While Albert Byarugaba sat at a bar drowning himself in alcohol one day, back home, his wife loaded some of her belongings on a truck and left him for good. He should have been there begging her to stay, promising to change, but instead there he was, enslaved by the very reason their marriage had ended.
How it started
The first time Byarugaba tested alcohol he was a child. His father let him have his first sip of alcohol in 1990. Little did he know that this would be the poison that would destroy his adult life.
“I started with a local potent gin called Kasese. At home, my father would also occasionally give me some of his whiskey,” he says. Byarugaba continued drinking even as a teenager with a friend who lived in the neighbourhood in Naguru, Kampala.
In 2002, he left for United Kingdom and that is where the habit morphed into an addiction. He had money so he could afford to buy alcohol on a daily basis.
By that time he didn’t have much family left to keep him in check.
“I didn’t have anyone complaining about my drinking. I was an orphan. My mother had passed on in 1991 and father, in 1999,” he recounts.
Failure at work
Byarugaba returned from the UK to a couple of jobs one of which was at Standard Chartered Bank as a banker, in Dar es Salaam.
One of his go-to drinks was Konyagi, a gin made in Tanzania. He would drink this from the time he left work at about 5pm to 3am. He would also indulge first thing in the morning before going to the office.
“I would go to work drunk, thinking nobody noticed,” the 44-year-old recounts.
He lost a number of jobs because of this. Besides losing the job at the bank, he also lost a job at Alliance Life Assurance Company where he worked as a financial planner.
At times, he would just abandon a job because according to him it was interfering with his drinking.
As a side hustle, Byarugaba had established a business which dealt in hiring out party chairs and tables.
He used to earn some good money as a supplement to his salary but with the need for money to buy alcohol, it collapsed. He kept withdrawing its profits and running capital to the last coin to buy alcohol.
He became broke so he started manipulating people for money in to feed his addiction. He borrowed money from friends and family but never paid back. He would ‘drink it all’.
“People used to believe my made up stories as to why I needed the money. They didn’t even know I had a drinking problem.”
He adds that at that point, he would isolate himself and drink alone in small shops. Here, he would drink alcohol on credit which he would never pay back. He was soon found out by his unsuspecting victims. They stopped lending him money.
“I remember selling my car at about Shs3m and drinking all the money.”
It was a gradual demise. It started with failure to communicate as he spent most of his time drinking. He kept thinking he would patch things up with his wife but it just got worse. One day, she woke up and told Byarugaba that she couldn’t stay any longer and that she had made up her mind to return to her parents’ home.
“That day she brought a truck to pack her stuff while I was at a bar drinking. I didn’t want to be around as I could have confronted her. Fortunately or unfortunately we didn’t have children yet. The split fuelled my drinking.”
Byarugaba realised he had a real alcoholic problem at the end of 2015 with the collapse of his marriage.
“I felt my life had really gone to the dogs. It was then that my family suggested rehabilitation. I went for three months then came out and relapsed shortly after,” he recounts.
“I have learned that life has its challenges regardless of one’s upbringing because I was surely given a good start in life.”
The former banker attended primary school at Namilyango Junior Boys School between 1989 and 1993 then Namilyango College for O-Level. He rebounded senior three as he had started drinking by then.
He joined Progressive Secondary School in Bweyogerere in 1994 till 1996. He pursued a bachelor’s degree in economics at Makerere University. When his family first fronted the idea of rehab, he resisted.
However later on in life, with some convincing, he gave in and checked into Butabika Alcohol and Drug Unit where he stayed for three months until June 2016. He relapsed. “I was out drinking for a whole year after my relapse and this time the levels were more than before.”
In June 2017, his family decided he needed to go back to rehab. That time, he went in willingly as he appreciated that he really needed help. “I checked into Bushenyi National Care Centre where I stayed for a year. I left in June 2018. I am now trying to integrate into society.”
“Rehabilitation was always tough in the beginning. But, with time I adjusted and accepted the situation, made new friends who were also having their challenges in addition,” he says.
He learnt a few things while at the rehab. “I perfected my cooking, public speaking, started reading more learnt how to communicate and always spared time for reflection, thinking of time wasted and the bad side of addiction.
“I am now in stage four of recovery. I am doing a self-audit,” he intimates.
Road to recovery
“Recovery is a lifetime process. In the first stage, I admitted that my life had become unmanageable. In the next stage, I believed that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity then I made a decision to turn my life and my will over to the care of my supreme being,” he further explains.
Byarugaba plans to start up a small sustainable business and is open to sharing his experiences as a therapy counsellor. For someone struggling with alcohol addiction, Byarugaba advises that they ought to accept that they have a problem, and the earlier they seek help, the better.
“Alcoholism is a disease just like any other which needs arresting and the help is readily available for all out there who need it. For parents, spouses, guardians and children of addicts, you are also indirectly affected by this vice from your loved ones so please don’t condemn instead seek for help,” he advises.
Byarugaba is currently receiving recovery treatment at Safe Places, a psychological treatment centre that provides specialist mental health and pyscho-social services.
“I thank Bill Bekunda of Safe Places Uganda for mentoring me. Being a long time recovering alcoholic too, he was the perfect person to keep me focused. I have now been clean since June 2017. I am almost making two years very soon.”
Bill Bekunda, pyscho-social counsellor & recovered alcoholic
I met Byarugaba when he was a few weeks out of treatment. His sister called because she was worried about him relapsing so I agreed to have him come for an aftercare recovery programme at the rehabilitation centre I run, Safe Places Uganda. He responded very well to the program, always on time, putting in extra effort and more despite many hardships. He showed a lot of interest He showed a lot of interest and enthusiasm to help others and soon I noticed he would make a good facilitator. He is now a facilitator and his rehabilitation experience is an added advantage and inspiration to those in treatment and early recovery.