Spotlight

Kaylee Bowling

 

Kaylee B. lay in an ambulance bed expecting every breath to be her last. “I was starting to fade, and I was looking out the window,” she recalls. “They closed the doors and I was like, ‘Wow, this is how I die.’ I was so upset—I was genuinely upset that this was how I was dying—permanently crazy and alone.” After running around the streets of Pasadena in a meth-fueled mania, Kaylee had gambled her life on a single shot.

Living with her boyfriend and a host of unsavory characters in a crowded motel room, Kaylee’s paranoia spiraled out of control. She was convinced that her boyfriend was trying to kill her, a suspicion reinforced by the thick, dark shot of heroin he made for her one day. “I knew it was going to kill me,” she says. Kaylee bundled the shot up in her pocket anyway, in case her desperation to get high ever outweighed her fear of death. Hours later, she was raising hell with her boyfriend’s drug dealers in the motel room they all shared. Her goal was to rob them, but without a weapon, she could only threaten to “burn their spot”, ruining its use as a covert drug den by exposing it to the police. “I was threatening to scream, basically,” she explains. The irritated dealers were not impressed. “You gotta go, bitch”, they warned. Her boyfriend ushered her into the streets of Pasadena.

In her manic state, Kaylee threw punches at him and shouted loudly in his face. He tried to snatch the shot from her, but settled with her phone and wallet before fleeing the scene. “As soon as I was alone, I started vividly hallucinating that there were these people coming at me, running, screaming.” Out of pure psychotic terror, she released her bladder all over herself. The police eventually showed up, and there she was—clutching the rig in her pocket for dear life. While the cops questioned her, she decided that she wasn’t going to let the shot in her pocket go to waste. She muscled it, recklessly jamming the needle into her bicep.

The cops forced her to empty her pockets; she figured the rig was empty, so there was no harm. Kaylee threw the empty syringe on the cement without hesitation.

The cops asked her when she took her last shot. “Right now,” she replied, matter-of-factly, “and it was way too much.” Kaylee was already beginning to pass out when the ambulance arrived. Her paranoia over the deadly shot of heroin had been all but confirmed.  When she hoarsely called Rabbi Mark from a hospital bed, her voice was barely audible: “I fucked up.” Kaylee had been through Beit T’Shuvah before. She spent 90 days in the program when she was 18 years old, but she wasn’t ready and got kicked out for “everything you could imagine.” Calling Rabbi Mark was her last resort. A Jewish Hail Mary.

Kaylee was no stranger to Beit T’Shuvah. Her mother had gone through the program when Kaylee was 12 years old. At the age of 14, Kaylee was caught smoking weed and would spend the next eight and a half months twiddling her thumbs in AA meetings and Beit T’Shuvah’s prevention office.

At 16, weed progressed to heroin. Kaylee recalls the pivotal incident of her first use occurring almost on a whim. A friend whom she’d picked up from continuation school sat in the backseat of her car, cooking up a shot of heroin. Having never been exposed to the drug before, she didn’t immediately pick up on the situation. When the friend asked her if she wanted to try it, Kaylee responded, “yeah, I want to try it.” She fell in love. Although her heart was set on heroin, she eventually had a brief affair with meth, her “mom’s thing.” Instead of being resentful or afraid of the drug which caused her family so much turmoil, Kaylee felt curious.

Up until that point, even while initially dabbling with heroin, Kaylee had worked hard to maintain an independent life: she paid her own phone bill, owned her own car, and lived on her own. Within two months of her budding meth use, Kaylee’s carefully constructed autonomy fell to pieces. Kaylee floated through rehabs with an attitude that shifted like the tide. She says, “I would go to treatment when I was scared enough, and then I would leave, or get kicked out, or graduate. Then, I would get comfortable and think I could do that shit again.”

By the time Kaylee found herself at Beit T’Shuvah for the second time, she knew she had to change. .. “I can’t even put into words how horrible I felt.” she says, “I hated myself so much. If I would see myself in the mirror in my room I would just cry.” She doesn’t know what was different this time around. “I hate when people say, ‘What changed?’ I don’t really know exactly. I had been to treatment many times and really thought I was done, but I’d forget why I wanted to be sober in the first place. I don’t know what changed. I just know that life will never serve me,” she says.

Next month Kaylee will be celebrating three years of sobriety, the longest she’s ever had. She is currently attending classes at West Los Angeles College and plans on working in the world of science. “I’m a secret nerd,” she admits. Science has been a passion and a fascination for her since she was 15 and first discovered The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, a book about string theory, hidden dimensions, and other big questions man has yet to answer. In her addiction, she attempted reading it countless times, but kept getting high and having to start over. She read that book like people read the Big Book, underlining sentences, Googling words she didn’t know, and then ultimately never finishing it.

Today, Kaylee is a Program Facilitator Supervisor. “I am very by-the-book and the vibe I get is that people are frustrated by that,” she says. Her philosophy has roots in her own upbringing: “as someone who grew up without any structure I know that it is important to hear ‘no.’” That said, she wants the community to know that beneath the toughness is a kind heart. “I am really not a bitch when you get to know me,” she stresses. So take the time to talk to Kaylee, ask her about her day, and get to know her better. You won’t be disappointed with what you discover.