Milestones | Celebrate them, let them go and keep moving

 

It has been a heady graduation weekend for me. The ceremony. The podium experience as I received my BA degree in Counseling and Psychology. Fellowship with family and friends. Posting of photos. The euphoria of it all. Yet, I need to close this now. I have been told before that today’s breakthroughs are tomorrow’s ego trips. Yet, I also acknowledge, as my resident tutor 😉 has taught me, that milestones ought to be celebrated. The key thing is not to remain there.

So, today, we move on.

Graduation day was more than a milestone for me. It was an acknowledgement of a past in the present and gateway to a hopeful future. My past is a blend of beautiful, sad, painful, mundane memories. On Saturday, I bowed in deep gratitude and in awe of the grace of God. I chose to suspend, not forget, but suspend the pains of the journey on the day.  Those memories go beyond my Daystar experience. It has been my whole life quest.

The awards, Dean’s and Vice-Chancellor’s, were a pleasant surprise. A really pleasant surprise. The most beautiful realization is the freedom of living a day at a time during my stay at Daystar which was not geared towards obtaining awards or recognition. I am a shy guy. I momentarily battled with the idea of having to receive the awards during the graduation ceremony. I recalled how I once dropped out of a walking race (It was a thing then) when I realized I was lying second with a lap to go. I saw myself on the podium receiving the silver medal. I panicked and dropped out of the race.

Being with family and friends on Saturday and sharing intimately, though in a small way, about what it has been like completing a 4-year bachelor’s degree in a span of almost 30 years (I was in USIU in 1990) was humbling. And this was not in a space of regret or wishing it could have been different. I am grateful for the abundant grace, my loving wife and several lecturers who let me express myself in class beyond the course outline requirements. My classroom experience was a healing journey toward the promise of not regretting the past nor wishing to shut the door on it. I dedicate my honors listing to these lecturers. And those hugs from some of my teachers after stepping off the podium on Saturday were just the life-giving affirmation that I can do the next thing…whatever that is.

I yearn for people seeing themselves as whole beings regardless of the circumstances of their lives. Nowhere has this yearning been fed than as a class rep of several classes. Being a class rep has been my truest call to ministry and class WhatsApp groups have been my pulpit.  I have truly cherished and grown from the experience. To my fellow students, thank you. I may have been over 20 years older than a majority of you but you helped me in several ways: in how to study, how to parent my son including giving me lessons on how pocket money is dispensed, and how not to talk about his dating life. To you, for letting me meddle in your lives, do I dedicate the VC’s Award.

To our new VC, Prof Laban Peter Ayiro, I was skeptical about change coming to Daystar. You have only been around for only four months and I am tempted kuingia box of trusting that change is really possible.  I even penned an article about my skepticism. You have talked of caring as a value. You have listened to us when we have risked to speak up. Keep katiaring us and creating the space for healing and thriving to take place. Please.

I am coming back because I am inspired by the promise of a transformed Daystar.

To my sweetheart, you let me be me. You expressed concerns where you needed to and you provided extra tuition for classes that were not even your preserve. During the crisis, we battled individually, yet together. It was the one time I felt so helpless in our marriage. The woundedness was real. And then Saturday happened. And a lot more in the recent past. It was a kind of affirmation that if you are going through something, keep going. I love you loads.

To my son, who got all the mushaino I promised not to wear at my graduation, you have been the SI Unit of my growth as a father – in role, identity and authority. You have kept me going and in one instance, I chose not to cheat in a CAT because I was afraid of what you would think if you found out. It was not about honesty, integrity or anything like that. You have been my wing-man bila you knowing. You’ve taught me what unconditional forgiveness and reconciliation looks like. It’s sometimes a brutally slow process. I’ll keep the mushaino to keep remembering.

To my family, this is testament of God’s faithfulness. You had several questions for me and I did not always have answers for you. The ultimate answer was and is to keep moving. It will all make sense eventually. Maybe. But we keep moving.

To my fellow road trippers on the recovery journey, you helped birth this dream of going back to school through your promise to love me until I learn to love myself. In 2001, I think, I shared the desire to go back to school. It was certainly not straightforward. Several false starts later, here we are before we are halfway through, I believe.

Here’s to more miracles, a day at a time.

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computers 101 reload

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So this past week I sat in my first basic computer class in eons, at this uni.

When asked by the lecturer what my expectations from the class were, I answered that I had three and the first one was obvious: that I get an A.The second one is that I complete the class. And thirdly, that I get to learn how to use a few more tools embedded in the programs I already use.

An A because it is a ‘basic’ computer class and hence I feel entitled to my sense of entitlement having used computers for a while now. And I’ve come a long way since that embarrassing instance at a cyber cafe at Madaraka Shopping Centre in 2002 when I discovered that a browser was not a physical gadget. How else could I press the back button of the browser if it wasn’t? That the cyber cafe attendant didn’t laugh in my presence (she should have laughed later for her own sanity at least) transformed cyber cafes to be my first legit computer training centres.

Completing the class is important to me. I quit a class several years ago after High school when I prioritized being a member at Tumbo’s Bar across Ngong Road at Adam’s Arcade whenever it was class day. I didn’t last long in either.

Then I joined USIU where the basic computer class was a compulsory one. I walked in to the computer lab, got bedazzled by the array of computers in the room and immediately freaked out by this high-risk danger zone. The class of MIS 101 were all issued with a floppy disk that we were to get formatted before the next class so that we could start using it for I dunno what. I doubt ever darkened the doors of that computer lab again.

In my dysfunctional relationship to miracles, I figured that I’d get the required computer skills by waltzing through the streets of Nairobi whilst flossing an unformatted disk outside my school bag, on the bar counter. Pretty much the same deep seated belief I long held of winning the sweepstakes without ever needing your buy a ticket. No one could convince me that I was delusional before I screamed “DELUSION!” at them for having such low perspectives on life matters.

The guilt of eventually losing that disk was truly heartbreaking and not necessarily because of the undone assignments that were supposed to be saved in it. The agony was how people would now know that I am a very important university student. Go back to the lab and get another one? Nah!

I shared with my class why I MUST complete this computer class and my classmates, mainly freshmen, chuckled.

Isorait, do keep coming back, you’ll find out that those drivers who are always reported to escape unhurt in road accidents does not actually mean they ran away from the accident scene unscathed.

Overcoming the war within

source: meetville.com

“Chris, I invite you to imagine a life different from all that you know about yourself when you had a chaotic life and now, the one of your recovery journey. Imagine a Chris different from all that.”

“No, it isn’t possible. This is it! Besides, it’s better than what I used to have.”

“I thought so. You couldn’t even if you tried, could you?”

“Nope! Simply because it just isn’t possible or even reasonable to do so.”

Within two days of that conversation with Ginger, I prematurely quit that training program where I felt my current life as it stood was being invalidated and I was being vilified for not doing the impossible. I quit because the program coaches were wrong, and I was right. I quit because they deliberately raised the stakes so high that in my failure to attain them, they could then validate themselves for having such a demanding six months leadership program. I quit the program. I resented being put on the spot in a conversation I felt I couldn’t win. I quit.

I had quit several times in my life; when drunk and in my recovery journey. When I got sober, I saw and accepted why I used to quit during my alcoholic doldrums; that life I had was a loser’s life. Quitting was the obligatory part to complete the script.

Recovery presented a different dance to the quitting song.  I was now sober. Sticking with the winners was the rallying call and all the self-help and empowerment books never tired in reminding me that winners never quit. I have found myself in situations where I really needed to quit; a dangerous relationship, an unfulfilling work situation, being in the wrong queue, or in a matatu that had been nabbed by cops or one that was simply heading the wrong direction. But no, I remind myself of my commitment to stick it out and that I had put my butt on the line. In my mind, I bang my chest with my fist proudly. The KDF would have been proud of me as their newest, proudest, most committed recruit. If only I wasn’t too old.

Oh, excuses, I thought, were a mark of one who is truly in touch with reality. I never called them excuses, though. Explanations. Reality checks. Pragmatic observations, maybe. But not excuses.

And with an explanation (read excuse), I quit that leadership training in 2008.  My contention was that Ginger didn’t know what she was talking about when she challenged me to see my life outside and apart from all that I already knew as a problematic drunk and a recovering alcoholic. As if it existed. Mschew!

In 2009, I was thrown into a deep end of that life that doesn’t exist. I was to be introduced to the Christians’ world. Maybe say reintroduced. And it was with this backdrop of being a Christian in recovery that I was recently invited to share my story at the chapel sessions at Daystar University.  I had been there in 2013 but then it was different; to share my story and market the services of the rehab I then worked in.

This time, I shared my story at several forums, but in preparing for this one, I was asked to draw my sermon on a couple of verses from scripture. I struggled with that for a while. I read and reread the assigned verses and slowly welcomed the thoughts arising. I found it a bit daring. I was going to talk about my encounters with Christians when I was drinking; now, this is a topic I don’t often openly venture in where Christians are involved. While I take full responsibility for how I treated Christians in those days, I can’t say I find the same accepting spirit when I share my experience of getting help from them or even their attitude when they were offering it. Yet, in preparing for the chapel session, I felt a deep stirring to share this with the audience. It would be a risky move, in my opinion. The stakes were higher this time, and if there’s one thing I learned at the leadership training, was that a life geared to making a difference was risky, lonely, possibly thankless, and not often pretty.  I couldn’t turn back. As an experienced quitter, I knew nothing new or fresh would be gained from quitting on this opportunity.

The first session came, all protocols observed and I stepped up to the podium. I was placing my butt on the line as a recovering alcoholic, first year undergraduate student at Daystar university, a husband to a Daystar university faculty member, and most of all, as a Christian ‘publicly’ confessing my salvation for the first time.

Yes, my life has been catapulted into different expressions than I previously thought impossible. Living in the impossible dream is still daunting. The war within is still a common phenomenon. In an expanded space of faith, however, I am gratified that I can now surrender my life, my will and the results of an uncertain future and impossible dreams to a God who I believe is all knowing and is the source of the past, present and future.

I also endeavor to be anything but the truest reflection of Christ that I can muster. It’s about progress, not perfection. I have since learned that Christians get depression, commit suicide, and get involved in criminal and corrupt schemes. And most of all, Christians are human beings. Yet, the hope I derive from this way of life is that the war within can still be won.

Whilst in third form at Strathmore I wanted to be a catholic. My aunt and godmother thought otherwise. She reckoned that I shouldn’t convert to Catholicism simply because I wasn’t going to be a good catholic. I only got it later that her reasoning was that I was already a lousy protestant and that a conversion would not produce the miracle I craved.

Besides now being a firm believer in a God of second and third chances, I am now an advocate that there is always something beyond our present reality. The greatest risk is to act as if it’s true.

And that’s the war within.

So please find attached the sermon I recently presented at the chapel sessions at Daystar University. 

OVERCOMING THE WAR WITHIN – The Sermon

You, yes, you!

I see you. You, who refused to stop drinking in December because it’s just so so wrong a month to put down the glass. Let’s talk in January, you said. In January, I see you. And now you tell me I am picking on you yet everyone was doing whole load of drinking. I see you in March, yes, you, still doing a whole load of drinking. Alone!

CREDIT: Calvin & Hobbes
CREDIT: Calvin & Hobbes

I see you. You, who refused to stop drinking in December because it’s just so so wrong a month to put down the glass. Let’s talk in January, you said. In January, I see you. And now you tell me I am picking on you yet everyone was doing whole load of drinking. I see you in March, yes, you, still doing a whole load of drinking. Alone!

You, with that guy, I see you. Charming fella you say. Oh and he always listens to you. Yes, he’s had a couple of divorces. So, I should understand that he really is single. I see you. I see you say he has made you feel like you want to settle down. And perhaps you could both settle down with each other. Oh yeah there’s some settling down that would work for him. Settle down on, not with, you and then leave you, umm, wait for it, unsettled.

Oh yeah, she has your baby and you’ll only get your shit together once she comes back. I see you. I see you. Don’t you get it that she actually wants you togethered first and then you can have the baby back and perhaps you get to call her baby, too? I see you.

You, you newlywed hubby who has stopped buying those flowers and whispering those sweet nothings in her ear wondering what those things matter now that you are married? I see you. Wait until they won’t really matter and then see me like I see you now. Or just buy the flowers and do the whispers. Save yourself the pain when even buying majority shares at the florist will not matter at all.

You who reckons you are too young to get sober now, I see you, saying that you’ve got all your life to live before you get into the drudgery of recovery. Boy, don’t you get the way you are going you are dying, not living. Recovery is life, man. Life is short means nothing in recovery. One more day alive, sober and free is the long life.

You, yes you. You, who does not want to tell her life story before a bunch of strangers lest they judge you. I see you. You say you’ve done a lot of embarrassing stuff and you’ve conned a lot of people. I see you. We see you. Don’t you know we invented embarrassment and the con game in the first place? We see you. Welcome to our world where we promise to celebrate your insanity.

I see you. You, who calls me because your child is into marijuana, booze and much older men. I ask you to stay out of their road to happy destiny by learning to work on and take care of yourself. But you tell me that meddling and interfering is a parent’s job. And you ask me why I am now interfering in YOUR life rather than your offspring’s; constantly reminding me that you called me to deal with them, not you. I ask you when you last went for that manicure, pedicure or hair treatment that was once a priority to your wellness repertoire. Only that you also forgot to mention that your spouse is also into marijuana, booze and older men, I see you.

Denial is such a sneaky thing. And it is not just a river in Egypt.

You guy. Yes you. You, who doesn’t get why she screamed “RAPE!” I see you. Yes, yes, you bought her drinks, you went home – your place, together; made out then had a shower together and then, she said no, she won’t have sex with you. Please help me understand like a thirty five year old, where, in this process, she handed her sole right to her body to you.

You who called to tell me that all men are dogs and you’ve just broken up with the fifth dog. You conveniently forget that we’ve been down this road eight times. Not five. I see that you not seeing that you are the common denominator in these dogs’ lives and perhaps what you need is to rewrite the manual of your life or altogether quit reading the How to Attract Dogs Manual in 7 Simple Ways.

Then you, going on about his potential. Fixing him up, his house, his wardrobe, lending him money that he’ll pay back once that deal goes through or he reaches his potential whichever comes first fast. I see you.

I won’t give up on you, or me, as long as my marching orders are still in force.

You see, I, too, have got my patterns that need breaking. Dealing with them gets me getting off my own case and out of my own way so I can see your case clearly.

So, make that call. I see you, anyway.

I, the Interventionist

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I was on a boda going through a murky muddy wet Katani-Syokimau enroute to Mombasa Road to get my mat to Athi River. I had come from a most thrilling session at New Life Mwangaza Rehabilitation Centre.

“Ohh, umetoka kule kwa machokora?” the bodaa guy commented.

Ouch! That was the first time I heard the centre referred as such. Yes, majority of its client population is made up of former street boys and my presentation was done in sheng ya mababi.

I was nervous and dreading the presentation mainly because of a lackluster, severely underwhelming presentation as part of University of Nairobi’s World Aids Day celebrations a few days earlier, where even what I thought was my very witty intro turned out to be a very quick outro. The students didn’t connect, and the conversation was soon reduced to why masturbation should be condoned.

I really need packaging by a speakers bureau, at this very late rate. Ahem ahem Paul Achar.

That intro punchline. I shudder when I think about it.

I still don’t know how I was invited to speak at a World Aids Day Forum yet I am a newlywed having lots of shameless, unprotected sex. It just seems really unfair to you guys.

And then I lost my audience right there.

So, how could I expect a different reception from the twenty eight young men at Mwangaza Centre? Oh the dread.

I begun with some team building activities, then delved directly into my story and resigned to my fate of perhaps 26 of the 28 souls immediately falling asleep. Of the remaining two, one would be still be awake because he had a toothache and the other would have happened to have overslept that morning.

I shared my story after establishing that the only saints in the room were those perhaps buried within the foundation of the building, because the only thing common about saints is that they are all dead.

I shared my story. The family background. The schooling. The drinking. The impact. Sobriety. Recovery. Sex.  My marriage.

Then came the questions.

On love.

“There is a girl I have seen at the church we go to. The way she prays, sings and carries herself well. I think she would make a good wife. Only thing is that she knows I am here. How do I katia her?

On family.

“How can I get family to trust me despite what I have done? How long will it take to obtain their forgiveness?”

On life after rehab.

“We are going back to that mtaani? Life is hard there. How will I maintain my sobriety?”

These questions are fairly standard, regardless of the audience I speak to. It could be clients at a different upmarket rehab or teenagers at a holiday camp. Or university faculty members. Or parastatal staff  sitting on the Alcohol & Drug Committees formed to support their alcoholic and addict colleagues.

So, I was quite set aback when the boda boda guy referred to where I had just from as kule kwa machokora.

And I got why I do what I do the way I do. The struggle is real, life is hard and the addict in recovery is a brave, brave soul.

Give him a chance.

Or two. Or three