Asumbi Treatment Centre for rehabilitation of drug and substance abusers is nothing like I expected.
For some reason I had created in my mind an institution with high walls and tight security. I had imagined scenes of patients lying in hospital beds and groaning in pain as they tried to wear off their addiction. I was in for a surprise.
The treatment centre which is located in Homabay County could easily be an extension of the Asumbi Teachers Training College, one of the educational institutions that form the Asumbi Mission complex.

I arrive at the centre mid-morning, precisely at tea-time. A whistle goes off to mark the end of a session and the clients move to the dining area for their tea.
Empty plastic seats remain cluttered in several circles under shades of trees and there is no indication of people being held against their will. The clients go about their activities normally and even sit in groups to chat.

At the time of my visit the boarding-only-facility had around 66 men and three ladies on treatment.
They have come from all walks of life; teachers, soldiers, priests, students and many other professions. Some have travelled from as far as Central Kenya, Kitui and even Tanzania to come for treatment.

At the entrance of the main facility I come across some art work that has been done by clients who have been at the centre. One particular one stands out: a drawing of a ladder with the 12 spiritual steps that one goes through during rehabilitation.
The first step of the ladder has the word ‘Honesty’ and at the bottom of the placards are the words, “Don’t just stare, climb up!”

Apparently this is the hardest step to make towards recovery; for an individual to accept that he or she is an addict and that they need help.
Jacob Owino Okeyo, 43 a recovering alcohol addict who is also the chairman of all the clients at the centre, admits that denial and guilt prevented him from seeking for help.
“First of all it’s the guilt.

When you drink people say you are spoiling the family name. I was in denial and I would say, ‘I am not an alcoholic, don’t call me an alcoholic’. There is also stigma attached to a rehabilitation centre. People think it’s a place for mad people. That was the main problem that made me not come to rehabilitation,” he says.

It took the intervention of his elder brother to get him admitted at the centre.
“My mother and my last born brother both passed away due to alcohol related complications. When my eldest brother who is based in the US heard that I was an alcoholic he got concerned. He asked me if I could accept the program and it took me two weeks to accept,” he says.

While some come to the treatment center willingly, others are coerced and even tricked into coming for rehabilitation.
Norman Ochieng*, 33 says he knew about Asumbi from his grandfather.
“He had to convince me to come here because I kept denying that I was an addict. He told to just come and be evaluated. It took almost a whole day to convince me to accompany him to Asumbi,” he recalls.

“By then I had lost my job because of being drunk and he told me that after getting rehabilitation I would easily get a job,” says Norman.
“Here I met all kinds of people; doctors lawyers of people and realized that at the end of the day we all fall into the same trap,” he adds.

“At the beginning I had a lot of denial but now I am determined to make a change in my life. I want to regain back the respect I had in the society especially with the people who care about me. As time goes people lose their trust and respect for you,” he says.
It is then the job of the counselors who work at the centre to help such clients move from denial to accept that they have a problem and that they need help.

“Initially you feel shy. You feel like it’s shameful, something that you want to hide but with time you become confident and you are able to interact with other people even sharing your own story and you can even encourage others who are going through a similar problem,” a young man at the center tells The Seed.

He says he came to Asumbi through the recommendation of his employer from whom he had gone to seek help. He also admits that he cannot remember much about his journey from Nairobi to Asumbi because he was drunk all that time.

“I had problems with alcohol use. I found myself unable or incapable of controlling myself when and after I had taken any amount of alcohol. I would have blackouts after taking alcohol and at times while driving I would not know where I was going or how I had gotten to a place. I had become a danger even to myself,” he says.

According to Ms Kerubo, the problem is worse for women because in the African society, women are not expected to drink much. “It brings shame and as a person you feel guilty and even lose friends. You are an embarrassment to the entire women fraternity,” she tells The Seed.

Emma Odipo a Counselor Nurse at the facility that was put up in 1978 explains that majority of people using alcohol and substances are not even aware that they are addicts.

She notes that there are clear signs that can show when someone has become an addict. These include cravings and first use in the mornings.
The other sign is memory loss or blacking out, where one cannot recall what happened at particular time after use. An addict also exhibits flashes of aggressiveness where a person feels like they have a compulsive disorder and cannot interact with people well.
“There could be food on the table and you feel like I must take a tot before taking my breakfast,” says Odipo adding that if this persists, a person’s life pattern tend to go the opposite of what is normal.

“Being disorganized, poor grooming, you start isolating yourself from others and people rarely see you because when people are asleep you are awake and when you are awake they are asleep.”
Fr George Kamau, a counselor at the centre asserts that it is important that the people who are close to a person watch out for such signs.
“There are signs and symptoms that can be seen such as somebody absconding jobs and duties, hiding drugs, having bottles of alcohol under the bed and drinking in the morning,” he says.

Unfortunately most people only go for treatment when they have reached the ends of their rope and have lost their dignity; they have been sacked from their job, have warning letters or have gone through painful experiences because of the addiction.

According to Bigvai Omino the Head of Treatment at the center, such situations are ideal for the proper turn around to take place since, “When one gets to the dead end then they are able to say, ‘I need help,” he says.
Bigvai notes that the family has a role to play in a client’s treatment because despite not using the alcohol or substance, they are affected by the client’s addiction and become co-addicts.

“When your family gives you support you feel that motivation first of all not to let yourself down and more importantly not to let them down,” says Jacob Owino Okeyo.
“After several warnings I was relieved of my duties due to my alcoholism. It affected my family and why I got divorced. My wife became a co-addict because all the problems that I had were burdened onto her. She was basically a nervous wreck. My father passed away due to heart condition and I suspect it was due to the depression that I gave him. I sold off some of the property that we had and it had a devastating effect on my family,” says Jacob.

At the centre the clients are taken through a 12-steps treatment program that lasts three months for alcohol addiction and six months for substance addiction.
The counselors admit that not all clients who complete treatment manage to stay sober.
Fr Lazarus Kilusu from Ngong’ diocese who is a counselor at Asumbi Treatment Centre acknowledges that relapse is a reality that every recovering addict has to contend with.
“When I was brought here I was one of these who relapsed. The fact that I have stopped drinking does not mean that the bar is closed, the bar is still there,” says the counselor who was at one time a client at the centre.

“I have to realize that I am the one who has the problem so that I don’t have to go to the things that lead me to go back to the alcohol,” he tells The Seed.
He noted that before a client finishes the treatment program they go through a relapse protection plan so that as they leave they have an exit plan on how they are going to deal with people, places and things that can trigger relapse.

They also have Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) groups where they can meet other recovering addicts and encourage each other.
Take the case of Ms Kerubo who is at the centre for the second time.
“For five years I was sober because I was in a place where there were minimal triggers under supervision away from my matrimonial home but I went back to drinking when I went back because there many people drink,” she says.
Ms Kerubo hopes this time she will be able to avoid triggers when she finishes her treatment.
The counselors believe that addiction is a disease that should concern every member of the community because as Emma Odipo explains, addiction can be eradicated right from the family set-up if young people are sensitized early.

Elkana Mutaaru notes that some cultural practices such as making chang’aa promote addiction.
“These doing it are within families and they may only see the economically benefit and not realize the negative effects it has on other members of the society,” he says.
Peter Nzambu feels the government and the society in general need to change the notion that addiction is a legal problem. That every drunkard should be sacked from job, that they should be jailed and charged with being drunk and disorderly.
“Addiction is a disease and people having this problem should not be taken to jail or be taken as moral misfits in the society but should be taken to rehabilitation centers to receive help,’ he says.

According to Bigvai, the head of treatment at the facility, people fear going for rehabilitation because of misconceptions they have about rehabilitation centers.
“Many people do not have an idea of what a rehabilitation centre is. You could be looking at an addict and you imagine huyu hajafika kupelekwa rehab (he/she has not yet qualified to be taken for rehabilitation), yet you don’t know the kind of people that are admitted there,” he says.

By Lourine Oluoch


Asumbi Treatment Centre: Helping Addicts find their way back to Sobriety