What you need to know:
- What started as an innocent sip of an alcoholic drink offered by his father turned out to be the beginning of a three-decade battle for sobriety for Sammy Mwangi.
- It ruined his relationships but surprisingly spared his marriage, for which he remains grateful. He’s been married for 29 years.
Sammy Mwangi was in Class Two when he had his first sip of alcohol. His father used to stock alcoholic drinks like a particular beer packaged in small and large bottles and vodka. His mum and dad both took alcohol, as did visitors to their home.
“It was normal in our household. We thought that was how all families lived.”
His father would allow him to have little of vodka mixed with water, and the feeling of being high was unforgettable. So he kept chasing it. And this led him to steal alcohol when it was not offered to him.
Had the 50-year-old father of four, who is a resident of Tabuga village in Nakuru, known that this was the beginning of a lifetime battle with alcoholism, he might have thought twice about his actions.
But he was just a child.
Though his mother quit the bottle years ago, his father still drinks alcohol and smokes heavily.
He did well in his high school exams before proceeding to college to pursue a business-oriented short course. He landed a job as a butcher and had a stint working in butcheries.
“Employment gave me a window to sustain my drinking habits because, with an income, I was assured of the next bottle.”
He married at 21, and three of his four children were sired while he was an alcoholic. He has been married for 29 years. He says his wife had to bear with his drinking problem for the next two decades from when the two settled down.
“She stayed put in a marriage that seemed going nowhere. It was the worst phase in her life, and when I could not cater for my own family, one of my family members has to step in and support her socially, spiritually and financially. But she went through a painful, traumatic and stressful era that I consider the darkest chapter in our marriage,” he says.
“Addiction is a biosocial, psycho and spiritual disease. Even our cat and dog were affected by my drug use. And looking back, many regrets came with it. Wasted resources in terms of finances that would have been harnessed to income generation or providing for the family upkeep. Time spent drinking would have been used positively instead. I’d broken relationship with everyone as my profile was that of a lowlife self-disrespecting alcoholic addict, and I had this know-it-all attitude that was disliked when I dealing with anyone.”
And to his own family, especially to his children, he was a total stranger as he had not bonded with them.
“I hardly had quality time for my own family. A family is a good foundation in society, but I hardly knew how my blood and flesh were faring most of the times.”
When he was broke and unable to sustain his lifestyle, he would resort to conning, manipulating other and stealing even from his customers and parents.
“As a butcher, I was a responsible employee, but with time, I devised ways of stealing from customers. I did this by underweighting orders and pocketing the difference.”
He would steal from his own home and his parents as well to sustain his addiction.
Worked many jobs
“I sold a gas cooker, a milking cow, chicken, maize and beans and burnt all the proceeds in alcohol. I would do the same at my parents’ place, stealing maize and beans or anything that would be converted to cash.”
Between 1998 to 2001, he found himself being dragged to the Criminal Investigation Department (now called Directorate of Criminal Investigations) after stealing from his clients.
“When doing business in Nakuru’s Top Market buying and selling chicken, I would be supplied with chicken stock and pay the suppliers after selling. I capitalised on this. I owed suppliers a lot of money and would go into hiding and switch off my phone for days to spend the money.”
He would manage to wiggle his way out by telling convincing spiels like when asked to account for around Sh400, 000 owed to suppliers, and he claimed a client in Nairobi was yet to settle same and presented fake documents to back his claims.
“I was using my father’s name, who was an accomplished businessman, to my advantage. I have worked many jobs, including being a manager in a Nakuru town club known as Cheers Club and in Supa Duka, a business entity in the same town. It reached a point where no employer could hire me as alcohol had taken over my life, and I would at times be hardly sober or nursing king-size hangovers from last evening bingeing while at work.”
When no employment was forthcoming, he retreated to his Tabuga home.
He survived by doing any manual work that came by. He worked as a a casual labourer at construction sites, dug pit latrines and worked as a farm hand. The wages from these manual jobs went to sustaining his drinking lifestyle rather than supporting his family.
In retrospect, he says when one begins taking alcohol or drugs, some factors will determine if the user or abuser of the same will turn into a social, hard or addicted user. These include the environment, genes, drugs availability, ex-factors and one’s personality.
In the year 2009, he had enough alcohol, and it was time to quit the wide path for the narrow one and be a different family man. He could not continue forever with his seemingly aesthetic life stage, and it was time he felt inclined to the ethical stage and is there for his family. He was 37.
“I was facing a myriad of problems like my children were constantly being sent home over school fees arrears, then there was family pressure as I was rarely providing, and I was deep in debt. The debtors were hunting me everywhere and there was no place to hide. I had hit rock bottom.”
His mother and sisters eventually convinced him to go for counselling sessions.
“They had a lot of hope in me, and I can say my family facilitated my counselling sessions at the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru.”
He later joined St Martin Catholic Social Apostolate in Nyahururu for more counselling and rehabilitation. In Nyahururu, he made up his mind to be locked somewhere for a few days.
“My family moved me to Beta Life Centre rehab in Losogwa in Laikipia County.”
He later went to Asumbi Treatment Centre (ATC) in Homa Bay County for a chemical dependency course.
Upon completing this course he was hired to work at that facility (ATC) for two years between 2012 and 2013.
“Having gained experience, I felt it was time to move back to my society and reach out to the addicts or those struggling to quit alcohol and drugs and turn on a new leaf.”
He opened a counselling centre by the name of Haven Counselling Centre, which did well for the next three years until 2017, when it became unsustainable to run over economic hardships.
“I had to close down and moved to work with Lifetime Wellness Rehabilitation Centre in Limuru. But when the Covid-19 pandemic came early last year, I had to leave for Nakuru.”
It was not all gloomy, though, for close to his home village, he landed work as a manager of another counselling facility.
“I’m currently the manager of Taraji House located in Murunyu, Bahati Sub-county, in Nakuru County. In between work and family, I’m also pursuing psychology studies.”
Of his four children, three – two boys and a girl – are currently employed, and the last born is a five-year-old girl born during his sobriety years.
“I’m making up being there for her and the other three children. The older ones may have grown with the love and affection of one of their parent when I failed them as a father, but my last born does not have to suffer the same fate.”
He notes other parents are walking down the path he walked and are hardly there for their children.
“We are speaking about both genders. It is true many have absconded parental obligations and hardly have time with their children. If we don’t want our children to walk down the path of destruction by copying what they see their parents do, then this calls for responsible parenting.”
According to him, the foundation of a family and environmental factors like where children are brought up in determines the kind of a society we have.
“What ails our nation is poor parenting or absent parents and poor role models. ”