Who is Caroline Kagia……
I am a mother of two children, Michael is 13 and Kelly is 3. I am outgoing and adventurous. In addition, I love cooking and swimming. Further, as much as I enjoy sharing my time with others, I also enjoy my own company.
I am a born-again Christian, I got saved on 19 February 2017. I remember the exact date because at the time I was in rehab for my 18-year alcohol addiction. There in my lowest moment of my life, I saw the hand of God. He was more real to me than He had ever been in my life.
Society in general does not seem to acknowledge that women too can be alcoholics, what do you have to say about that?
Women nowadays are drinking just like men, maybe even a little bit more, unfortunately. Addiction cuts across both sexes, it doesn’t know who is male or female. In our culture as Africans, an alcoholic woman is labelled as a prostitute, irresponsible, a shame to society e.t.c. There is a lot of pressure in being a woman today, from the time we are young girls, we are taught that we are to perform well in school, get good jobs, get married and have babies. That’s fine and in order. However, we face the same struggles men face, but men are not labelled the same as we are. Women are struggling with depression, self-esteem issues, under performance at the work place, rejection issues among other issues and as a result they have turned to the bottle for relief. Many women I know are functional alcoholics with very deep emotional baggage. I know of a number that carry alcohol in their bags because they need that buzz to perform. It’s sad, but that’s the reality. However, despite the fact that women are struggling with alcoholism, it is being swept under the carpet by society. Not many parents will acknowledge that their daughters have a drinking problem because of the shame implications. I know of many parents who lie that their daughters are overseas, yet they either don’t know where their daughters are, or they have taken them to treatment facilities. The society needs to stop burying its head in the sand, and acknowledge that we have a disaster in our hands, as far as women are concerned and address this problem.
When did you have your first drink?
I had my first taste of alcohol at the age of 18. It was a 250ml bottle of red wine (12 per cent alcohol). Interestingly enough, I didn’t get drunk or tipsy. I was very disappointed because it had no effect on me. Looking back now my high tolerance for alcohol should have been a warning sign. However, being unaware, I continued to chase the illusive high, and this eventually led to my 18-year battle with alcohol addiction.
Why do you believe you were drawn to alcohol?
I am the first born in a family of 5 siblings and I had a privileged upbringing. I was brought up in a very conservative family, and I had the best that life had to offer. I went to good schools right from nursery, all the way to my tertiary education. When my siblings and I were younger, my parents would take us for vacations out of town at least once a year. Those memories are very dear to me. Further, I was always a daddy’s girl. My dad was always on my team, I felt safe with him. Despite all this, I had very low self-esteem. I was always unsure of myself. My school mates would call me the “ugly duckling” in primary school.
How did this affect you?
I would never volunteer to participate in any activity because I felt inept, and even the times I volunteered to do something, I would not get picked. That did very little for my self-esteem. As a result, I was shy and had no confidence, but when I drunk I was bold and confident. The only problem was that over the years as my tolerance for alcohol grew I moved from wine, to six cans of Redd’s, to mixing Guinness and Pilsner, to doing spirits like Vodka and Tequila, and finally in 2016 I was doing second generation drinks. I had become a full-blown alcoholic.
Give us a glimpse into your life as an alcoholic?
I was so hooked on the “high” that on the days that I didn’t have a drink or a cigarette, which were few and far between, I would feel like I was losing my mind, literally. The withdrawals and hallucinations would be quite severe sometimes. I once had a seizure because of too much alcohol the night before, and lack of it the next day. Then my irritation levels and paranoia would be at an all-time high. I would feel as if someone was constantly watching me, so most times I would lock myself in my house. Additionally, I hated interacting with people because I felt they were judging me.
Did alcohol provide you with a temporary escape from life?
Yes, it became a way of avoiding my life. So much so that I dreaded waking up sober because I feared that I would realize that my life was a mess. I would wake up very depressed, angry at myself, guilty and ashamed. To eradicate this negative emotion, I would go look for more booze. So, I would sleep with a bottle of vodka next to my bed. I would sip on it anytime I would wake up in the course of the night. Soberness scared me, same way it scares many people today. That’s why there are so many functional alcoholics out there. They have to have booze in their system to function. They may be very good at what they do in their places of work, but take away that booze, and that person will crumble.
How did alcohol make you feel?
On the days I had booze, I was on cloud nine. Nothing was sweeter than the thought of sipping on second generation drinks and getting into fantasy land. I glamorized alcohol the same way children glamorize candy. At that particular moment, I’d love being high. Despite the fact that I had a small baby many cigarettes would accompany my drinking. My neighbours would complain thoroughly about the smoke emanating from my compound but I didn’t care. In fact, my neighbours didn’t have the courage to approach me because I hardly spoke with them.
How did alcoholism affect your personal life?
My personal life took a big hit. Looking back now I realise that alcoholism is a progressive brain disease. No one gets hooked in one go, it takes time. If I look at it from a spiritual point of view, I see it as a stronghold of the devil. The Bible tells me that Satan came to steal, kill and destroy. He does that very well through all sorts of addictions. Alcoholism totally transforms someone into something they never thought they would become. It destroys lives, relationships, families. Indeed, alcoholism is the cause of very many broken homes in the world today.
So, as you can imagine my personal life was in shambles – I lost many friends, I had a bad reputation and my nickname was kalewa, tankard, wamunyota. My children, especially my son, Michael, now 13 was most affected by my drinking. I was in and out of his life from the time he was 9 months. The past few years have not been easy for him, emotionally, as a result of my poor lifestyle choices. We are currently in a very good place now and our relationship is firm and I thank God. However, I doubt my daughter, Kelly, remembers much about my drinking because she is three and by the time she was two I had sobered up.
What about dating?
I have never dated anyone seriously. Sadly, all my ‘relationships’ were alcohol induced. Imagine that. I have never had an alcohol-free relationship.
How did alcoholism affect your work life?
I worked in sales and marketing at leading organizations for 10 years; from 2006-2016. I have always been a very good performer, however, when the drinking started taking a toll on me, I begun to underperform. I couldn’t make my targets in sales because I wasn’t meeting clients. I was constantly in the bar from 10 am, but I would lie to my bosses about my meetings for the day and show up the following day at work with stories. Luckily for me, I was never fired. I would quit when the pressure would become too much, but I also never struggled to get work. I would quit today and in two weeks, I would have a new employer and a better salary and terms. God has always been gracious to me.
What are some shocking things you did in the name of getting an “alcohol fix”?
When I needed a fix, it turned me into something else, it literally destroyed every area of my life. I would turn into the kind of person who could do anything to get a fix. I have left my daughter very many times asleep and alone in the house to go buy alcohol. I have even walked into clubs where I knew people, without money in my pocket, hoping someone would come pay for my drinks. On those days I’ve faced trouble. My shoes have been removed because I couldn’t pay for my drinks. I was once locked in a bar for four days because I couldn’t pay for my drinks. The day the bar owner decided to take me to the police station; I found an escape route and was not seen again in that area. I once gave a bar tender a dead phone to charge for me, as I pretended I was going to the washroom and took off with a hefty bill. At some point I even sold my household items to sustain my habit, including my house doors!
When did you finally acknowledge that you had a problem and that your life was spiralling out of control?
It was after I ended a very abusive relationship in November 2015. Despite the fact that I ended the relationship because of how physically and emotionally toxic it was, I spiralled into a deep depression. With depression and loneliness came very heavy drinking. I lost weight very fast and would put on two pairs of jeans just to look like I had some meat on my bones. I couldn’t think or even talk without alcohol in my system. For the first time in my life, I became suicidal.
What happened next?
It took me a while before I finally realised that I could not change on my own and eventually in 2017, I was ready to get help. I went to rehab in January 2017. I just got tired of being tired. I was fed up of hating the sound of my voice, tired of looking at my messed-up self in the mirror. I was tired of hating me, of being unable to be a good mum to my children. I was tired of being a disappointment to myself and to my family.
How where you able to overcome the withdrawal usually experienced from not consuming alcohol?
My experience in rehab was liberating but it came at a cost. It was tough on my system which was used to getting a constant alcohol fix. As a result, I was put on some vitamins plus anti-depressants for some days. However, within a month I started to feel like a normal human being. I began to enjoy simple things like going to bed and waking up sober, fresh, guilt-free and energetic. Nothing beats that feeling. I also used to drink three litres of water daily to get rid of the thirst that comes with wanting a drink and cigarettes. What helped me was that I used to pray and journal. It helped me clear my mind on a lot of things.
Why do you believe you were able to get free, while so many alcoholics never get to experience sobriety?
First and foremost, my sobriety came with a decision to become sober. You must decide once and for all. No looking back. I was tired of the madness that my life had become and I desired permanent change. Freedom comes with a cost. For me, the cost was leaving my children for three months to go and get professional help. As messed up as I was, I still loved my children and cried for them daily while in treatment. If you want something badly enough, you will do whatever it takes to get it. I needed my life back. I needed my sanity back. I’m a very intelligent person and I had lost my productivity because of alcohol, I needed that back. I felt like I couldn’t breathe while I was in addiction. I desperately needed fresh air.
What role does forgiveness play in the process of healing?
While in treatment I learnt to deal with my low self-esteem, anger and resentment issues. I had so much baggage that I had carried for years. I learnt to forgive those I felt had wronged me, right from my childhood. I also had to ask for forgiveness from my son who suffered most because of my addiction, and it was not easy there was a lot of tears, but we are in a great place now.
Apart from unforgiveness, did you deal with your fears and pain?
The process of facing my pain and fears without any alcohol in my body was so painful. I cried a lot. In the end though, I came out stronger. Many people never get to experience total sobriety because they carry a lot of baggage and never properly address their pain. They fear to let go of their issues; they fear vulnerability. Alcohol and substances are like bandages used to cover up a wound. If a wound isn’t properly treated, it begins to fester and cause other infections. The same can be said of alcohol. Many people use it as a cover up for their ineptness and emptiness. Being vulnerable and agreeing to face one’s emotional issues head on takes guts. Many are unable to do so. That’s why they stick to various addictions. True freedom comes when you decide that enough is enough, you choose to face your demons head on and with time you come out so much stronger that you shock yourself. That’s me now and I give God ALL the glory.
Do you believe that a support system is important?
Yes, I’m blessed with a very strong support system. My dad played the biggest role in my recovery journey. He totally refused to give up on me. He saw potential in me that I had stopped seeing in myself. I disappointed him countless times. Yet, he continued to watch over me, to pray for me and to speak into my life. My father reversed my destiny through his unwavering and relentless love, prayers and support. He has loved me even when I hated myself for being so wicked and a failure. He never cursed me but always blessed me with his words. The power of the tongue is real. Words can either make or break you. Not once did he ever disown me or kick me out of his home. He has loved me when I was most unlovable.
Apart from my dad, my mother, siblings and a few mentors continue to walk with me in my recovery journey. Some days are hard, some days I have felt like walking into a bar to have a drink. But then I remember how far I’ve come, I fight those thoughts. In addition, it is very important to have someone you can be accountable to. It doesn’t matter how old one is, accountability in recovery is crucial.
Any advice for loved ones who are struggling with alcoholism?
Do not write your loved one off because they are struggling with addiction. They are not beyond help, God works miracles. That’s why He is God. He does what no man can do. If my parents had written me off, I’m very sure I would be dead by now. Many addicts also relapse because their quest to remain sober after recovery is met with suspicion from their loved ones. It’s very easy to trigger an addict into relapsing. This is because an addiction is a disease like any other, and should be treated as such. So yes, it is possible for an addict to recover fully but only in the right environment and support. God has never given up on anyone nor written anyone off. We, as human beings, therefore have no right to do so.
What advice would you give someone who is struggling with alcoholism and wants to stop but they do not know how?
Firstly, talk to someone you trust about the issue you are struggling with. The issue is not alcohol. Secondly, there are always underlying issues, and as a result seek help from a professional regarding the same. The professional will walk with you and guide you accordingly. Thirdly, there are some good but few treatment facilities that can help someone acquire total freedom from addiction. But. It starts with a decision.
Your relationship with God…….
I got saved while I was in rehab in 2017 and since then it has only gotten better. I love God so much. He continually reveals His love for me through people. He is an awesome God and I am nothing without Him. I don’t want to be anything without him. He is the air that I breath for real. I am unashamed about my salvation through Jesus Christ because He has saved me from the fowlers share and from the deadly pestilence of sin. Jesus saved me from death and from eternal damnation. Those who say that there’s no God should ask me. He is real. He fights my battles on my behalf daily.
I am a living testimony that God transforms people. I was a very wicked person, a very bad mother, friend, sibling and child. I was deep in alcoholism but look what God has done for me. God continues to transform me daily. There are people that get shocked that I am alive because I was in a very deep and dark pit. Yet, instead of trying to help me, they would mock me and laugh at my parents behind their backs. However, I serve a miracle working God. He has turned my ashes into beauty. He has turned my parents’ mourning into laughter and dancing. He has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies.
Additionally, He continues to open doors for me that I never deemed possible. He is with me in my recovery journey. It’s because of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, that I’m able to speak boldly about my past. I have nothing to be ashamed of because Jesus has set me free. There is therefore no condemnation for I am in Jesus. Everyone needs Jesus. More so those in recovery. He makes the journey easier. Without Jesus, it’s impossible to live a fully recovered, purposeful life. Try Him today. He will surprise you.
Is it true that sometimes addictions can run in the family?
Yes, you can be predisposed to a particular addiction even before you even take, engage in or are exposed to that particular thing. Addictions can be everything from food, to alcohol, to sex, to anything imaginable under the sun, and often they run in the family. Although my father does not drink, on his paternal side there is a history of alcoholism. In fact, we recently buried my cousin in August of 2018, he died of liver cirrhosis at the age of 20. He died in a bar while ordering a shot. I believe I was predisposed to alcoholism even before I had my first drink. Families should start having conversations about addictions that run in the family, it might be the thing that will save the next generation.
How long have you been sober for now?
I have been sober for two years now.
Why have you decided to be so open and to talk about your 18-year battle with alcohol addiction?
I have decided to talk about my experience in order to help free others. Especially girls and women. After my talk on the Engage 20 platform, I have been overwhelmed by the phone calls, emails and messages I’ve received on different platform from ladies who struggle with alcoholism. Women who need help but do not know where to turn. My motivation is to help others heal and give hope to addicts and their loved ones all over the world. I love addicts because I was one.
What are some of the challenges of sobriety?
If one is not alert and constantly self-evaluating it is very easy to engage in cross addiction. Cross addiction is the process of moving from one addiction to another and this usually happens when you have a trigger. A trigger is anything that provokes a memory or impulse to resume engaging in an addiction. A trigger can be a person, place or thing that reminds you of the old pleasures you used to get from your old addiction. When triggered it is easy to move on from one addiction to another and that is just as dangerous. An addiction can be anything from food, to alcohol, to shopping or even sex. Example, a person who is a former gambler or even drug addict, can easily cross over to a food addiction when they experience a trigger.
When you look back on your life, would you change anything?
I would not because God is using my story to impact, heal, and transform lives. He is using my shame for His glory. However, my only regret is that I missed out on watching my son grow. I wish I could take him back to his childhood so that we can start all over again. That haunts me to date. Nevertheless, there’s nothing I can do about that now, and so I’m making the most of every day with him. Michael is a miracle boy. That’s a story for another day. My daughter is still young, so I’m enjoying her baby moments very much.
What do you do for a living now?
I am a motivational speaker and a certified addiction professional. I am accredited by the Support for Addictions Prevention and Treatment in Africa (SAPTA). I do a lot of mentorship forums and workshops in tertiary and corporate institutions. My goal is to transform and empower those afflicted by alcohol and substance use. I also educate loved ones of those affected by the same on how to love themselves and their loved ones in addiction. Lastly, I am actively involved in our church-CITAM Ngong.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I will be a highly acclaimed, well sought after, international motivational speaker and wellness coach. My ministry has begun. Watch this space!
What of dating are you open to that?
Yes, I am, let us see what God will do.
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