After a terrible overdose, Leah Pavone woke up with no hope and only one working leg. She had been passed out on it for fourteen hours, causing Rhabdomyolysis—a serious syndrome where muscles break down into the blood. Her leg was twice its normal size. Her mother brought her to the hospital, but they were turned away. A few days later, Leah was back at the hospital and they knew they had to take this seriously. At the age of 21, she was mentally preparing for amputation. Stuck in the hospital for eight days, Leah had nothing to do but think about how her life would never be the same.
Leah grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in a loving family. She had a great relationship with her parents, got along well with her older brother, and did well in school. “As a kid, I really liked math. I liked putting things together and then taking them apart and seeing how it all worked,” she says. By the time she entered high school, she was already smoking a lot of weed. “High school was a mess. That’s when I started doing drugs,” she explains. Leah had a friend whose uncle would prescribe them pills. “I found out I really liked Xanax. I went really hard with Xanax,” she recalls.
Even though she was able to hide her drug use from her parents, blaming her school absences on being sick, Leah’s actions eventually caught up with her and she was kicked out and sent a school for troubled girls. After that, she found herself at a magnet school where things just got worse. “My depression got really bad. When I use benzos, I get really depressed. It was all really bad. I told my girlfriend at the time that I had threatened suicide and she called my parents and told them I had a drug problem,” Leah says. And so at 16 years old, she went to her first rehab.
After rehab, Leah was able to get through her days without Xanax by relying heavily on weed and booze. She attended Florida Atlantic University as a mechanical engineering major and excelled. “I thought I didn’t have a Xanax problem anymore. It had been two years since I used any.” Leah reasoned that her dependence had merely been a phase, that she could use Xanax casually now. So she went back to her drug of choice and still managed to do well in school—for a while. Leah’s tolerance skyrocketed and she was taking up to 40 2mg Xanax pills a day, rendering her completely numb. “It started out fun, and then I realized how great it felt to feel nothing, and to not have anxiety,” she says. While her addiction was expensive, Leah had always been good with money and was always able to hold down a job. No doubt this societal pressure only encouraged the belief that she wasn’t a real addict, but rather a tourist enjoying an extended Xanax vacation.
Depression hit hard, and Leah attempted suicide when she was 20 years old. She wanted to create some distance between her and Xanax, so she turned to opiates. First, it was oxycodone and soon enough, heroin—a familiar tale. Her life was becoming a blur of heroin and rehabs. “I wanted people to think I was doing the right thing, but I didn’t care if I was messing up,” she explains. Throughout this time Leah was still able to keep her parents’ trust. And then, December 9th, 2017 came; the fateful day where she almost lost her leg. Nothing was ever the same for Leah after that night.
Leah knew she had to get sober. “I seemed to not be able to get sober in Florida,” she says, “so I came out to LA.” She spent some time at another treatment center before arriving at Beit T’Shuvah. Something about the long-term aspect, the individualized program and her finally being willing to change, created the perfect conditions for Leah to get and stay sober. “I faked my way through years of therapy until I got here and I actually tried,” she says.
Six months in, Leah started a work therapy internship as a Program Facilitator. She was an intern for eight months before being hired. “Either I hold the record, or I am tied with the record holders for the longest PF internship. I was a PF intern for 8 months. I stuck it out because I really wanted to work here,” she says. Leah has recently been promoted to PF Supervisor and is grateful to be able to help addicts seeking help. With the more stubborn and difficult residents, she says, “I want to control everything and I know that about myself. I want to just be like, ‘why can’t you get this?’ But then I remember it took me a really long time to get it, and I just have to meet [the residents] where they are at and help them however I can. I just need to accept that they are going to do what they are going to do, and I can only have so much of an impact.” She says that building strong relationships is a big part of her job and that she hopes she can make a positive impact on people’s recovery.
In the coming years, Leah sees herself becoming a drug and alcohol counselor, getting better at surfing, and sponsoring people in AA. If there is one thing that is clear about Leah, it is how passionately she wants to help people. The love between the community and Leah is palpable. She is a shining example of how Beit T’Shuvah can help someone learn to walk (literally) through the pain of addiction, depression, and anxiety into a life of recovery and purpose.