As lovers looked into each other’s eyes and whispered sweet words into each other’s ears on Valentine’s Day of 2013, Kelvin Kayemba,19, took his first puff from a marijuana cigarette in a shack somewhere in Mengo.
It was his start on a self-destruction journey. At the time, he weighed 72 kilogrammes. On the night of January 7, 2016, almost three years later, he called up his mother to apologise for not only forsaking her and family but also robbing her.
He was a shadow of his former self. He weighed 45kg. Drugs and the lifestyle he had adopted as he abused substances had cost him 27 kilogrammes, and much more.
“It was through a friend who was already addicted that I started abusing drugs and got addicted to them. It all started with me just tasting a little of the drugs every day for about three weeks. Before I knew it, I had become addicted. It happened so fast,” Kayemba, a lawyer with a Bachelor of Laws from Kampala International University, recounts.
He was always around users of marijuana, commonly known as ‘weed’, he started using heroine, known as Kachwiri in Luganda, cocaine, crack, rohypnol, commonly known as the date rape drug and crystal meth.
At the onset of abusing drugs, Kayemba felt it was wrong but he could not stop because attempting to quit had a pain it brought with it given its addictive nature. “Deep down I knew the day for me to quit would come,” he recalls.
Source of drugs
They would get the drugs from the many dealers in and around Kampala suburbs. For a detailed breakdown, Kayemba is willing to explain about some of the drugs and some of their effects.
“Marijuana is grown in gardens. Its buds are dried and laced into rizzla paper and smoked just like processed tobacco in cigarettes. It is the most commonly used substance worldwide. The symptoms of addiction to marijuana are similar to those of any other addictive substance. Cocaine is a white powder that is sniffed its effect is more like for crack,” the former drug addict explains.
Kayemba hails from a Catholic family in which a single mother, alongside his brother raised him. When he started abusing drugs, the effects were physical, mental, social and economic.
“I first lost my business since I was not there to support it. I didn’t have time for family and friends. I only had time for drug buddies. My health degenerated when I started living in the ghettos. I adopted bad behaviours such as theft. I did many things to people; things that I am not proud of,” confesses Kayemba.
Flees from family
During the abuse phase, he ex-communicated himself from family although he returned occasionally to steal stuff he sold to buy drugs. “My family could not reach me because I used to lie to them that I was working up-country yet I was actually in the slums,” he explains.
He adds, “I had stolen and sold a lot of stuff from home so I was scared of facing them. That is how I started living in the slums. It was the only place I could run to for shelter at the time.”
With the stolen money,Kayemba and his friends bought drugs, some of the dangerous ones such as rohypnol sold across the counter in pharmacies.
Many of the people with whom he abused drugs are public figures and celebrities but they are still living in denial.
“I don’t think they are ready to come out about their addiction though they should know that talking about it freely is what is keeping me sober. It has really helped me a lot, however much I get judged by some people who get to know my story.”
Kayemba says people he interacted with as a drug abuser were from all walks of life (regardless of their income) and weed is the most abused substance.
He adds that the abuse is mostly among the youth though of late the age group has gone from as low as 13 years to as old as 35 years who also use dangerous drugs, such as heroine on market.
It is as cheap as Shs2, 000.
“Crack, cocaine, rohypnol and crystal meth are expensive hence mostly used by people from well-off families and have well-paying jobs. Students are at a high risk of late because the hard drugs such as heroine, crack, cocaine, crystal meth rohypnol have found their way into schools. They are also easy to access,” Kayemba reveals.
“And many of the abusers are so ignorant about the harm these drugs can cause them and the people around, especially friends and family. Drug addiction affects the user and their families and friends. I have witnessed families and marriages break up due to addiction. From the time I went to rehab, I know eight people who have died due to drug addiction. Imagine what their families are going through? May their souls rest in peace,” the former drug addict says.
His recovery journey has not been smooth. It has been punctuated with many triggers into relapse. “There is a saying, once an addict always an addict but I have fought to rise above it.”
Part of the recovery was on self-initiative. “I was tired of the life I was living. I had turned into a junkie. I made up my mind one night at around 2am while in the slum and I got a boda boda and asked the rider to take me to my mother’s house.
When I got home, I asked her to take me for rehabilitation.”
When she saw her son, she was happy that he was alive but not happy with what he looked like and had turned into. When he introduced the rehab idea, she was happy he was willing to recover.
He recollects, “I looked like a street kid who was homeless. I barely ate. All I was thinking about was getting my high,” Kayemba says that at first it was not easy because of the withdrawal effects.
He felt like he was in the wrong place and attempted to escape and run to the ghettos to get drugs. Some of the withdrawal effects include mood swings, stomach upsets, insomnia, hallucinations, and lack of appetite.
The escapes were futile and he decided to adapt to the rehabilitation rules and regulations, which helped him, settle there and start reflecting on his life. He took the counselling seriously and is grateful that rehab played a big role in his recovery from drug abuse and addiction.
“The sessions I had with my counsellor Barbara Mutebi, at Serenity Centre helped me realise I needed to refocus my life. My recovery journey has not been easy but talking about my drug experience freely to people keeps me going because I am no longer living in denial,” Kayemba explains.
Just come out
Freely talking about his experience on public platforms such as Dembe FM gives him hope that he is positively impacting society.
He is certain that much as his story cannot save all, it can save one or more people. He advises anyone starting or planning to abuse drugs to stop, come out clean and inform their closest friends or relatives about their addiction so they can be helped, as soon as possible because drug addiction is death itself.
And to those who have not abused drugs or any intoxicants, he advises you not to try.
At the moment, Kayemba manages singer and model, Pierra Akwero.
He is also part of the team running Glam Factory Wear, her clothing company, as well as singer Vampino’s music management team.
He worries that there are many people ignorant about drug abuse.
He calls on government to come out to sensitise the nation about the drug addiction problem in order to save lives of youths.
He plans to use his story to reach out to the public, most especially the youth who are ignorant about these killer drugs because he does not like them to go through what he went through.
As such, he would like to reach out to schools all over the country to sensitise youngsters about the drug addiction problem.
To that end, he calls on corporate companies or well-wishers to support him to achieve the goal of sensitising masses about drug abuse and addiction.