Growing up I had a difficult childhood. But at the same time, I was blessed to be surrounded with lots of family members. Mum and dad were not together. Dad was mostly out of the country. I lived with mum. When dad occasionally came down from overseas, he would send for me to be brought to his family house where he spent his vacation. Occasionally, dad sent me postcards containing season’s greetings and birthday cards.
I was quick to learn at a very tender age that it was prestigious to have a close family member travel overseas. On one such occasion when my father came down for his usual holidays, everyone demanded his time and attention just like me.
I recall pushing my way through the sea of people that had gathered around my dad one Sunday, after church service. As I stretched my tiny arms to reach out to my dad’s hands an elderly woman who knew who I was, scolded me, saying that a girl does not throw herself on men like that and that I should go play with other kids. Suddenly my eyes welled with tears; I buried my head in shame and made my way out of the crowd.
I wiped my tears and joined my cousins to play under a nearby tree. Of course, this incident happened on the blind side of my dad who was busily exchanging pleasantries with family and friends at the time.
I do not recall having any particular father and daughter moments with dad. In fact, there were no private moments to bond with him.
Mom on the other hand also worked hard to put food on the table. She was a domestic Bursar in a senior high school. A caterer by profession, she baked and sold bread, meat pie and cakes to make ends meet. She did a couple of other businesses in addition to her regular job to support the family. Just like dad, I do not recount any special moments with mom either. I guess she was too busy to make time for me or maybe she just did not have a clue how important it was for a parent to bond with her child. Maybe she never had the opportunity herself to experience some degree of affection from her parents. These were but a few moments of my life from 1982 to 1995.
In February 1996, mom was transferred to another secondary school in the Volta Region. I had to go with her to her new school because she couldn’t have left me behind. I started my senior high school education in mum’s new school. I was 14-years old. In December of that same year, mom, who was heavily pregnant with my younger sister, had to leave for Accra to put to birth. Not only that, she quit her job entirely. She, however, left me in the care of some tutors and their families, trusting that they would take good care of me. I was a day student and shared a bungalow with two other tutors.
One sunny day, one of the tutors, an elderly man probably in his early fifties, invited me for lunch. He had a daughter about my age or a year younger than me.
That day, they had prepared fufu with 'light soup'. Before we started eating, the man brought out a bottle of Castle Bridge Gin. He first gave his daughter a tot and d then he proceeded to pour me a tot. Seeing his daughter drink the colourless substance with utmost ease, I also gulped it down my throat. It had a foul smell. I felt a burning sensation in my throat and my heart felt like it was set ablaze.
My stomach lining and my internal organs screamed at the touch of the spirit. After that, he poured a good amount for himself and drowned everything in a twinkle of an eye. We began to eat our meal.
After a few minutes of consuming the hot substances, I started feeling funny. It was as if something else had taken over me. My vision was blurred. Suddenly the quiet, shy, timid little girl that I was began to speak without any fear. I laughed louder than usual. I suddenly became talkative. We cracked jokes at the table and laughed a lot. When we were done, I left and went straight to bed. When I came to myself the following morning, I reflected on the previous day’s experience with my first taste of alcohol. I liked the feeling it gave me: confidence and boldness. I so much desired those exact qualities. At that moment, only one thing was evidently clear to me: Finally, I had found the solution to my problem of shyness!
From that day going forward, I would secretly go out and buy alcohol. I did this especially during inter-house or inter-school sports activities. I would drink a bit of alcohol to make me tipsy so that I can sing in the cheerleading group. The effect of the alcohol gave me some false confidence and boldness and made me fit in well, just like the other students that I wished to be like. As the effect of the alcohol wore out, I would keep topping up to maintain the desired level of ecstatic feeling. I did this until I graduated three years of secondary school. At this point, I was managing well by controlling the volume of alcohol I consumed. When I was home, my parents never suspected that I was drinking.
At the polytechnic and the university, my drinking only got worse. I couldn’t control the amount of alcohol I consumed. I would drink until I passed out, either remembering very little or nothing at all about the events preceding my drinking on that particular occasion. I usually drank solo. I hardly drank in the company of friends. I would by the drinks and consume them in my room at home or at the hostel in school. I would wake up to an empty purse, broken bottles and shattered glasses, scratches and bruises on my body, bloodshot eyes. My academic work suffered. My grades got worse and worse. I struggled to read my masters, even though I managed to complete my postgraduate degree (MBA in International Business), I could have done better. I got into trouble with the police for drunk driving.
At a rather late stage when my parents became aware that I was drinking heavily, they sought help for me all over. Their focus mainly was the faith-based approach. We went from one church to another, seeking a spiritual solution to my problem. We roamed churches in Ghana, the United Kingdom, Nigeria and South Africa. By now, I was a full-blown alcohol addict. Sadly but not surprising, I lived in denial that I had an addiction problem. I convinced myself that I was in control of my drinking. I hid alcohol in all sorts of unthinkable places at home: in the water closet, flowerpots, behind picture frames, in the bathroom, in my pillowcase, in my Bible, in my brassiere, my underwear, under the sofa, under the seat of my car, the oven, in my shoes etc.
At a point, I convinced myself that I could quit drinking when I get married and start a family. I did get married but the marriage was over after three years. My life became unmanageable. I lost my job. My relationship with other family members was severely strained. Nothing was working. Life came to a standstill. I was frustrated. By now I had a track record of two decades of battling alcohol addiction.
In September 2017, a family friend who passed by our house to say hello found me drunk to stupor. Immediately, she suggested to my dad to take me to Pantang Hospital Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre (PHDTRC) in Accra for treatment. After visiting the hospital’s outpatient department on 5th September 2017, I was finally admitted on 7th September 2017 to begin a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 12 months holistic drug treatment programme. I spent over 7 months in seclusion at the main rehab of Pantang Hospital. Even though it was uncomfortable, I needed to do what I had never done in order to get what I had never had – recovery.
On 20th April 2018, I was duly discharged from treatment. Today, 1st January 2019, I am one year, three months and one day clean.
Today, I mustered courage and decided to share my story to encourage someone out there, that recovery is possible.
For me, it is the dawn of a new era in my life. Many women like me are suffering from substance abuse and addiction but cannot speak about it for the fear of being stigmatised. I am convinced that there are many other addicts like me who would never be found in the drinking bars, on the streets or even in the ghettos or bonkas. Many addicts like me are suffering in silence and cannot speak out, for fear of the family name being tarnished.
If you’re a suffering woman out there, I just want you to know that you are not alone. The are #otherslikeyou. Good news is that there is hope for recovery. I was in treatment with several other females, mostly professionals.
Many people are aware of alcohol, weed (marijuana), heroin, cocaine, meth etc and recently tramadol abuse in Ghana. However, I would like to use this platform to educate the reading public about one interesting but scary eye-opening discovery I made while in treatment. That is the proliferation of the use of pethidine injection amongst health workers i.e nurses, midwives, medical doctors etc. At one time, there were about 8 of us female patients on admission.
About 4 females out of the 8 were health workers. That’s how serious pethidine abuse is, simply put. Alcohol still remains the most abused drug and is the number one most dangerous amongst all drugs. It is rather unfortunate that the larger society doesn’t see alcohol as a drug, but it is.
Our disease may not be our own making, but we are responsible for our recovery. Addiction is a disease of the brain that affects a person physically, psychologically and biologically. It’s about time our society began taking issues of addiction, substance abuse and mental health seriously.
If you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse and you don’t know who to talk to, I am here to listen. My name is Enam. I’ve travelled that road and I understand the journey. You may like my page RECOVERY HUB on facebook or send me a message via firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This story was shared by Dorcas Efe Mensah, a Mental Health Advocate battling Bipolar depression. She describes herself as a ‘millennial girl boss’ striving to empower people with the difficult diagnosis like her to be the best version of themselves irrespective of whatever hard place they may be. For more information about her work, visit her Facebook page #Otherslikeme or @otherslikemeGH to learn more about the struggles of persons suffering different kinds of Mental Illnesses in Ghana and what they are doing to make their survival less stressful.