What you need to know:
- Some are introduced to drug use through prescriptions and then begin to use the drugs recreationally.
- No matter how an adolescent first begins substance abuse, drug addiction at a young age is a very real risk.
Regrettably, many youth consider experimenting with drugs and alcohol to be an important part of growing up despite the significant risks and many disastrous consequences.
Some are introduced to drug use through prescriptions and then begin to use the drugs recreationally. Some begin experimenting with drugs as a result of friends or become curious after listening to a song referencing drug abuse.
No matter how an adolescent first begins substance abuse, drug addiction at a young age is a very real risk.
Recovery is a lifelong process of improving health and well-being while living independently. Many people suffering from addiction achieve sobriety. Recovery is more difficult. It involves changing the outlook on life, behaviour and in some cases the environment. Successful recovery is inspired by the hope that it is possible and faith that you will overcome.
Dora Obwaka, Gillian Mutinda and Murad Swaleh share their stories on addiction, the difficult recovery journey and their hopeful futures:
DORA OBWAKA, 25
Obwaka has gone through six gruelling years of addiction. Now after more than a year of sobriety, she is a passionate young believer who is on a mission to educate young people and effect change in the society.
“My three sisters and I were raised in Nairobi. My mum is a church reverend, and my dad was an alcoholic at the time. That meant we had interesting value systems.
We were chaotic — we did whatever we wanted on weekdays. But Sundays meant being organised and presentable because of our mother.
My first encounter with drugs was when I was 17 in my last year of high school. I was at a phase where I was finding myself. I started experimenting with alcohol, which wasn’t something out of the ordinary or peculiar within my age group. I slowly started smoking cigarettes and marijuana, and the combination of all became a newfound high.
I got into a relationship with an older guy, who was able to provide the drugs. This new relationship set the stage for me to be able to access these drugs more frequently, and without any hindrance. Something that was a weekly habit became a daily one.
Eventually, my tolerance got higher, meaning that I needed more to get a satisfied high. And with that, I never got the concept of actions and consequences. I simply felt young and expressive. I never once thought I was getting into a deep hole.
My family had noticed my changed behaviour whenever I went home over the holidays. But I always used my dad’s alcoholism as a justification so no one could talk me down on anything.
Turning 18 was an even worse progression because I could now smoke and drink in the open. I was now an adult — no one could stop me from even smoking bhang at weddings, family gatherings, and even at funerals. By this time, I had joined the McNally Smith College of Music in Minnesota, US. I could barely attend classes because of my addiction so I had to come back home.
This was the first big storm. I went to a rehabilitation centre for marijuana and alcohol use. It all came as an intervention and ambush from my family. The three-month stint wasn’t enough to curb my problem and I was soon in the same predicament again. I joined Daystar University to study Communications.
The freedom from my parents meant a relapse almost immediately. I had a new circle of friends who had the same tendencies as I did, and I was back to feeling “young and alive” again.
100 TIMES MORE
We were getting high one day when a friend told me they had something that they could put in marijuana to make the high 10 times stronger. I never once saw the substance since the marijuana was offered to me already laced. My friend was wrong. The high was 100 times more. And instantaneous.
I eventually learnt its code name — “snuggy” due to its sleep and drowsiness effects. The name sounded so innocent to me that I didn’t bother finding out its real name after that. I also experienced some nausea, something that should have been a red flag, but the high overshadowed it. For the next three weeks, I became hooked to snuggy — which my friend always got as the middleman between me and the dealer. I didn’t ask questions as long as I had it.
We broke for the long holidays, and my family and I took a trip to Maasai Mara. I had been through withdrawal symptoms when I first went to rehab — hallucinations, lack of appetite and lack of sleep. But these were alcohol and marijuana withdrawals. Now it was hell on earth. I was hot and cold at the same time.
I was throwing up and had a running stomach altogether. I definitely knew it was withdrawal from the snuggy, but one quick search on “Doctor Google” confirmed that these were heroine withdrawals. I was astounded. I had always watched movies and shows where people only administered heroine through injections. Never in a million years did I imagine it could be smoked.
But that month of smoking snuggy was enough to get me hooked. It doesn’t take a lot of exposure and experimentation. That, plus my attitude, led me down a bad road.
I came back from the trip with a mission to find out all I could about the drug since I did not want a middleman anymore. I wanted to take control.
I got access to dens, the prices and even gained knowledge on how to lace the heroine with marijuana — and all the intricacies involved with it.
A sachet of snuggy used to go for Sh150. I was consuming seven at the peak of my addiction. I learnt how to manipulate my parents to send me money. I always had a lie to tell. It got to a point of me selling electronics from our home.
The thing with heroine is that the effects don’t take as long to show on your physical body. The questions started coming, and my family eventually found out. I checked into rehab for the second time at 22 years of age.
My dad has never been vocal about our lifestyles. It’s like he would feel ashamed and guilty because of his addictions, and this made him hide under my mum’s shadow. My mum, on the other hand, is such a sweetheart. So much that that’s why I was able to get away with being in trouble for such a long time. I would find the right words to talk to her and she would just bend under the emotion. But heroine? She was hurt, disappointed and worried to the point of getting high blood pressure because of the strain I put on her.
But she never gave up hope. I had destroyed relations with my dad, sisters and all my friends, but my mum really remained a voice of encouragement.
I relapsed two more times until I hit rock bottom in November 2018. I joined Teen Challenge, a rehab centre, weighing a mere 45 kilogrammes. But this time, I had nothing to look forward to in my life, so I was determined to complete the one-year faith-based programme, which I did with so much difficulty.
I’m happy, and at peace, and glad for the chance to restore my relationships. I'm also building my brand — ‘Jesus Girl’ — to empower youth and give motivation about doing life and doing it right. I also would like to be a voice of hope and encouragement to people who are broken. And that can be across every walk of life, not just people who have been in addiction.”
GILLIAN MUTINDA, 31
Gillian was diagnosed with osteosarcoma — bone cancer — at the age of 20. She beat the disease two years later but soon slipped into depression. She turned to alcohol and became dependent on it for three years until she finally checked into rehab. She is now a motivational speaker and a marketer by profession.
“Growing up, I was constantly falling sick yet no diagnosis could be made. In my third year of high school, I was finally told I had anaemia after which treatment began.
Right after I finished high school, I started experiencing pain on my left hand, which really felt like a sprain. I didn’t think much of it. I decided to seek medical advice after two months of no change. The doctor diagnosed me with arthritis and prescribed medication, which I took religiously. There was no slight change a month later.
I went to see another doctor who said it was simply a sprain. He gave me an ointment to rub on the shoulder and some pain killers, but the pain was still the same.
By this time, I had been accepted at the University of Curtin in Australia to study law. In July, my elder sister recommended an orthopaedic surgeon because none of the doctors we had seen had been of any help.
I had just turned 20 at the time, so I went by myself. The first thing the surgeon asked me was if I was alone, and if so, how I got to his office because I looked so pale. He ordered for some urgent tests and asked me to go back the following morning in the company of my mother, which we did.
The tests showed that I had a tumour. I had to go in for admission the following morning in order to have a biopsy done to determine whether it was cancerous or not.
True to say, I had osteosarcoma in my proximal humerus, which was by the shoulder blade and upper arm, and it was in its third stage. We had to discuss treatment options immediately and the doctors said they might have to amputate it. I somehow expected the news.
I started chemotherapy that first week and it was so brutal that all my hair fell off. I was discharged soon after but I was back in the hospital a few days later because my shoulder started bleeding profusely. By the second round of chemotherapy, my family decided to seek further treatment for me in India. My visa to Australia had to be cancelled by then. My family now helped me apply for one to India while in hospital bed.
We left for India in the beginning of August and the doctors confirmed my diagnosis. I underwent chemotherapy for three months. My doctors said the cancer cells were lodged in such a way that they could not operate on the tumour.
Tests done afterward revealed that I was cancer-free, and I cannot explain the joy I felt. I was required to stay for post-cancer treatment but I literally begged the doctors to have it done in Kenya. I was really homesick. Luckily, they agreed, but on condition that the doctor giving the treatment would follow their course to the latter.
I came back home for post-cancer treatment, but by the third round, I was so sick that I had wounds in my stomach and mouth. This meant that I could barely eat. My weight dropped from 60 to 24 kilogrammes. I lost all my hair again. We were almost sure that the cancer had recurred. I knew that this was the end for me and that I would die.
My family decided to take me back to India. My doctors there could not even recognise me. But as it turned out, the referred doctor in Kenya failed to follow the course of treatment and so it reacted badly with my body. In a week, I was stabilised. I was gaining my weight and growing my hair back. I was put on remission and we came back home in November of 2009. Since then, I have to go for a check-up once every year.
I joined USIU in 2010 to pursue International Business and Marketing. I should have gone for therapy as soon as possible because I turned to alcohol to numb the feelings and emotions that came with the trauma. Yes, I was grateful I survived, but I wondered why God kept me alive instead of the friends I made during treatment.
I was resentful that I had lost two years of my life, yet my peers had progressed in different ways. I also felt guilty that my parents had to spend millions on me yet I had other siblings that needed to be taken care of. I would also go visit the paediatric cancer ward in Kenyatta and always end up feeling responsible for those little children just because I was a survivor.
I was still drinking heavily even after graduating in 2013. I should have been dealing with the emotions and the post-traumatic stress. After three years of this self-destructing, my family checked me into rehab in 2016. I have always thought how funny it is that people would expect cancer to follow alcoholism yet it was the complete opposite for me.
Rehab made me realise that I had a far greater purpose and that it was up to me to realise and serve it; which is to give people strength and hope, to be the torch bearer of alcoholics, cancer survivors and those who have undergone traumatic experiences I can relate to. This is why I started motivational speaking.
The doctors failed to tell us that the titanium replacement on my shoulder was not a permanent solution because three years later, in 2011, I had to go back to India. I was in so much pain that we again thought that the cancer had recurred. Apparently, it was a dislocation of the prosthesis which had to be replaced. The same thing happened in 2017, and the prosthesis was changed in November. However, the pain did not go away and months later, in May of 2018, we decided to seek alternative options.
We found an orthopaedic surgeon from Cape Town, who specialises in shoulder replacement. I flew there a few weeks later and had the prosthesis replaced.
I am currently doing physiotherapy, and yet to go back to work. This last surgery has made me emotionally stronger and motivated in my advocacy.
The fear of recurrence is definitely there, but that attitude changes each passing day and I am constantly grateful to be a survivor.”
MURAD SWALEH, 43
“My life in drugs started slowly from a puff of cigarette, one that I would steal from my grandfather, to twigs of miraa, marijuana and later alcohol before fully graduating to hard drugs.
At only four years, I knew too well the taste of a cigarette while I lived in my parents’ home at Kidogo Basi village.
My grandfather smoked cigarettes so I used to steal from his pack, taking it to school. I would later hide and smoke. No one found out.
Soon after, I started skipping school on some days by diverting as soon as my mother dropped me at the school gate. All this happened while in pre-primary. I knew too well how to smoke bhang, take alcohol and the hard drugs when I was in primary school.
Being born and raised in Mombasa County meant that no drug was new to me because I would interact with people and sometimes family members using drugs such as miraa and alcohol.
My parents would fight and quarrel and that mentally affected me. After their eventual separation, I lived with my mother and that’s how my addiction worsened.
My family abandoned me as I got into adulthood, leaving me with no option but to live in a house my grandfather left me before he died.
For 19 years, I made several visits in and out of the rehabilitation centre. I kept relapsing each time I thought I was on the road to recovery. At some point, I had given up and wanted to take my life through overdosing.
I would mix heroine and whiskey in a syringe then inject myself. It relieved me. Whenever I lacked the drugs, I would start bleeding from the mouth.
My first wife left me after she got pregnant, and the second woman stayed with me for a while and had a baby girl before we separated. I never once wanted my children to grow up without both parents the way I did.
I used to inject myself in her presence.
My turning point came when my daughter asked me whether I ever planned to quit drugs. She was four years old then. It even got to a point where she became uncomfortable walking with me as people perceived me as a thief.
I finally enrolled for rehabilitation at Reach Out Center in April 2013 after 19 difficult years of addiction. Barely three days into rehabilitation I got weak and fainted and had to be rushed to hospital.
The nurses had to give me the syringe to administer the medicine myself because they could not find any veins on my hands. I was sure I was going die. But God saved my life.
Four months into the programme my recovery slowly began. When I left the programme in August 2013 I went home and faced both stigma and discrimination from the community.
People still believed I was mad and that I would not stop using drugs. They still called me a thief, and this meant that no one trusted me to give me a job afterwards.
After a long and unsuccessful search for employment, Reach Out Center Director Taib Basheeib called me to work as a cleaner. My ranks have since risen to a peer educator at the centre.
Having fully recovered, my job is to interact with addicts at the centre — taking them through their own journeys. I am also currently learning English and Law, as well as raising a new family.
I still get to see heroine every day and there is not a time that I wish to use it. I believe that my addiction was something that had to happen to change my life. Without it, I would not be doing the service I do, which is to transform the lives of other people.
I hope to keep helping people because I got a second chance in life, through my battles.”