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Saturday, July 22, 2017

I've slipped back into alcoholism many times, but I won't stop trying to remain sober – Waihiga Mutero

Waihiga Mutero
Waihiga Mutero

Love. Everybody needs it, even those whose hearts seem to be made of stone. But what happens when one does not love thyself first – knowingly or unknowingly – and instead seeks this feeling from others? Simply put – disaster.

Many people who seek validation from the love others, but do not receive it often become disillusioned and turn to drugs, alcohol, risky sex or a cocktail of all as a coping mechanism.

Waihiga Mutero, 24, went down a dangerous path of alcoholism after the boyfriend she was head over heels for cheated on her. Everyone, except her, knew about the affairs and when she finally found out, the embarrassment and humiliation made her get a rebound boyfriend.

But the new man drank a lot and before she realised it, she had joined the bandwagon and became an alcoholic.

To understand Waihiga’s story fully, we need to go back to the beginning. Waihiga was born on July, 1 1992 and was adopted when she was an infant. She moved to South Africa when she was nine years old after her father got a job there. Waihiga says she had a culture shock and struggled to adjust from having many friends back in Kenya to starting life all over again. She had to learn self-reliance fast.

In school, Waihiga realised she had a natural talent in acting. “Drama was the one class I succeeded at effortlessly.”

In 2009, Waihiga watched Shuga – a youth series advocating safe sex sponsored by MTV Base and became determined to be part of the production.

After completing her matriculation, Waihiga moved back to Kenya in 2010 and joined USIU in 2011 for her university studies.

She got a chance to become part of the Shuga cast after going through vigorous auditions. “I auditioned tirelessly and beat more than 500 people to get the role of Njoki, the girl whose character slept with everyone. Acting in Shuga was a dream come true.”

Waihiga balanced between school and acting, but her studies were her number one priority.

During one of the auditions Waihiga attended, she met a big shot producer, whose company was scouting for actors for a show called Living on Campus, and the two started dating. She was smitten and felt on top of the world. But there was trouble in paradise. Her boyfriend was cheating on her and everyone, but her, knew.

“These big time producers usually cheat. They have so many women around them. When people tried to tell me he was cheating, I would hear none of it. I thought they were trying to get in between us and I’d tell them off,” Waihiga says.

But as they say about everything done in the dark – it always comes to light. Waihiga found out the allegations were actually fact. “I felt humiliated and immediately started dating someone else.”

Waihiga’s rebound drank too much and she caught on. “Before him, I didn’t drink a lot. I’d only drink during the weekends, but with him, I started drinking daily. And before long, I was even outdrinking him and I thought that was cool. I thought I was tough – being able to outdrink guys.”

Waihiga’s relationship with the new man did not last long. He dumped her, saying she had stopped taking care of herself, was unpresentable and maintained poor standards of hygiene.

With the rejection, Waihiga turned all her focus to alcohol. “After all, alcohol could not leave me, it could not cheat on me.”

In 2013, Waihiga was cast in the TV series Maisha. But as she continued to “graduate” to stronger alcoholic drinks, her work suffered. “I am one of those people who when I do drink, you can immediately tell. My eyes become red, my speech is slurred, I get overexcited and have fake hype.”

Her employers warned her to get her drinking under control, but she didn’t listen. She started showing up late and one day, Waihiga didn’t show up at all.

“I started having a sense of entitlement and felt I was being underpaid and exploited. Now when I look at it, I realise it was experience I could have built on instead of losing everything.”

Waihiga’s parents started picking that all was not well with their daughter and later found out she was not attending class, despite them paying the expensive fees.

“It reached a point they stopped paying my fees because they were coughing money every semester and I was getting Fs because of not attending classes and I’d have to repeat.”

Waihiga’s parents signed her up at a rehabilitation Christian centre in one of the posh suburbs in Nairobi.

“It was a horrible experience. First of all, the workers forcibly shaved my mohawk, saying it was a rebellious hairstyle. We [patients] were drugged to keep us under control and sometimes the attendants would beat people up if they didn’t follow orders.”

Waihiga continues, “I was once slapped. It was hell and I had to fake I was better to get out of there. They use intimidation to make patients submit. I paid lip service and said all the right things – like that I would never touch alcohol again – for them to allow me to leave.”

Waihiga says the drugs administered were medication for people with psychosis and bipolar disease and they made patients’ health deteriorate. The idea is to ensure patients become dependent on rehabilitation so the owners continue making money, she says.

“Patients ate ugali every other day. There are people who became so reliant on the rehab, they had a discount.”

After leaving rehab, Waihiga stayed away from alcohol for some time, but slowly started drinking again. She also had a sense of entitlement and whenever her parents delayed giving her her monthly allowance, she would confront them.

“If I was expecting the money on Monday and by Tuesday it wasn’t in my account, I would confront my parents and ask them why they were delaying the transfer yet it was my money.”

Waihiga later met a man who encouraged her to be a better person, but the relationship was short-lived because he moved to the US.

Without a strong support system, Waihiga despaired and in November 2015, she gathered the psychosis pills she had stored – she was supposed to take them daily, but didn’t because they did more harm than good – and took them at once. Waihiga’s suicide attempt failed.

She woke up in the high dependency unit at the Aga Khan University Hospital with nurses around her. “They asked me if I was going to be good.”

She had given them a hard time – kicking and fighting.

We flashback to the moment after Waihiga had taken the psychotic pills.

It is Waihiga’s father who found her unconscious in her room in the evening. That morning, he had noticed she hadn’t left her room, but didn’t think much of it. When he returned in the evening, he sensed something was amiss when he called out her name and she didn’t answer.

Waihiga did not pick his calls, though he could hear her phone ring. Waihiga’s father had to break down the door to her room, where he found her unconscious.

When doctors conducted tests, they found traces of heroin and cocaine in her blood. “I don’t remember taking any drugs, so I must have ingested them unknowingly.”

When Waihiga was released from hospital, her parents gave her an ultimatum – either she quits alcohol for good, or she finds another place to live. She chose the latter and went to live with her cousin for a while.

On January 1, 2016, Waihiga tried to take her life for the second time. But this time, she didn’t slip into unconsciousness. Instead, she had an experience she terms an encounter with the spiritual realm.

“People think of hell as a place where people burn together, but it is not like that. It is a place with tormented souls, and all of them are alone. I didn’t want to end up there and I told God: if you really exist, get me out of and I will worship You forever.”

On January 8, 2016, Waihiga joined a religious rehabilitation programme – Teen Challenge, Kenya. The one-year Christian programme is conducted in Thindigua.

As Waihiga started to get better, she started documenting her recovery experience on Her friends and all those who read the blog congratulated her on her progress.

But she slipped back into alcohol. “Alcoholism is not something you recover from, it’s something you manage. At one point, I found myself at a bar near my house. I would lie to myself that I was going to watch Manchester United play, and I couldn’t do that at home because you need to watch football with a crowd, but slowly, I started taking a drink here and there.”

Soon, Waihiga’s friends started spotting her at bars. “They confronted me asking what I was doing there, yet my blog was detailing my recovery journey. At first I lied I was only taking soda, but l couldn’t keep it up for long.”

Waihiga then decided to flip the script and act as if the blog was just about her journey through alcoholism – not that she had necessarily stopped drinking. “I convinced myself that I was not lying because nowhere did I say I had stopped drinking. I was just talking about my journey.”

Waihiga is currently doing a recovery programme at a halfway house – Eden House. She says it is nothing like the rehabilitation centre she had been enrolled in before. “The programme at Eden House is a lifestyle. It is giving me the tools to sustain and support my new normal which is sobriety.”

The counselors at Eden are reformed alcoholics and addicts, so they understand how hard it is to quit and remain sober.

“It’s the best thing that has happened to me in the last six years.”

Waihiga says the hardest part of moving towards sobriety is accepting there is a problem.

Through the programme, Waihiga is peeling back the surfaces and getting to the root of what issues ail her. She says she realises that for a long time, she was looking for love and acceptance and felt she never really belonged because she is adopted.

“But I realise how much my parents care about me. They never gave up on me despite all the times I messed up.”

Waihiga says there is no such thing as a functional alcoholic. “These are broken people running away from themselves. The sooner you accept there is a problem, the better. I have lost many friends to alcohol and there was a time I would go and drink in memory of them. My friends and I would tell ourselves that is what they would have wanted.”

Waihiga says she is a product of grace and encourages anyone struggling with alcoholism or any other addiction to accept there is a problem then confront it.

Contacts for help

1. Teen Challenge, Thindigua, Kiambu Road – one-year programme

[email protected]

2. Eden Halfway House in Parklands, Nairobi

Has branches in Kabete and Mombasa

[email protected] or [email protected]

Mobile: 0722867693 or 0726552476

3. Alcoholics Anonymous Kenya

Prices can be negotiated or payments can be made in installments.

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