In eighth grade, Mark Justin Kamau had his first encounter with drugs as he grew up in a toxic environment where both his parents were alcoholics. Mark’s life went downhill fast as he grappled with alcohol addiction well into his young adult life.
He recounts the gripping tale of how drug addiction engulfed his life before he successfully turned it all around and started Savali Rehabilitation Centre:
How would you introduce yourself?
I am from Murang’a County. I grew up in a family of three sisters.
How was your life growing up, and could it have contributed to your addiction?
Both my parents were alcoholics. This led to a consistently toxic atmosphere characterised by daily fights between them. The severity of my father’s alcoholism led to losing his esteemed government job. He went to great lengths to sustain his binge drinking, even resorting to selling his personal belongings, including his clothing.
Even a cherished hen, fondly named “survivor,” was not spared from being sold, resulting in intense family strife. Curiously, despite my grandfather’s role as an ACK pastor, there were murmurs in the community that our family was under some sort of curse. Amidst these challenges, it was my mother and our grandfather who struggled to provide for us. Eventually, my father was enrolled in a rehabilitation facility in 2004, as he had become unmanageable at home.
At what point did you venture into drugs or gambling?
My foray into drugs began during my eighth-grade year, driven by a lack of self-esteem. Resentment towards my father during my early years played a role in pushing me towards drugs. Regrettably, this spiral led me into addiction and a collision with the wrong side of the law.
To sustain my habit, I resorted to stealing from others, even from fellow students, leading to the unsettling situation of attending eighth grade while incarcerated.
Did this lifestyle continue after high school and beyond?
Yes, this destructive lifestyle persisted well beyond my high school years. Even during my time at the University of Nairobi, I discovered a new outlet for my vices – casino gambling. This habit took root while I was in my first year at the university. I gradually progressed from betting on sports to becoming deeply entrenched in gambling. However, my initial winnings soon turned to losses, triggering a desperate pursuit to reclaim what I had squandered. This insatiable desire cost me dearly, both in terms of material possessions and precious time. Ultimately, I transitioned from sports betting to casino gambling.
How did gambling addiction affect you?
The consequences were far-reaching. My academic consistency suffered, leading to multiple deferments before I finally managed to graduate. My involvement with other drugs and societal ills, such as robbery and theft, also escalated. My actions led to incarceration, and I even narrowly escaped instances of mob justice. I tried to kill myself and one time I was hospitalised after consuming poison.
How did you manage to turn your life around?
I just thought that since I have been able to survive several fatal situations including mob justice and suicide attempts to no avail, God wanted to preserve me for a specific purpose. It was at this time that I opted to seek assistance from relatives and other relevant people who helped me to join a rehab.
After completing my rehabilitation program, I became a reformed man and joined other parties and organizations that helped people in similar situations. While at the rehab, I took a counselling and psychology course which helped me to gain skills and knowledge on dealing and helping drug and gambling addicts.
Today, I run my own Rehab Center called Savalli Center in partnership with my father who is currently a strong champion of drug and alcohol-free society.
Credit: Turning Point/The Nairobian