I Finally Won the Battle with Alcoholism


Joseph Muchwe Karanja (pictured), is a mid-thirties man who had battled with the demon of alcohol abuse for over a decade but managed to free himself from its shackles in 2015, though with bruises that will serve as a reminder of his life’s dark phase. An advocate against alcohol and substance abuse, he narrates how his life was and the dramatic turn that changed him completely.

  The year 2005 can be described as the year I descended deep into alcoholism. By then, I was in the National Youth College, Gilgil, and like other youths with me, I was looking forward to the passing out parade and graduate later that year after four years of rigorous training. That was not to be, for I received my dismal letter owing to indiscipline stemming from alcohol use. That meant four years wasted with nothing to show for same.

  On returning to my home village of Bahati in Nakuru County, I went deeper into drinking. Anything alcoholic, be it chang’aa or spirits, and that would give me a euphoric feeling to help me forget my sorrows, was welcome. Before I knew it, I was an addict. It reached a point where I could not function without alcohol. If I missed a glass or a bottle of it, I would shake uncontrollably. I could not function unless my systems were charged with alcohol of any type. I remember my shakings were extreme at times that someone had to hold a glass for me in order for me to drink from it; otherwise I would have spilled all the contents down.
Joseph, 3rd right, emaciated from alcohol use

  As I was surviving through odd jobs, every coin I earned would go to sustain my drinking habit. And my drinking not affected me but my immediate family members as well. To say I brought total shame to my parents is not an understatement. Many are times they would bail me from the police custody when I was caught drunk and disorderly or they would pick me from roadsides when I blanked out from my many drinking sessions. This is besides the much they spent trying to rehabilitate me or in my treatments when I became ill.

  When I went down with tuberculosis, I was off the alcohol for a period of eight months for the treatment to be effective. It is during this time I discovered I had a latent talent in writing and was gifted in speaking like in emceeing and also could do well as a comedian. I formed an acting group which became famous as we went from place to place performing plays, skits and Swahili poetry. I did write a collection of Swahili poetry which, unfortunately, I lost.

  Everybody saw the changes in me and thought my past with alcoholism was over. How wrong they were, for shortly after the TB treatment regime was over, I took from where I left off. And to compensate for those missed months, I would drink myself silly until I would blank out in pubs or shebeens.

  This state of affair observed for a considerable length of time, until the month October of 2015. In that month, I called a friend and we walked to this club which was nearby. We spent a better part of the day in that club drinking until my friend left. Alone, I sank into deep thoughts and reflected on my life. I asked myself if I was destined to lead a life where alcoholism seemed synonymous with my name. There and then, I made the decision to quit alcohol. I rose up, paid the bill, and walked home where I met with my mother and told her I was quitting alcohol for good.
Joseph, the comedian, with mic

  My surprised parent told me she believed the Lord will answer my prayers. She had been praying for my change for long, and had not given up on me. Perhaps a confirmation to her prayers had come in a dramatic way. I went to my room, knelt by my bed and said a prayer to God. I prayed like my life depended on it, and in this prayer, I told God to change me, and asked Him to completely destroy me were I to touch alcohol again. With that covenant made with my Maker, I had officially quit drinking.

  But the demons of alcohol were not done with me yet. Withdrawal symptoms and cravings for the drink were strong and the order of the days. But I managed to resist the urge to go and drink for the last time, and gradually, the symptoms and cravings subsided before altogether vanishing.

  And did alcohol do me any good than harm? I had married while I was 23 years old, and had a beautiful daughter from that relationship. But because I was an irredeemable alcoholic, the marriage broke down and my partner walked out with our daughter. I remarried, but that second relationship too crumbled owing to similar story as with the first one. Now I’m in a third marriage, and we have been blessed with one child.

giving a talk
  More, alcohol robbed me of what I would have now. It robbed me of my mind, dignity, respect, opportunities to jobs and made me irresponsible. It instead gave me an ill health as TB left me sapped of strength that to this day I cannot do hard tasks around and have to rely on my wife to do same. It is embarrassing to see my wife doing what I’m supposed to do, that I had to endure snide remarks from people.

  My advice to youth is that quitting drugs or alcohol is not hard. They are not inborn, but vices we picked or copied from others. Don’t worry about the withdrawal symptoms. They come and go. Don’t rely on group work to make your individual decision, make it today and walk a different path.

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