From altar wine, alcohol addict to teetotalism

Godfrey Ocholla

Godfrey Ochola's battle with alcoholism traces back to his childhood. 

Photo credit: Domnic Ombok| Nation

What you need to know:

  • Despite his early encounters with alcohol, it wasn't until 2019 that he took a decisive step towards recovery. Walking into the NACADA office in Kisumu, he sought help and was admitted to a rehabilitation facility for three months.

Godfrey Ochola's battle with alcoholism traces back to his childhood, where innocent sips of his father's wine as an altar boy sparked a lifelong struggle with addiction.

"I started testing alcohol while I was in high school in 1995. My father was a priest in the Anglican Church, so I served with him in the church. As an altar boy, I would sneak sips of altar wine, diluting it with water to cover my tracks. Eventually, my father caught me."

Ochola's descent into alcoholism took a darker turn as he turned to chang'aa, a potent local brew.

This destructive habit not only led to him dropping out of the Kisumu Polytechnic but also resulted in him quitting jobs, including those secured for him by his father.

Despite his early encounters with alcohol, it wasn't until 2019 that he took a decisive step towards recovery. Walking into the NACADA office in Kisumu, he sought help and was admitted to a rehabilitation facility for three months.

His wife, Florence Wetole, 48, narrates the agony she went through for 23 years of the marriage.

Florence's life took an unexpected turn when she crossed paths with Ochola, then just a student with a penchant for alcohol. Their story, though fraught with challenges, reflects resilience, love, and the power of second chances.

Florence, a hardworking woman supporting herself through menial jobs at Kisumu National Polytechnic, initially hesitated when Godfrey, a skinny, perpetually inebriated student, pursued her. But beneath his flaws, Florence saw some potential.

“I tried to avoid him on different occasions because I was not ready to be in a relationship with a drunkard. He was so persistent until at one point I asked myself what was wrong. I am falling for a drunkard, is this what life has for me," she recounts.

Despite her reservations, Florence couldn't shake off Ochola's persistence. Their relationship blossomed, leading to marriage despite her initial doubts. "I buried my fears," she said, guided by her faith and her mother-in-law's encouragement.

Godfrey Ochola and his wife Florence Ochola. 

Photo credit: Domnic Ombok| Nation

Their marriage, however, was far from smooth sailing.

Florence became the sole provider as her husband struggled with alcoholism, often squandering opportunities and resources. "Every effort to warn him was futile," Florence lamented, as she faced financial strain and the threat of losing everything.

“Family affairs don't need a public lecture, even though I endured so much pain in my marriage I chose to keep quiet. I never thought of seeking financial help from relatives because at one time I tried, but I was told to deal with my problems. I was optimistic that one day there will be light at the end of the tunnel," she adds.

Yet, Florence's unwavering resolve kept their family afloat.

“After a decade of marriage, I secured a job at a school in Molo as a chef, earning a decent salary of Sh20,000. With this opportunity, I made the difficult decision to leave my husband and three children behind in Kisumu, initially residing within the school compound before later opting to live outside,” she recounted.

One afternoon, Florence's life took an unexpected turn when she received a visit from her husband, carrying one child on his back, while the other two trailed behind. Florence was struck by the absence of luggage or even a bag for the children's clothes. It was then that he confessed to having sold everything in their house.

Despite the turmoil, Florence reluctantly welcomed her husband and children back into her life. She secured employment for her man at the same institution where she worked.

However, his tenure as a waiter was short-lived, as he was overcome by his addiction, sneaking away to drink during recess, ultimately leading to his dismissal due to misconduct.

Florence found herself shouldering the financial burden, from paying rent to providing meals, all while her husband's addiction spiralled out of control despite her warnings.

In moments of despair, Florence grappled with thoughts of suicide, overwhelmed by the dire circumstances. Yet, amidst the darkness, she discovered a reservoir of strength within herself, determined to shield her children from further suffering.

Godfrey (left) his step mother Patricia Achieng Ogweno (centre) and his wife Florence Wetole (right). 

Photo credit: Domnic Ombok| Nation

As she faced an uncertain future, Florence resolved to press on for the sake of her children, recognizing that they relied on her for stability and security in the face of adversity.

After her contract expired, Florence and her family returned to Kisumu where she juggled multiple jobs to make ends meet.

One day, Ochola's uncharacteristic early return home caught Florence off guard. Accustomed to his erratic schedule, she found his sudden presence unsettling.

To her surprise, he expressed a heartfelt desire for them to formalise their relationship through marriage, likening Florence to a mother figure and professing his love.

Florence, sceptical of his sincerity given his history of financial irresponsibility and alcohol dependency, questioned his motives. She couldn't fathom how they could afford a wedding when they struggled to make ends meet daily.

Despite her reservations, Ochola persisted in his proposal, even resorting to banging the table to emphasize his seriousness. Torn between her doubts and her appreciation for his non-violent nature, Florence eventually agreed to the idea of marriage.

However, Florence's decision faced scrutiny from her friends, who condemned the notion of marrying a man perceived as a disgrace due to his alcoholism and inability to provide for his family. Even Godfrey's own family failed to take his intentions seriously.

As the wedding date approached, Florence remained uncertain about the feasibility of the ceremony. Yet, to her surprise, Godfrey had made arrangements with the priest and set a date for the event.

Despite her puzzlement over how he managed to procure a wedding gown, Florence found herself adorned in white, ready to exchange vows.

“During the wedding day, my husband sneaked to a nearby drinking den and took a sip before making the final vows,” she recalls.

After the wedding, any hopes for a positive change in Godfrey's behaviour were dashed when he continued to indulge in alcohol after the ceremony. His drinking escalated to the point where he began sleeping outdoors, causing embarrassment to their children.

Despite the challenges, Florence reminded her children of their father's inherent worth as a parent, despite his flaws. She sought to instil in them the importance of respecting him, even amidst their peers' ridicule.

She remained steadfast when her kids were being humiliated until a point where they would distance themselves from being identified as his, teaching her children the importance of respect and compassion, even towards their flawed father.

Godfrey found redemption in 2019 when he walked into the NACADA office in Kisumu.

Expressing gratitude for his wife's unwavering support throughout the years, Godfrey acknowledges the strain his addiction placed on their relationship.

"I stressed her so much," he admits, recounting instances where he resorted to selling household belongings to fuel his addiction.

Now in his sixth year of sobriety, Godfrey offers advice to others grappling with similar struggles. "My advice to men is to avoid alcohol at any cost," he emphasises, underscoring the importance of steering clear of substances that can lead down a destructive path.