read the full story
read the full story
My name is Felix Kokonya and I am a survivor of addiction and mental health advocate. I was born in Kibera Slum in Nairobi. I grew up in a very strict Christian family. My brothers and my sisters were very disciplined. I was also a good kid and was clever in school.
I began doing drugs at the age of 12 while in primary school. It was peer pressure from friends that caused me to start using. The first drugs used were marijuana and tobacco. I became involved with petty crime to finance my drug abuse habit. To get money for drugs I would steal from people in my neighborhood, things like clothes, money and phones. I became the black sheep of the family, mischievous and stubborn and caused them a lot of frustration
In secondary schooI, I started using heroin, khat and liquor. I also became a hardcore criminal in high school, joining a gun wielding gang of teenagers. As a gang, we would rob people in downtown Nairobi who were coming from clubs at the wee hours of the morning.
There were consequences to my crime. I was expelled from four secondary schools in Kenya and two secondary schools in Uganda. My relationship with family members deteriorated. I saw my partners in crime get killed by the police or mob justice and I almost got killed several times by the mob. I served several short sentences in prison and some of my friends are in prison for life.
My parents eventually took me to a series of different rehabilitation centers. The first rehabilitation center I was taken to was in Mombasa where I picked up the habit of using heroin. The second rehabilitation center was in Kampala Uganda where I stopped using for a while but soon relapsed. The third rehabilitation was in Eldoret.
In 2011, after my rehabilitation in Eldoret, I got married. During the marriage, I went back to using alcohol and khat. My marriage went sour because I would either come back home late from drug dens or sleep out. I broke up with my wife in 2013 at which time we had one son and she was pregnant. She went away with our children. I hit rock bottom. I had severe depression, had lost hope and I was suicidal.
Hitting rock bottom made me discover that I was powerless to the drugs I was using and that my life had become unmanageable. I realized I needed to do a self inventory because I saw my life slipping away from me.
I went to a location that was foreign to me, Homa Bay in rural Nyanza County. I underwent a painful period of soul searching for four months. I came to realize that I was mentally ill and needed to seek divine intervention. I was staying with a friend named Pastor Charles Oswago. Through counselling and prayer, I realized that I needed to change my mind set. When you are addicted to drugs and a gangster, you have a street life mentality. When you wake up, all you can think of is committing crime and getting money to fund your addiction. I needed to change my mindset and focus on having a new purpose in life, being a good parent and a good son. I wanted to work on my relationships and to be a role model to other people in my community.
It is a miracle to me that I overcame my heroin addiction during these four months. Most folks who are addicted to heroin, need methadone to overcome the addiciton. However, I did not use any kind of medication. Prayer was my remedy.
After my four months in Homa Bay, I went to my rural home in Busia. In Busia, I used to drink change, local brew. When my drinking buddies saw me, they thought I would drink with them again as they remembered me as a gangster. But when I came to them, I did not drink and I told them that I had been saved. And I talked to them about stopping themselves and changing their lives. They laughed me and thought I was joking. They believed I would soon go back to using. However, I stayed there for a month without using.
After this time I went to Nairobi and there I met my long time friends in Kibera who were addicted drugs and alcohol. I told them about what had happened in my life and how I had embraced change. They saw the evidence in how I was carrying myself. I seemed calmer to them and healthier. However, the majority of them could not believe this real and even bet on me losing my sobriety in a certain time period. However, I continued to stay sober for some weeks and they started believing that I had changed and that perhaps they could too.
After about a month, I started organizing collective therapy sessions where I would share my journey with people and give them time to speak about what problems they were encountering in their lives.
In February of this year, one of my friends in Maasai mbili died from alcholism and depression. At his funeral, I met a woman named Sandy who was shocked to see me looking better as I had been known in the community as an addict and a gangster. We later met up in KTC and over a conversation about our stories, hers being about her journey through mental health and GBV, we decided that we should work together to start Akili Bomba.
Akili Bomba is a community based organization that deals with mental health awareness and advocacy through sensitizaion. On a daily basis we go around our community, counselling people undergoing depression. We also look for people who are suicidal, are addicted and who have lost hope. We give them hope as we too are survivors of mental health issues.
My hope for the future is that we get more people to know that mental illness is not hopelessness and that people can overcome their issues through coming together and speaking out about their experiences.