Last month we were all horrified to hear about the story of 20-year-old Kaylee Muthart, a young America woman who gouged her own eyes out during a meth-induced hallucination to leave her blind.
Now, Kaylee, from Anderson, South Carolina, has spoken with PEOPLE about her experiences with addiction and her hopes for the future.
I had been a straight-A student in Anderson, South Carolina—I was even in the National Honor Society when I left school at age 17, midway through eleventh grade. Between working long hours to save up for a car, and missing school because of a heart arrhythmia, my grades had begun to slip. I thought taking time off from school would be better than tarnishing my academic record and would leave me with a better chance at securing a college scholarship to study marine biology, which I’d always wanted to do
By age 18, I was drinking alcohol socially and smoking pot often, while working diligently at my part-time job. I suspected I was prone to addiction, since it ran in my family, so I actively avoided what I considered more serious drugs.
But when I was 19 last summer, I was smoking pot with an acquaintance at his house and got a strange high. Later, I googled the symptoms that surprised me the most — numb lips and feeling like I was on top of the world. I’d long been a religious Christian; the high made me feel particularly close to God.
I think the pot I’d smoked had been laced with either cocaine or meth, both of which are stimulants. I was surprised, since I’d never perceived weed as a gateway drug, but here I was, being exposed to substances I never wanted in my life.
Because I’d gotten the pot from the friend I smoked with, I felt like he’d betrayed me and left my job to distance myself from him. I didn’t end up going back to school.
I didn’t have a job and my relationship with my boyfriend of two years began to deteriorate. To cope, I kept smoking pot and drinking alcohol and started taking Xanax recreationally. On the verge of our breakup, I had a mental breakdown. (Months later, in February 2018, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It made sense, since when I felt happy, I felt super happy, and when I felt down, I felt deeply depressed. The turbulence left me especially susceptible to drug abuse, my doctors later told me.)
I finally got a new job, but having lost my boyfriend and a series of close friends, I was lonely and unhappy. I remembered the way I felt on the laced weed and sought that kind of peace again.
At the end of August, with another acquaintance, I decided to smoke meth for the first time. I stayed up for nearly three days and experienced hallucinations I wasn’t expecting — when I looked in the mirror, I thought I saw blackheads coming out of my face and I spent an hour picking at my skin until I drew blood. When my roommate dropped me off for work that evening, I was too embarrassed by my welts to go inside. Soon after, as a result of missing work, I lost my job.
When I sobered up, I watched a video I’d filmed when I was high, and it totally freaked me out — the girl I saw, who kept talking and talking, seemed so different from the real me.
After that, I steered clear of meth but felt so low that I asked one of my roommates, who dealt drugs, for ecstasy. At the time, the substance seemed safer than cocaine or meth, since I knew people used it to feel more free when they partied. I thought it would make me feel more confident; when it delivered, I started taking it once or twice a day on most days until the end of November.
While on ecstasy, I studied the Bible. I misinterpreted a lot of it. I convinced myself that meth would bring me even closer to God.
So, after Thanksgiving, when I was feeling particularly lonely, I smoked meth with a friend. Within two months, I progressed to snorting it, then shooting it as often as I could by myself or with friends. I was surrounded by heavy drug users.
Two or three times, I tried to stop: I carried meth in my pocket all day as if to prove, “This stuff is my bitch,” but I always ended up taking it.
My mom realized I was struggling with mental-health issues and drug abuse but later said she felt helpless; I wouldn’t commit to going to a drug rehab or a psychiatric facility, and without proof that I was a danger to myself, she couldn’t have me committed. Although I didn’t even have a place to live — I’d been sleeping at different people’s houses since moving out at 17 — I told her I had everything under control and avoided speaking to her.
On February 4, I finally saw her again. She’d found a rehab facility for me, and I agreed to go the following week. I later learned she had recorded our conversation, during which I said I didn’t want to be in the world because it was too evil — the proof she felt she needed to get a court order and commit me.
But the next day, I bought meth from my drug dealer. After a friend tried to stop me, I shot up that night. I took a larger dose than I’d ever used before.
On the morning of Tuesday, February 6, I was still high. I was hallucinating, so my memories are fuzzy, but based on what I remember and details I’ve pieced together from other witnesses, here’s what happened: Thinking the friend I’d gotten high with had gone to church, I wandered there along a railroad track. Even though it was 10:30 in the morning, everything looked dark and gloomy apart from a light post, where I thought a white bird was perched.
It was then I remember thinking that someone had to sacrifice something important to right the world, and that person was me. I thought everything would end abruptly, and everyone would die, if I didn’t tear out my eyes immediately. I don’t know how I came to that conclusion, but I felt it was, without doubt, the right, rational thing to do immediately.
I got on my hands and knees, pounding the ground and praying, “Why me? Why do I have to do this?” I later realized this wasn’t a personal religious calling — it was something anyone on drugs could have experienced.
Next, a man I’d been staying with, who happened to have a Biblical name, drove by and called out the window, “I locked up the house. Do you have the other key?” A sign, I thought, that my sacrifice is the key to saving the world.
So I pushed my thumb, pointer, and middle finger into each eye. I gripped each eyeball, twisted, and pulled until each eye popped out of the socket — it felt like a massive struggle, the hardest thing I ever had to do. Because I could no longer see, I don’t know if there was blood. But I know the drugs numbed the pain. I’m pretty sure I would have tried to claw right into my brain if a pastor hadn’t heard me screaming, “I want to see the light!” — which I don’t recall saying — and restrained me. He later said, when he found me, that I was holding my eyeballs in my hands. I had squished them, although they were somehow still attached to my head.
I remember praying and sensing people fill in around me. There must have been seven or eight men, in addition to the pastor, holding me down. I fought so hard against their restraints that my wrists hurt for weeks after. At some point, paramedics arrived, and I was so combative that they had to sedate me with ketamine. I was transferred to a stretcher and airlifted via helicopter to Greenville Memorial Hospital in South Carolina.
While all this was happening, my mom was on her way to the courthouse with her recording to get me legally committed. She was too late.
At the hospital, doctors performed an emergency surgery to fully remove what was left of my eyes in an attempt to preserve my optic nerves and to prevent infection.
I woke up two days later. At that point, the sedatives and traces of recreational drugs were still in my system, but I remembered what happened. Everything was dark, and I knew I was blind, but when I sensed my mom by my side, I knew I would be okay.
I was in the hospital for a week, during which I suffered from bad headaches behind my eye sockets and particularly in my temples. They continued to crop up intermittently for about a month. I was offered hydrocodone for the pain but only took it once or twice — I really didn’t want to take anything besides Tylenol. I was determined to stay off drugs. Luckily, I didn’t experience any drug-withdrawal symptoms.
When I asked friends and family members who visited me what I looked like without eyes, I was told there’s red tissue (muscle filling the socket) and a white spot (my optic nerve endings) where my eyeballs used to be. When my sockets are fully healed, hopefully next month, I’ll get eye prosthetics to fill out my face, although they won’t help me see.
After a week, I was transferred to a psychiatric in-patient treatment facility. I was scared shitless about how I would be treated, but the facility turned out to be amazing, with group-, music-, and animal therapy, plus a really supportive staff. That’s where I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began taking lithium, a mood stabilizer, plus Risperdal, an antipsychotic medication. Through therapy, I learned to start accepting my new reality.
When I went home with my mom last week, the first thing I did was walk around and touch everything to get a sense of my environment. My mom has been really supportive — she won’t let me go up or down the stairs by myself out of fear I’ll trip, but she gives me verbal cues to get around independently and got me an iPhone that reads text aloud.
Activities I used to enjoy, like playing guitar and learning piano, are going to be harder now that I’m blind, but I’m still optimistic. When I stub my toe or my knee, I think, Well, it probably saved me from walking into a wall and hitting my face.
I still want to go to school to become a marine biologist — although I’m blind, I can still go underwater to feel the pressure and deepness. In the meantime, in addition to my outpatient psychiatric treatment, I’ve gone to the Commission for the Blind for physical-therapy training with a cane, and joined a new church to avoid the drug users I knew at my old one. I plan to attend 90 Narcotics Anonymous meetings in 90 days. Once I raise enough money on GoFundMe, I’m going to get a seeing-eye dog.
Of course there are times when I get really upset about my situation, particularly on nights when I can’t fall asleep. But truthfully, I’m happier now than I was before all this happened. I’d rather be blind than dependent on drugs.
It took losing my sight to get me back on the right path, but from the bottom of my heart, I’m so glad I’m here.