Episode 2: Asia
In Judaism it's called the Zahara, the ITSA Hartov, the good inclination and the evil or the the evil inclination. And it's funny because they say, OK, it's a good inclination is good. The evil inclination is very good because there's this idea that that the it's a horror, that dark side of us is the side that fights for change, that fights for what we believe in. It's like the the survivor, the the one that isn't just fine with being comfortable,
Welcome to Getting Thru - I’m Andrea Sonnenberg.
In this episode I am speaking with Asia. She’s dependable - the kind of person who you can count on for a ride to the airport. She’ll probably even show up early.
But Asia has a wilder aspect to her personality that used to get the best of her.
There is light and dark in all of us. Sometimes our greatest strength is also our achilles heel. Personally, because it’s so easy for me to identify with others, I can get caught up in other people’s emotions - making it difficult to stand up for myself.
What struck me most about Asia’s ability to accept all sides of herself is that she hasn’t turned away from the difficult parts. Instead she’s worked very hard to turn the difficult parts into strengths.
Today Asia is studying to be a therapist. She works with young people who are struggling with mental health issues just as she does. She feels that what she has been through uniquely positions her to help others.
For Asia, challenges started when she was about 9 years old
I developed really, really bad non functioning OCD around third grade to where my parents used to joke they like when it was my night to do the dishes because the kitchen would be immaculate until they realized that I literally wasn't getting my homework done. because I was just, you know, scrubbing in the kitchen for hours. [00:08:54][49.2]
So I was taken to see a psychiatrist and put on meds. [00:10:12][10.0]
the relationship that I developed with therapy early on became this very much. If I say and you say and say the right thing is present the right way, things are going to be fine. But if I say the wrong thing, something's going to be taken away. It's going to be read as I'm in a bad state of mind. I became very calculated. I was so worried about saying the wrong thing and, you know, having consequences that I it's almost like I had to.. for a long time. I don't even think I knew how to be authentically me. So much of it was either putting on the act that I had to present in therapy or with my parents. And then around, I would say ninth grade was when this kind of double life started to surface.
In high school, Asia was taking medication for her OCD and ADHD. She felt like she was living a kind of double life.
She would be one type of person around her parents and at school, and another person letting loose on the weekends. She calls this alter ego Lyla Black
00:18:08] It was the name on my first fake I.D. It was like the name of it was Lyla Black was everything that Asia was not allowed to be Asia was this anxious, scared OCD kind of perfect kid and therapy and with her parents and everything like that. And you know, I struggled socially and all that kind of stuff. And Lyla Black got to be this bad ass, didn't care, does what she wants, you know, like just a party girl. It was party girl. Yeah. Power. It was a powerful feeling. That was my powerful alter ego where Asia just felt weak. [00:18:44][36.1
Oh, wow. OK, so tell me more about Lyla black and where she took you. [00:18:49][4.6]
throughout high school, as I got older and older, I think 10th, 11th, 12th grade, that was where the split became even more apparent. [00:19:01]
After graduating high school, Asia left home for college
And when I went to school my focus isn’t to better my education, it’s oh, great. I don't have to maintain this facade. I can go be a full blown little black darkside, bad girl, you know, popular girl or whatever. And I literally was not at all interested in school.
That was when things started to get pretty, pretty out of control. I was really big into smoking weed and it was weird, but with how much Adderall I was taking at the time, if I didn't smoke weed, it was like I was basically in mania. I remember that - there'd be days where I wouldn't smoke weed. I take my meds as prescribed. I never had a need to abuse them because of how much I was taking and I would just feel absolutely manic and just the anxiety would be through the roof. Honestly, looking back, I don't even know if I have ADHD or if I ever did. I just had been medicated for for so like for so long that I never questioned it. But weed became an everyday thing for me. That was the only way I knew how to function without just being a maniac. And of course, drinking and partying and, you know, exploring my sexuality, all that kind of stuff. I towards the end of the year, I ended up getting into a really bad car accident. And that was kind of where a bunch of the lies started to unravel. That was where my parents started to discover things that I'd been lying about. And I think at a certain point they were like, oh, my God, we don't even know who we're dealing with right now. It was like the whole facade. The whole double life started to crumble. And when I got back from school that year, they basically were like, hey, look, we're concerned about you. We don't even really know what we're dealing with. We're not going to be sending you back to school this year. And your options are basically go get help. They actually wanted me to go to betshuva that time I was eighteen. Go get help or go figure it out. And at that point, Lyla Black had kind of gathered this strength and she was like, OK, I don't need you. And I went off on my own.
And I moved to Breckenridge Colorado[00:22:09] where I lived and worked at a ski resort, which is just party central. And at that point, the feeling of like needing to run from my feelings, run from sadness, run from feeling like like I miss my family, run from feeling small. That's where it started to get much, much stronger. And that's where I started to really use a lot more. I was really, really into psychedelics at the time, drinking, coke. But it was like I remember acid mushrooms. It was like I would just be like, I'm so connected. Oh my God, everything's great. And after about a year of that, I was sitting at a table and, you know, with a couple of people that I used to hang out with, one of them was like a fifty year old guy. And he's like, Oh, yeah, I remember I came out here when I was your age and he's still, you know, thirty plus years later doing the exact same thing. So at that point I actually called my parents and I was like, hey, what was that you were saying about Bet’shuva?
So when I was 20 I moved myself from CO to Beit T’shuvah for the first time.
Beit T’shuvah is a residential treatment center rooted in the spiritual principles of Judaism
And I still didn’t think i was a drug addict. I just thought I needed a change of direction, you know, like some recentring. And I started to kind of reestablish a relationship with my parents. [00:23:32]
[00:23:34] But um, so much of it felt like, OK, OK, OK, we're not going to be bad anymore, we're not going to be that little black has gone. All this is gone. Everything's good, everything's good. And if I'm really good and if everything goes really well with my parents or something like that, they're going to take me back to school and I can do what I'm supposed to do with my life and whatever. So it was still just this kind of anxious, like denial of a part of me that was so real, like this little dark part that isn't even necessarily bad. It's just this part of me that I felt like I couldn't express and it bet teshuva became OK, how do I talk to talking therapy? How do I, you know, make it sound like everything's going well and. Oh, it was, it was all felt like. A little bit of an act, and it wasn't even on purpose, I literally did not know how to be authentic in those kind of settings [00:24:20][45.9]
After about 9 months, Asia left Beit T'shuva and stopped going to treatment altogether. She found full time work as a nanny. And while part of her loved caring for a baby, the other part of her felt lonely.
after a couple of months I felt like just what am I doing with my life? I mean, I was so isolated I would have these forced dinners with my parents where it was like, oh, everything's great and this is great. And like with the idea that in a couple of months when I showed them I was doing well, I'd ask them to help me go back to school because that's what I was supposed to do.
But after about six months of working with this family, I it was like this little dark part, this little lie black in me was just screaming to be let out. And I started selling coke on the weekends, not even because I needed the money, but because I needed, like, the fire in my life. Like bricks. Yes. I mean, it was like, OK, you've been living this little anxious vanilla life for too long. Let me out a little bit. Let me breathe on the weekends. And I remember it was about the year, Mark, that I was working for this family. I just I could I was reaching my limit. I was so depressed. I was I was starting to kind of drink and use a little bit more regularly.[167.4]
I tried meth for the first time with the people that I used to buy coke from.
And I remember that feeling of when I did when I did meth for the first time, it was like this. Oh, my God, I have discovered what it was that I was put on this earth to do. It was just this like I mean, it's really freaky, but it's like I. Even would question it, I was like sad thinking about my life and what I was like before I discovered this drug that was made for me and things just went downhill really, really fast. [00:29:26][171.9]
I ended up losing my job. I ended up kind of my family knew it was garbage, was like, all right, don't worry, I'm not going to bother you guys. I'm just going to go do drugs. And so I'm going to be now. And that started my I guess it was about seven months, seven months before I first got arrested. I was using meth. I was using heroin mostly to balance out the meth. I got really interested in, like fraud and identity theft and all that kind of stuff. And I became this kind of career criminal drug addict from a nanny, from somebody that would have dinner with her family every week trying to make things right to all of a sudden it was like, OK, nope, this isn't going to work anymore.
It was like that dark side had just exploded. Leila just been like, all right, I'm done. I can't do this anymore.
[00:29:25] I ended up getting arrested several times. I was in and out of jail for fraud, identity theft, sales, possession. And each time I went to jail, it was almost like once again, my life was in complete imbalance. Instead of stuffing this Lila Black part of me in the claws and saying, oh, no, no, no, no, no, don't worry, it was OK, we're just going to do everything that Asia was not allowed to do. Asia's not here. That innocent, that anxious, that OCD girl like she's not here anymore. It's just all Lila. it's all this excitement, this power. And my I think my my using was about two years or about a year and a half, but it was a lot of it was in and out of jail. And finally I got arrested and charged with something bigger. And I was looking at a lot of time in prison.
But can you tell us what it was like in jail, especially with something like someone that's struggling with issues that you were struggling with? [00:30:44][7.0]
Every time I went to jail, that was where I would have to kick heroin. And instead of using jail as OK, I should probably learned my lesson. I met other criminals. I networked. There were a lot of drugs in jail. You could stay high if you wanted to. And this little kind of warped thinking I had where I the longest time I had done in this period before I got arrested for the the big charge was three months and I was getting high on and off in that three months. I didn't really have enough time to kind of even out to think clearly. And instead, it was almost like all this is just part of the thug life, you know, like whatever. This is who I am now. I'm tough. Oh, wow. Now I have street cred. I've been to jail
The scariest thing about that was, I was still so warped in the head that I was like, oh yeah, that's just what gangsters do. Like, it was this is kind of like I mean, I was out of my mind and I ended up getting charged with it was fraud, identity theft, sales, the usuals, and then basically first degree burglary with a violent enhancement because people were home. So it wasn't quite like a home invasion charge, but it was it was a it was not a good thing to be charged with. Basically, I ended up getting two years and eight months sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.
the first month that I was there, I was kind of in the mix. I was like doing drugs. I was, you know, like getting into relationships. I was very much in the in the drama of prison life. And I think it was with my first my first bunkie. I basically got so humbled. I, I got into a fight with my first bunkie and let's just say I'm super, super lost. And and it was like there were drugs involved with the fight. And I think it was like I basically got the sense knocked out of me and I was sitting alone in a cell early, right out early, literally, literally. [00:33:34][43.5]
literally, I got the shit knocked out of me, like literally. And I remember I was like in a daze. I was sitting alone in a cell and it hit me like, oh, my God, the thug life is not for me. Like, I don't know who I thought I was. This I mean, it was [00:33:52][14.9]
like that was your turning point. Is that the turning point? [00:33:55][2.2]
That yeah, that was the turning point where I basically was like, I am not this tough girl. Asia was forced to like this little light side was like kind of knocked back into reality. And it was like, what the hell have I been doing this whole time? And that was where I learned of. About the fire camp program
The Fire Camp Program gives inmates with low security levels the opportunity to be trained and certified as wildland firefighters. So, instead of doing the rest of her sentence in prison, Asia found herself in a different kind of intense environment. you literally get to put out fires. You get to do, like, all this kind of crazy manual labor trail maintenance, emergency response, all that kind of stuff. And I basically, instead of going back into the mix in the drama and whatever, I threw myself into training for that program. And for about three and a half months, I trained physically, I trained in the classroom, and I eventually got certified as a wildland firefighter in prison. And this was what was so cool about fire camp was it was the first time that the two parts of me, this Asia light side, wanting to connect, wanting to be a part of wanting to do great world. And this Lillah part of me, this I'm a badass. I'm tough. Like, you know, they they were forced to work together because Asia was driven by, OK, we're part of a crew, were part of a team. We get to possibly save lives. But Asia could never have made it through the physical trainings without Leelah's strength and tenacity. [00:35:35][72.0]
So you were able to really kind of use it to your benefit, use it to your benefit? [00:35:40][3.5]
God some of the days in our training I'd be like, there's no freakin’ way I can do this. Like, I don't understand how they think I can do this. And it was like if I wasn't in this exact setting, this prison setting where I literally had it, it was like I wouldn't have. But then the feeling of actually doing it and looking back and being like, oh my God. And that feeling is like.. that feeling is so cool and so powerful and that was the first time that I had to keep at something that I was not good at right away. Like the physical training, all that kind of stuff. I was one of the slowest in my crew when it came to running and hiking. I was, I mean, I was like, so not the best. It was something that did not come naturally to me. And as a kid, I would usually be able to talk my way out of oh guitar lessons were there just not for me. We're going to do something else. Oh, swim team. Oh yeah. It's just not for me. Like, I never had to really stick with something. And that was the first time I was forced to stick with something that wasn't natural to me. And I mean that in and of itself was huge.
And it was I mean, it was the first time that I was not labeling one side as toxic, bad, wrong. And it was one side as weak what it was like. The two parts of me had to coexist and had to work together. And I think that it was the first time in my life that I connected to a sense of self-esteem and almost like an identity that I wanted to step into that was authentic. [00:36:00][18.4]
I mean, and this is something I still working into my therapy. I literally will journal a dialog sometimes between these two pieces of me. And in Judaism it's called the Zahara, the ITSA Hartov, the good inclination and the evil or the the evil inclination. And it's funny because they say, OK, it's a good inclination is good. The evil inclination is very good because there's this idea that that the it's a horror, that dark side of us is the side that fights for change, that fights for what we believe in. It's like the the survivor, the the one that isn't just fine with being comfortable, if that makes sense. [00:36:45][34.4]
So so that's at that point I had started writing to Beit T’shuva again, basically saying, hi, please take me back. Hello. I need help, you know, and I had to write back and forth with them for a. Few months, they were a little hesitant to take me back because, I mean, much to my surprise, they kind of saw through my facade last time this, you know, oh, I know how to talk the talking group and nobody can tell me anything. And I'm smarter than you. I mean, these are right there, all that. But after a few months of writing back and forth, they basically said that they would give me another chance. So when I paroled in August of two thousand nineteen, yeah, August 19, I came straight to Beit T’shuva. [00:39:42][90.7]
And what was that transition like going from prison to, you know, a group living home? [00:39:48][5.0] It was. I don't even I mean, it was a lot it was a lot because as soon as I got out and still in the back of my head, I was not 100 percent sure I was ready to let go of this criminal identity. I didn't. And I don't even know if it was that I was. I don't even know if that it was that I was not able to let go of it. It's just I didn't think that I would be able to succeed without it. I had already done so much damage. My brain was already so I mean, I was already so far gone that I was literally starting from nothing. I got out with absolutely nothing, no money. My credit was messed up. I had all these, you know, all these things that had happened when I was both in custody and throughout my using that, I was like, there's no way I'm going to be able to pull myself out of this. I remember I used to wear like three or four pairs of socks because all the shoes that I were given were a little too big for me for the first couple of months. And it's really hard for me to ask for help. That's so that was hard, too. I think one of the biggest parts of this dark side identity was like, I don't need you, you need me. And meanwhile, one of the things I was trying to run away from was, oh, my God, I need help and I feel vulnerable.
So I was forced to sit in that for a while. And for the first couple months, everything looked good on paper. But I don't really think that there was that mental shift yet. [00:41:21][90.0]
It took a few months, but finally Asia felt authentically herself.
because I just started to see, oh, my God, there, all there, all these little ways that I'm still lying to myself, all these little, little ways that I'm still presenting myself to like, you know, whether it's my parents or therapists or whatever, like inaccurately. It's just I had to learn how to learn who I was kind of from scratch. And that's where the real mental shift happened. [00:42:23][62.9]
Today Asia is studying to work with kids who are struggling the same way she did at Beit T’shuva.
She is taking medication that is working for her.
All that time spent doing physical labor at fire camp taught her the benefits of exercise. She has learned not to hide what makes her unique. That same part of her that wanted to clean the dishes so well when she was younger has morphed into something she now accepts as just part of her charm.
But not every day is easy. But when she feels stuck in a rut, she comes back to this one phrase
“within the core wound lies the core gift”
my God, that just felt like I was kind of in a rut. And as soon as she said that to me, I mean, you can say one of my core wounds is this feeling of, oh, my gosh, I'm not special enough. Or again, it's like something's really wrong with me within. That is my ability to I think not only see other people make them feel valid, make them feel connected, make them feel a part of and good and just like connect to what they love about themselves. It's like that core struggle of mine is what really allows me to be so effective at work and just in my relationships. [00:54:35][37.3]
And so tell me again, what is Lyla Black doing today? [00:56:12][5.4]
Oh, Lyla Black is that she's the one that gets me to put on my running shoes and go for a run every morning, because that's what's ultimately going to put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. Lyla Black is the one that can set boundaries with residents and the one that isn't as afraid of being lights. That allows me to actually be effective at my job. Lila Black is the one that seeks new opportunities and goes forth and takes risks and like once challenges. And I mean, working out is really her playground. That's where I get to push myself to this like almost level of like pain and intensity and just like toughness that she loves. But Lila Black is what's moving me along. Whereas this Asia part of me, this I'm empathetic, connected, intuitive part that just lives in love. She would just, I think, kind of stay. So if it wasn't for me. [00:57:11][56.3]
What sort of advice would you give someone today that's struggling with similar issues based on, you know, everything that you've gone through and what you've learned on your journey?
: [00:49:18] feel optimistic. I just deeply trust that things are always going to work out. I don't know if you can attribute that back to my psychedelic days. I don't know, feeling all connected in the universe. But I just I've always had this feeling like there was more that I was meant to do and that all this crazy stuff that I was going through was only going to help me connect to more people [00:49:41][22.1] one of the most powerful things for me was always like this, I had to kind of really believe that everything was happening exactly as it should for whatever reason. And where is the lesson in this? Where is the gift in the wound? What can I do with this experience,
I just I've always had this feeling like there was more that I was meant to do and that all this crazy stuff that I was going through was only going to help me connect to more people. What am I supposed to be learning from this? And how can I eventually plan to connect with others or help others using this? And then I would say, just have somebody that you can talk to. Even if it's something you have a lot of shame about or you feel really embarrassed or icky about, whatever, it's just if you can have one person to just kind of talk to, that in and of itself can help a lot. [01:02:10][12.2]
You know, success is kind of, a tricky thing. Everybody is successful with a different based on a different definition. You know what, his success looks different to one person than it does for another. How do you feel about success and what success looks like and what success looks like for you [01:08:38][28.1]
I would say right now I might like there have been times in my life before I was making more money. There have been times in my life where I had more nice things, but I have never felt so happy being authentically me and being able to show up as my whole self. And I I think that success is just like learning how to engage in a relationship with who is authentically you and allowing that to kind of turn your life into exactly where it's supposed to. It's exactly right. And I think I might yeah, I'm on my way to doing that. And it's really, really cool. [01:09:59][35.8]
The word obsession is often thrown around loosely - people might say they are obsessed with a new restaurant or obsessed with someone’s new shoes. But the obsession in OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, makes it difficult to function because of uncontrollable recurring thoughts or other mental images that can cause anxiety. Compulsions are repeated behaviors or habits. Everyone double checks on things sometimes - like making sure you have your phone or keys when you leave the house. But a person with OCD might spend over an hour every day on these habits even while they know what they are doing doesn’t make sense.
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Getting Thru is made possible with the support of USC Hillel through the Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative.
It is produced by me, Andrea Sonnenberg, Micah Smith, and Hannah Beal. Original music by Micah Smith.