Halfway to Hell: My Winning Battle With Alcohol And Gambling Addiction

Nairobi, Kenya: When I took that first sweet sip of my country's local brew back in the village in 1999, I never thought it would be the first step in a traumatic journey of alcohol addiction that would last 17 years. What started as fun and a desire to bolster my low self-esteem would spiral into a whirl-wind of self-destructive behaviour characterised by living on a perilous edge.

For close to two decades, I wallowed in debauchery and gambling - always looking for something to fill the emptiness I felt inside. I lost money, suffered poor health, my wife, who was tired of the cycle, packed her bags and left with our child and at one point I tried to take my life.

I’m Chrispus, but some just call me Chris, and I’m now five years sober and I no longer gamble. My story is no longer that of despair but triumph. However painful my past, I tell it with a smile because I know this might just touch someone out there.

The Small Village Boy: The Beginning

For a small bodied boy in a rural Kenyan village, life wasn’t easy. While my parents provided everything to give us a comfortable life, I always struggled to fit in amongst boys my age. Everyone was faster, stronger and had a way with the girls.

I couldn’t escape from my father’s watchful eye - so this meant I couldn’t get up to the usual mischief you would expect of a boy my age. My only solace was in my books and so I started reading early. My father would buy national newspapers which provided an easy escape from my social prison. I always swore to get away at the first opportunity and fantasised of the beautiful places I saw in the papers.

But as you know, life doesn’t always work out as a small boy would imagine.

As the other boys earned money after school working on farms, I had to stay home. On weekends, other boys would meet up and attend local sports events but my dad would never allow such. My life, in hindsight, wasn't sad or pathetic but as a young boy so desperate for freedom it was easy to think it as such.

High School Bullying

With time, the sense of inadequacy grew even when I excelled in academics. I always wished for something that would make me like superman or other comic heroes I read about.

Things got worse for me in high school where I first encountered the nasty side of humanity. Bullying was rife in Kenyan schools and teachers turned a blind eye to the vice.

A self-report sociodemographic questionnaire and the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire of 1991 were administered to 1, 012 students from a stratified sample of public secondary schools in Nairobi.

Between 63.2% (640) and 81.8% (828) of students reported various types of bullying, both direct and indirect, with significant variations found for sex, age, class and year of study, whether in day or boarding school, and the place where bullied. Being bullied was significantly associated with becoming a bully, in turn.

As a small boy, the beatings from my bully's killed any sense of self-worth that I had. Many a time, we would sleep in coffee plantations to avoid the beatings by those in higher classes.

The teachers ignored our anonymous complaints and my dad categorically told me to man up.

I had no muscles or the will to stand up for myself and so I turned into the best tree climber for survival. Doing chores for the bigger boys was routine and sometimes, they would snatch food from us forcing us to sleep hungry.

The bigger boys stole our pocket money, and items such as tissue papers, soap and even clothing. For two years, I slept on metal after a big boy took my mattress. It was only after I got sick and spent two weeks in hospital that I confessed to my parents about it.

Welcome to the World

After high school, my wish for freedom came true as I headed to college and away from my parent’s control. By this time, I had discovered Dutch courage and to me alcohol was the solution to my inadequacy. With a few drinks, I could talk to ladies - though it was impossible to maintain a relationship while drunk.

I then discovered brothels. Buying sex was like therapy to me because it saved me the trouble of dating unsuccessfully. I would drink and end everything at brothels around college.

College was a blur as I was always inebriated though I scrapped through. Everyone in the family was concerned about my drinking and no intervention was working. At one point, I staggered to church drunk and accepted Jesus as they say but it lasted only a few months. I got back into drinking and prostitution with a bang.

After college, money started flowing in and the drinking got worse.

I got a position in one of Kenya’s biggest corporate but the high salary just made things worse. I would drink everything in a few days and resort to loans. Even at 26, I still had no girlfriend and no time for a relationship. At the time, I struggled with suicidal thoughts because everything was falling apart.

I eventually lost my job and started living in slums and sleeping out in the open. It was a treacherous life sleeping under parked trucks in open garages. From a well-paying job to drinking illicit beer in dingy bars, it was a classic fall from grace to grass.

My parents tried rehabilitating me and helped me secure a teaching job with the government. I continued missing work and got multiple warnings. At this time, I had a wife and a small boy but I really didn’t do much for them. Deep down, I knew I had to end all this.

Ending It All on a High: When I Tried to end it all

After trying to take my life (details I will not share) - the next thing I remember, I was in hospital and could only hear voices. My mum was there holding my hand but even after I stayed in hospital for 3-4 weeks with psychiatric intervention, I didn’t stop drinking.

To supplement, I started sports gambling and that’s how I sank into a scary triad of vices; alcohol abuse, prostitution, and gambling. My health got worse and I started selling household stuff and clothing to gamble.

On a Tuesday in February 2017, after bingeing for days, I got so sick that I knew this would be the end. I had no phone and I had moved into a slum where no one knew me. My wife had already left with my son and no one in the family really cared anymore. There was blood pooling on the floor next to the mattress where I slept. I used to vomit lots of blood and suffer serious pains after drinking.

The pain got so bad that I crawled to the door and walked to my neighbour’s door where I begged for food. She gave me a bowl of rice which I gobbled down. I later walked to a church nearby and begged the priest to pray for me. I admit -I did this just to get through the night but eventually I started to change.

The withdrawal symptoms came down hard though; from nightmares, hallucinations, shivers/shakes, sleep paralysis, sweating, and fever to headaches. I struggled through them all. After a month or so, I contacted my family and my sister came for me.

Within a year or so, I was back on my feet but still, I thought gambling would help me recover it all. I lost thousands of Kenyan shillings trying to chase a mirage. At one time, I sold everything in the house to gamble.

The young and old have taken up gambling as a money making venture to get out of poverty. Millions of people are now living a life of despair hoping to win lotteries or sport bets. In Kenya, and elsewhere in Africa, the rapid spread of smartphones and mobile money has come with a stubbornly persistent vice: online gambling.

Although it took the intervention of my fiancée (who I later dated after my life left) to stop gambling - I know there is now help such as charities and other organisations that willingly provide support.

She took over all my finances and it was a relief finally living calmly without the anxiety that comes with gambling. Today, I live a sober life with my now wife and our children.

Living a sober life devoid of gambling and sex addiction is empowering for me. I have more control of life and I support my family. Helping other quit drinking and gambling is now my life mission. I’m walking with so many people to get them out of the shackles. It’s a happy feeling even writing and sharing these experiences with the world.

My advice to anyone struggling with any form of addiction; find the root course, but remember finding it can be hard so don't be afraid to seek professional help. Times have changed there is now support out there.

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