When Asia C. started stealing from lunch boxes at the age of 5, she felt compelled by a dark impulse within. She calls it a split—and at 16 years old, she gave her alter ego a name: Lyla Black. And Lyla Black had a motto: Fuck you, I don’t need you anyway.
For Asia, the process of recovery has been not only staying sober from drugs, alcohol, and criminal behavior, but also reconciling her dual nature and learning to use the “dark” to protect the “light.”
Both of Asia’s parents have multiple doctorates with specialties in the field of psychology. “I have been in very intense psychotherapy since I was five,” Asia remarks. Asia recalls an intense feeling of shame from that young age. In third grade, she developed a powerful compulsion to confess her sins. Asia would confess to anything from transferring germs to taking an extra handful of chips, a manifestation of what she suspects was OCD. “I was constantly anxious that I was doing something wrong,” Asia says, adding, “It was a really exhausting way to live.” Perhaps this is why, at 16, Asia put a name to the “dark” side that dwelled within. Lyla Black could take some of the strain and cognitive dissonance away from Asia’s shame and give the innocence in her somewhere to hide. With Lyla Black and all of the intense emotions Asia couldn’t handle, she began to descend into the muddle of criminality and drug abuse.
Asia refers to herself as a “late-blooming” drug addict. She was afraid of her parent’s strict eyes, about what would happen if they learned that she’d been using. But getting behind the idea of being bad was part of the new persona that Asia was beginning to enjoy. “When I look back at my drug addiction, so much of it was not about getting high. So much of it was about the sense of identity it gave me,” she reflects. She found that selling drugs was almost – if not more – enjoyable then using them. This was her first taste of the criminal lifestyle, far removed from the shame and vulnerability of childhood. When she sold drugs, when she outwitted the system around her, Asia discovered a sense of power that she found just as addictive as the drugs themselves. As her facade grew more well-defined and deeply entrenched, it became harder to distinguish where her dark side ended and Asia began.
When the time came for Asia to go to college, she remarks that “instead of being like ‘Hell yeah, lets go to school!’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah, I don’t have to pretend so much.’” When Asia crashed her car while driving drunk, the facade couldn’t hold out for much longer. While she was quick to blame the incident on faulty brakes, the mechanic’s report suggested otherwise. Ultimately, her toxicology report did come back, and her parents finally discovered the truth about the hidden aspects of their daughter’s personality. To put it bluntly, they washed their hands of her; she was “a liability”. Her reaction was to embrace her dark side even more tightly. Living alone in Los Angeles, she began to feel distinctly off-kilter. “I kept waking up with crippling emptiness,” Asia remembers. She decided to pull a geographic, and spent time living in a Colorado Ski Resort as her day job. She was dropping acid daily, but the empty feeling remained. The way of life she’d coveted had lost its thrill – the emptiness inside was only growing bigger.
This time when she called her parents, it led to Asia’s first admission to Beit T’Shuvah. Looking back on it, Asia suspects that her biggest problem was that she couldn’t get truly honest or authentic about her experiences. She says that, “with the way I was raised, I knew how to do rehab, I knew how to do therapy. Nothing really went in. If anything, I heard other people’s stories and about slamming heroin and going to prison and thought, ‘Wow, that’s kind of exciting.’” When she left Beit T’Shuvah that time, nothing stuck. She worked 60 hour weeks as a live-in nanny, hoping that it might help repair her relationship with her parents. But when she asked if they’d help fund her return to college, she was told she “wasn’t a good investment yet.” At this point Asia’s attitude became distinctly “fuck it”. She’d never tried meth or heroin before that, but at this point she allowed herself to go all out. “Before I knew it, I was up for nine days smoking meth and then I started doing heroin just to come down,” Asia says.
Selling drugs no longer thrilled Asia the way that it used to. Lyla Black needed something bigger. “I remember I turned to someone and said, ‘let’s do some crime tonight,’ and that was the first night I broke into cars. That rush—I found it. It felt like that was what I was put on this Earth to do,” she recalls. She says she’s been arrested numerous times, but her most recent arrest came in the wake of a case that had been building against her for a long time—22 counts of home invasion, fraud, and identity theft – among other things. Thanks to a benevolent judge, she only ended up serving two years with half-time, entitling her to serve part of her sentence at a fire-fighting camp. Asia’s experience at fire camp, where she served the last segment of her sentence, gave her a strong and capable identity that put Lyla Black to good use. Being trained to fight fires was grueling but meaningful work, and she laughs at the irony when she says, “I ended up fighting fires in neighborhoods I used to steal from.”
After her tenure at fire camp, Asia was ready to give Beit T’Shuvah another shot. This time, the key difference Asia notices is honesty. “In order to get help, I need to be totally honest about anything and everything,” she tells me. At times, she still craves the criminal lifestyle – mostly when she is feeling small, powerless, or vulnerable. But more than even the self-admitted fact she was never a good criminal (“I think I just started to accept that I’m really bad at not getting arrested!”), Asia says she no longer wants to be a criminal. Today Asia is striving to recognize the harmony of living in balance, both with her light and her darkness. While Asia is the light side and the authentic self, Lyla is “the fighter, the doer, the one that protects the light side”. She is currently working with Harriet by keeping a journal of a dialogue between the dual aspects of her personality, to help her identify which situations make Lyla emerge and which thoughts or behaviors originate from Asia.
Today, Asia sees a bright future ahead of her. She’s currently working as a Program Facilitator intern, and intends to return to school for her degree. She’s not certain whether she wants to tackle criminality in forensic psychology, troubled youth in pediatric psychology, or perhaps take her CADAC and work with other recovering addicts. The only certainty is that whatever she chooses, with the capabilities of her mind and spirit, Asia will reach her goal with aplomb.