa just for lunch and then come back. We soon started living together. One day, I came home and told one of his employees we were housing for a while that I hadn‘t been sleeping well. She told me to have a puff of some powder and that I would sleep like a baby. I did not know what I was actually using, because we referred to it by street names. Soon I was using it religiously.
The quick descent
A little after, my boyfriend went out of the country and got arrested and jailed for a year. Meanwhile, I spent all the money he had left and started selling my belongings to finance my addiction. I would barter them for drugs. Pretty soon, my house was empty and there was nothing I could do to get the fix I needed. That is when I decided to go back home to Thika to try and put my life back together. By then, I had started getting withdrawal symptoms and they were so terrible that I needed to get some drugs. I started stealing from friends and lying to people to get money. One time, I came home very late and high. My uncle saw me and told my mum that I must be using some hard drugs, because even though I was so high, I did not smell of alcohol. My mother confronted me and took me to Mathari Hospital where I stayed for 15 days in the psychiatric ward. There was no rehabilitation unit there at the time.
While there, my mother brought me a bible and told me to write my name on it. I could not even figure out how to write. I asked her whether letter J was written from the left or the right side. She was so worried that I was getting worse and seeing her conflicted emotions, manipulated her into giving the approval for me to leave. Then when we were out of hospital, I told her that I needed Sh1,000 to get some clothes in town and once she gave it to me, I disappeared.
Two weeks later, my sister found me in Nairobi where I knew the ins and outs of drug dens in the Grogan Road area. I was taken to rehab and stayed there for three months and I stayed clean for the following nine months. Upon returning to Nairobi, I started using drugs again. I messed up all my relationships because I would con everyone. There was nothing I would not do for money. In my drug-free days, I lived in Westlands, then Kileleshwa with my boyfriend, but now I was in Grogan Road, a far cry from the life I had previously known. My Nigerian ex had come back to Kenya but died in our local jails and was buried in Lang‘ata.
At the time, one gramme of heroin was going for Sh 1800 and a gramme of cocaine was going for Sh 4,000. Pretty soon, I hit rock bottom and could not afford Sh 50 to share a bed with a stranger as is the norm in the dingiest parts of Grogan. Food was not a priority though. I lived on biscuits and a small packet of milk when I had to eat.
One day, I met a friend from my ‘clean‘ days who told me that one of a mutual friends was in politics and was gunning for the presidency. I looked at myself and saw the disservice I had done to myself. I decided to change by life, but only if an HIV test came out negative. If I was positive, I would kill myself. I tested negative and I checked myself into a rehab centre recommended by a friend. My programme was over in six months, but I stayed on for nine months because I had no place to go to. I started helping out at the centre and when they opened another branch in Embu they said I could work there. I put in the work for two years then came back to Nairobi to study addiction counselling. And that is when I met Bernard Mwangi, a former addict himself. However, he says he had met me earlier, while I was still an addict, but I don‘t remember that. He began pursuing me for a romantic relationship but I wasn‘t into it. Eventually I came around and here we are, 10 years later, married.
My month long stint in jail set off escape from addiction
Bernard Mwangi, clean for 15 years from addiction to heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs
I got my first taste of alcohol at age five while seated on my grandfather’s lap. I went to nursery school the next day with my first hangover. By the time I was in high school, I was drinking every weekend. I picked it up from my uncles and grandfather who I lived with. In high school, I struggled to fit in. But soon enough though, I started getting into trouble in school. I was experimenting with harder drugs and indulging in prescription medication. My mother was a nurse, so we had lots medicines at home. I would read the medical textbooks to find out which medicines could make me high, and I would take those. Looking back, that was so risky and I did not even realise it.
On some days, I would take 10 valium pills and a bottle of cough syrup. After school, getting high became sort of my full time career. I took miraa, alcohol, weed, cocaine and heroin, although the last two were hard to get then. In addition to the pills at home, I also got sleeping pills and cough syrup over the counter. I worked briefly for my father, a real estate agent but had to stop because I was always high on drugs. I then dropped out of four universities – Nairobi University, Kenya College of Accountancy(KCA), Strathmore and Catholic University. My longest stay in school was one year. Eventually I became a Kamagira, one of those guys who call in people to matatus to fill them up. I also dabbled in crime and got arrested for theft and assault several times.
I would steal anything not closely guarded. I was beaten up twice by a mob, survived several car accidents, attempted suicide three times and after my final arrest, I asked that I be taken to Mathari Hospital. I went through the withdrawal symptoms in a police cell. I was cramping, experienced sweats, developed ulcers that I was vomiting blood. It was really bad because I had been on so many substances. This went on for two months. I was then taken to rehab at Script Resource in Ngong and stayed there for five months and made a full recovery. Determined to get my life back together, I took any job I could find. My first job was as a construction worker and I enjoyed it so much before my employer fired me and said that I did not belong there.
He said that I needed to look for a better job. Through various recovery networks, I finally got a job at a rehabilitation centre, and eventually began my own rehabilitation centre, Recovery Options in Ngong, which I have been running with with my wife, also a former heroin addict, for the last seven years. Because of my previous addiction to prescription pills, today I have developed tolerance to some medication. They do not work on me. Today, I feel blessed. I stopped the cycle of addiction in my family, I have a good wife, I am able to run a business, I have built my own house and I earned my respect back from the community. Now I can help other families.