When a schoolmate approached her wanting to be her friend, Caroline couldn’t believe her good fortune. She was cool, pretty and popular – everything Caroline felt she wasn’t. Little did Caroline know that this encounter would lead her down a path to addiction that would take her nearly 18 years to recover from.
Caroline Kagia was raised in a Christian home with four siblings. Her parents were elders in a local church and worked hard to build a wonderful life for their family. Caroline never lacked anything when it came to physical needs. But emotionally, she struggled.
“I had a lot of low self-esteem issues and sometimes it still pops its ugly head once in a while,” Caroline told The Weight She Carries. “As a child, I desperately wanted to please my mother.”
Her mother was very precise in her expectations of her children, and Caroline would often struggle to meet those expectations.
“Though I love my mother dearly, she was also dealing with baggage from her own past. I felt a lot of rejection because I didn’t feel I was good enough to please her, so that was the genesis of my low self-esteem issues,” Caroline said.
Caroline’s negative perception of herself only compounded at school where she was called “an ugly duckling”. To cope, she became a loner.
Despite this, she excelled in school and advanced to A-levels at a new school.
“I had been raised with Christian values, but when I went for my A-levels, I was thrust into a school system where school kids had freedom,” she said. “They would go for smoke breaks, which I’d never seen happen at my old school. I was never exposed to such things because my parents don’t drink neither do they smoke. The peer pressure was extremely intense.”
One day, a girl who had befriended Caroline asked her to go outside for a break. Caroline agreed. The two talked for a moment and then the lady began to smoke and offered Caroline a puff of her cigarette.
“That’s when my relationship with cigarettes began,” Caroline said. “I would go on to struggle with smoking for almost 18 years.”
The two girls became closer as friends and during one of their conversations, Caroline revealed that she was a virgin. Her friend was quick to peg her as strange.
Knowing Caroline had a boyfriend of a year whom she had not engaged in sex with, her friend proposed a challenge: “If you sleep with your boyfriend, I will give you a bottle of wine.”
“I wanted to fit in so badly, so I went to the guy, made arrangements and did the deed,” she said. “It was a pathetic experience, nothing like what you read about in books. I was disappointed and felt like something had been taken away from me that I couldn’t get back. I had made a vow to God in high school that I would remain pure until marriage, but now I had broken that vow.”
The only positive aspect was that Caroline could now go back to her friend and claim her prize.
“She was so excited for me, and true to her word, she brought me booze the next day,” Caroline said.
Caroline concealed the bottle of wine in her school bag and took it home after school. Once everyone had gone to sleep that night, she opened her window (she had been told that the smell of alcohol was strong and didn’t want it to permeate the house), sat on her bed and took a sip. The wine contained 12 percent alcohol.
“It tasted terrible. I took another sip, expecting to feel something, but nothing happened. I took a gulp and it felt like I was drinking water. I finished the whole bottle and was expecting to feel tipsy or high, but I felt nothing. The next day I woke up as fresh as a daisy.” – Caroline Kagia
Looking back, she now realizes that the fact that this was her first time injesting alcohol and she did not get drunk after consuming an entire bottle of wine was a troubling sign.
“That showed that I had a high tolerance for alcohol already. I believe that I was an alcoholic from the get-go,” she said.
It would take 6 cans of beer at a party later on down the road for her to feel tipsy.
Once she completed her A-levels, Caroline went to Malaysia to further her studies. Her addiction progressed into drinking spirits and experimenting with marijuana.
“I didn’t care for marijuana much, so I replaced it with heavy cigarette smoking. I would smoke a minimum of 40 sticks a day,” she said.
“The number of things I have done to hide my addictions amaze me now. I would spray my mouth with perfume just to disguise the smell. I tried so many times to stop smoking, but every time I would drink, I would get the urge to smoke. And the drinking…I loved alcohol so much that If I could shower with it, I would have.” – Caroline Kagia
A year later, Caroline returned to Kenya, began working and had a son. Despite her heavy drinking, she was able to maintain a good job and established a comfortable life for herself.
On average, she would consume about 1.2 litres (42 oz) of alcohol a day.
“Booze was the first thing I drank each morning,” she said. “Then I would try to figure out how I was going to manipulate people into giving me money to buy more alcohol.”
Her father realized that his daughter had a problem in 2007 when one day her son, whom her parents were raising at the time, became ill and was admitted to the hospital.
Her father called Caroline and told her to come to the hospital so she could give her son some medicine.
“I went to the hospital and couldn’t give him the medicine because my hands were shaking so badly. I remember my father was seated in a chair and just kept looking at me. He didn’t say much at the time, but that night he sent me a message and told me that I had a problem and I needed to seek help,” Caroline said. “Initially, I never accepted that I had a problem. Who does? No one does. I rationalized my drinking and told myself, ‘Well, my hands are shaking because I drank too much yesterday, but I just won’t drink so much today.’”
“I have lost so much because of my addiction. I lost two pregnancies and that was extremely painful. I know people have miscarriages for different reasons, but in my case, I know that it was due to my alcohol consumption during those pregnancies. I still feel pain about that sometimes because I did that to those babies that I never met. I still didn’t stop drinking after that.” – Caroline Kagia
It wasn’t until 10 years later that Caroline came to grips with the fact that she was in way over her head. She had tried to quit drinking but suffered a seizure due to withdrawals and began experiencing hallucinations and paranoia.
“My acceptance of my predicament only came in January 2017. That’s when I knew enough was enough because I had to come to the realization that I was in trouble. By that time, I had sold everything in my house to sustain my bad habit. I wasn’t selling things to buy food, I was selling them to buy cheap booze. That’s when you know you have a problem.” – Caroline Kagia
Caroline walked 5 km home wearing the only pair of sandals she had left (she had sold the rest and had no money for transport) and asked her father for help. By now, she had two children.
“I was angry at the person I had become,” she said. “Considering that I had come from a good home, been educated at good schools and even had the opportunity to attend university and work abroad, how could I have allowed myself to turn into this person? I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I became depressed and suicidal.”
Through the years, her father, in particular, never gave up on his daughter. He had continued to pray for her and did everything he could to save her from herself.
“My dad was easy to go to. He was so easy to talk to. He was very forgiving and always accessible. He was always easy to run to even when I had messed up.” – Caroline Kagia
Caroline checked herself into a rehab centre for 90 days.
“Those were probably the best 90 days of my life. I finally discovered who I was; I finally discovered what had driven me to become who I had become,” she said.
While in rehab, she reconnected with her faith and surrendered her life completely to God. When it was time to face the outside world again, Caroline was afraid of what might happen.
“God has been faithful. I always tell people that He has a soft spot for vulnerable people. I was vulnerable and had no control of what was happening to me,” she said.
Caroline went on to study addiction and is now a certified addiction professional. She spends her days teaching and mentoring people about addiction.
She is the founder of Caroline Kagia Wellness Initiative, a community business organization whose aim is to help those infected and affected by addiction. Her initiative also raises funds to help those who cannot afford to pay Caroline for services.
“This is my calling. I know God had a plan for me because many of my former drinking buddies have died due to complications related to alcoholism, but God has preserved my life,” she said. “With God, no matter what you have gone through, there is always a silver lining. The more I share my story, the more I heal.”
Caroline can be reached on her Facebook page Caroline Kagia Wellness Initiative, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone +254 723 912 404.
Vimbai E. is a writer, journalist, ghostwriter and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.