A sobering break: Rehab changed my life

On or around July-August 2017, I was spending a lot of time on google, tirelessly digging up details about rehabs in Kenya. I felt an impending sense of doom, a sixth sense that something very bad was about to happen if I didn’t get help as my drinking was slipping out of control.

I was struggling with caregiving for my mother who was very ill. My workplace relationships were in tatters at best, and quite often, I was waking up in those boring hospital beds strapped with IV drips, with zero recollection of how I got there.

My best friend eventually came home one morning and drove me to rehab, but not one of those I had been studying about. Based in the chilly region of Kiambu County, I had never heard about this one. And for the sake of the privacy of everyone involved in my journey to quit alcohol, their identity in this feature is hidden, including myself, the author. I will not reveal the name of the rehab either.

Growing up, I always knew rehab to be a place where the rich go when struggling with addiction. I never even countenanced that one day I would be their guest for a cool three months or 90 days.

A little flashback on how my love affair with lifting small weights started. I had my first drink in my first year on campus, and eight long years later, my life become unmanageable: my willpower, best efforts in my career, and lectures by everyone who would bother—including boiled eggs sellers near my home—proved inadequate. I kept drinking with incredible intent every time I was free, even during breaks in my eight-to-five job.

Yet going to rehab was completely freeing. Once my then-best friend Duncan and my uncle decided to take me to rehab, I remember feeling very relieved and at peace. No longer would I have to maintain a façade of even managing to maintain adulthood, having failed at every attempt to keep my job, relationships, basic hygiene, and sanity.

The duo drove me to rehab in early September. The place resembled a low-security prison, complete with high walls, two gates, countless head counts, and a strict routine that was followed by everyone from 6:30am and only let up a bit after supper, which is usually taken at 6:30pm.

As a patient from a middle-class home, with a stable job, and still with the bulk of his wits around him, I was given every chance to adjust to life in rehab by my counselors, including getting saner roommates in one of the smaller rooms available, and access to reading materials such as the dailies as well as “quit lit”, a fund of knowledge on recovery.

Read also: In Kenya, alcoholism is a mass disease

In rehab, people, mostly men, of all walks of life, age, religion, and socio-economic status are cooped together, without smartphones, access to the internet, or the outside world. They are also denied freedom of movement for three or more months, all while detoxing from all manner of drugs and stuff imaginable, from muguka, alcohol, weed, glue, heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs, and much more.

Naturally, tight bonds are initiated and natured here. Hilarious conversations rule and while at it, I felt seen, understood, and normal.

I remember William, a friend I made in rehab, telling me about the countless days he spent in “Relax inn” in the nether quarters of Nairobi city that never sleeps. Equally, I spent time in the same watering hole, and before I accused myself of being crazy/mad for having frequented such bars. So, meeting someone who had wasted his time and money there too made me feel so connectedand normal.

As I came to learn, there is nothing I did in my drinking life that hasn’t been done by another alcoholic, somewhere on this planet. It wasn’t that bad … this was the beginning of my journey to sanity.

We would wake up in rehab at 6.30am, go for morning meditation, share breakfast, and start classes, enjoy our lunch, and proceed for more classes, and be done by 3:00pm. In these classes, note-taking wasn’t mandatory but was highly encouraged, and participation in the class was lively. I learned about AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), addiction as a disease that could be treated and managed, and group therapy, and I started to imagine life after addiction.

I remember one evening, during the now frequent Kenya Power national blackouts, chatting for hours with my roommates, one of them a mkokoteni pusher in Eastlands, another a man who worked as an ice cream delivery man abroad but who was later deported, and yet another, a lawyer, sharing hilarious stories about our lives in addiction, and how we were going to quit alcohol, start over in sobriety, and repair damaged relationships.

These turned out to be one of the most powerful conversations I have ever held in my life. I think about those guys every day. Unfortunately, one of them has since left us… some of us have remained sober, while others are still bouncing in and out of rehab. Alcoholism is a terrible disease, man!

My sister used to visit me a lot while in rehab. Kiambu is usually cold in September and she brought me warm clothes, a metal flask which I have until this day, and lots of books to read.

I read everything from John la Carre, Robert Ludlum, Jeffrey Archer, the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book from cover to cover, and Paulo Coelho’s collection where The Alchemist and The Valkyries turned out to be my favourite.

During that period, I talked a lot with my sister and I apologized for my misdeeds. We hang out on afternoons, and we repaired a relationship that I had destroyed willfully during active addiction.

One of the best fruits of sobriety is repairing relationships. I love my sister, deeply. For getting a second chance at having a relationship with her, after addiction, I feel so blessed. So fortunate.

Addiction is a lonely disease. I remember waking up on weekdays, going to work, stopping on the way to work for two (or three) mugs of keg, working until 1:00pm, helping myself with another jug of keg, leaving the office at four or five pm, in total gulping no less than six mugs of keg daily, for months on end.

Read also: WhatsApp to the aid of pubs amidst a post-pandemic glut

It is a lonely and unmarked one-way path into the jungle. Friends storm out, extended family only visit to stage intervention sessions, in which I participated with Kibao vodka mzinga waiting for me in my bedroom to be taken with a vengeance once my aunties step out of the door.

Addiction is loneliness held loosely by shallow friendships with fellow addicts, sadness, raw pain, and tears, and always, always scheming how to get the next drink. That fix.

But rehab saved me from all of that. I repaired relationships. That is the biggest gift of sobriety, being able to talk with my family, again. Loving my family. Sober lovemaking. Sober birthday bashes and graduation parties, going to funerals while sober. Sober breakups. Sober conversations with clients, customers, and bosses. Sober wakes. Sober ruracios… we are social beings, and addiction had robbed all that from me. Sobriety brought it back. And all thanks to my three-month therapy in rehab.

Rehab, however, isn’t easy. At this age and time, you have to put up with three months without Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, and no work, not knowing if your girlfriends will stick around or not. Without knowing if clients will still maintain contact with me. Without knowing what was happening outside the four walls… the loss of privacy, not choosing what to eat, what to watch, what to do… this is the recipe that changed my life.

It is my considered view I would be dead if it wasn’t for rehab, instead, here I am, drinking hibiscus tea, and sharing with the world about my time in rehab.

I fully recommend this rehab I was in Kiambu to anyone struggling with any form of addiction, be it chemical, or behavioral addiction. Any drug, any substance, any behavior problem that is getting out of hand, check into rehab soon, carry books to read, journals, warm clothing, a flask for tea, pens, comfortable crocs or slippers (there is little need for shoes in rehab). Give it a go. It changed my life and gave me a second chance and it can change your life, too.

Story by Alcoholics Anonymous ([email protected])

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