When Lawrence was young, his father would drink with his friends in their house. Lawrence was their errand boy. He would be send to get water and whatever else they needed then he would be dismissed from their presence.
He was curious. So he told himself that one day he would find out exactly what those men were drinking. Being chased away had elevated his boyhood inquisitiveness. He yearned for an opportunity to taste that drink, and nothing was going to stop him.
When the long-awaited day arrived, it wasn’t the way he had planned it. His uncle offered him a sip of his drink at a Christmas party. Feigning reluctance, he tasted and though it was underwhelming a seed had been sown.
His mother, on the other hand, was a devoted Christian, making sure Lawrence and his siblings attended church and lived by the book.
But in High school, away from his mother’s guidance and abundant good food, Lawrence started to slip. High school life was unbearable; food was terrible, he had frequent, unpleasant run-ins with teachers because of ‘petty issues’ which rendered him completely unmotivated, and he decided to stop it by walking out of school and going home.
At home, no one wanted to be associated with someone who did not want to be in school. He joined a few young men in the village who loaded sand on Lorries at a quarry. After work, they would enjoy the local brew together. When something was stolen from their home, he was blamed for it. He had officially become the black sheep of the family. After receiving some lashing from the area chief, he was tricked into naming his accomplices so that the case would disappear. It didn’t!
Lawrence ended up in court, and together with his innocent ‘accomplice’ they were remanded to prison for 14 days.
“God touched my parents, and they decided to let me go with the condition that I go back to school. I took the deal very first. Prison was horrible,” he says.
After finishing High school in 1997, Lawrence was blessed to get a job as an untrained teacher. He taught Kiswahili. His students were doing well, but he was spiraling, drinking beer and hard liquor without control and proving a point ‘with his own money’.
“I did a diploma in Marketing while still teaching. Immediately after, I got a better-paying sales and marketing job with a publishing company. And that’s when drinking became a necessity. I had to drink before going to work. It’s called eye-opener,” he laughs as he narrates.
An even better-paying job opened up for Lawrence. He was married and with a young son who seldom saw his father. The hard liquor was beginning to damage his body leading to admission to Kenyatta National Hospital for acute pancreatitis and diabetes.
“The doctor was very categorical; ‘If you take more alcohol, you’re going to die.’ I didn’t take him seriously.”
His loved ones were happy for him when he got an opportunity to move to Dubai. They knew huko hakuna pombe.
In Dubai, he quickly landed a job as a tour guide which came with tips. The company employed several Kenyans, and together with other foreign employees, they would organize house parties where drinking was the main activity.
“I found out there are people called mama pima in Dubai. Drinking went on like it never existed. We were proving a point that there’s alcohol in Dubai.”
After two good years of working, alcohol started imposing its will on Lawrence. He started getting in trouble, fighting here and there. “Alcohol impairs your judgment, you think you can fight anybody!” He says. The law caught up with him. He was laid off from work. Money dried up. Relationships were severed. He tried alcohol business with some friends but that brought more trouble with the law. A court case was opened and the verdict was deportation. But they could appeal, the judge assured them.
“We were taken to a cold cell that was maybe 10 degrees Celsius. Imagine the heat of Dubai then being in such a cell. You cover yourself with a blanket the whole time but it’s still cold. If you become stubborn, you are taken to an even colder room.”
The appeals didn’t work, and Lawrence was deported.
In Kenya, he hooked up with his old buddies, and drinking continued but at a cost of his health. He says, “I was in and out of hospitals. One doctor told me that my sickness was alcoholism and that what was awaiting me was death if I continued. My wife was urging me to stop it. She’s fought for my sobriety for a long time. I thank her, and God bless her. She’s truly been there for me.”
In one of his hospital stints, Lawrence reflected on how much time he had wasted due to alcoholism and how God had created him for courage and not fear. “Why am I suffering,” he reckoned. “Why can’t I brush off this bad brand I have given myself and get back on my feet?”
For the first time in a long while, Lawrence was letting go of his stubbornness and need to prove something. He embraced the belief that there’s power and strength in Christ and there was potential in him.
That led him to his first session at Mathare Mental Hospital but he couldn’t complete the recommended three (3) months because of the nurses’ strike. He went to another one in Ruiru where he came to truly know himself.
“There the basis was Christianity, they feed us with the word of God and give us time to think about ourselves. I prayed to God all the time to hold me and cover me in His umbrella. I truly feel I have been protected and that God is there for me. I have been sober for more than a year now. My family has come back and society has accepted me.”
Lawrence keeps himself busy by serving in rehab centers and Alcohol Anonymous (AA) groups and doing small businesses here and there. To his old friends, he gives them the benefits of stopping alcohol and encourages them that they can do it with God’s help.
To those who have family members struggling with alcoholism, Lawrence says, “Handle them with love, show them that they have a purpose in life, and show them their potential. Don’t push them away. Keep them close. Let them know God loves them. The tunnel may be so dark, but at the end there’s light.”