I had the opportunity to photograph and interview Leah during her visit to Waukee for a Mental Kilter workshop. I hadn't really known much of her story, but I knew that she was a recovering addict. As we sat and talked about her life, there are a few things that I wanted to share about her.
She is an amazing human. You know that sometimes you meet someone and right off you know if they are someone you want to be around. She is that type of person. Her smile, her laughter, and her attitude are all infectious in a good way. What makes her amazing is her desire to help others. To help other people overcome their addictions. To help people find ways to stay sober. To find a way to show people they have a purpose and that there are people out there who truly want to help them and see them succeed.
She presented her story to over 50 people at a local CrossFit gym, CrossFit Waukee, many of which have had a similar experience. She came to tell them that they can be better. She came to share her story and let others know they can be MORE. Because she is MORE. And she is doing MORE so others have a chance to find theirs.
She found hers through exercise and fitness and is a founder of Mental Kilter, a program tying recovery and sobriety through fitness. For more information, visit them at
I grew up in upper middle-class suburbia just north of Atlanta. My three sisters, brother and I moved into my dad's house when I was 13 while my youngest sister stayed at our mom's. We lived in a nice house, with nice cars, nice clothes and more than we could need.
When I was in high school, I started getting severe headaches, daily. In 2004 a lot of doctors were in "experimental" phases with prescription drugs so it wasn't hard to request anything you desired. By the age of 14 I was taking four different narcotics a day. It didn't take long to realize what all I was taking and find another brand or dosage that would do "more" for me. At some point I started going to the Doctor's office to get Botox injections in my neck every three weeks. I'm not sure what came over me, but one day I decided I didn't like takinghandfuls of pills around the clock anymore. So I stopped, cold turkey without telling anyone. Hindsight, it wasn't the best idea. This sparked massive anxiety and stress which gave me a "need" for more medicine.
It's not that there was a lack of attention, but when there are five kids, all playing multiple sports year round, it's easy to slip under the radar if you tried hard enough. I began adding in smoking and drinking and "street drugs" on top of prescriptions by 16. Into 2007 I had already lost multiple friends to jail, rehab, or death. My dad pulled me out of school and enrolled me into an outpatient rehab. At the time, I looked at it more of a punishment than anything. I never took it serious and blew off most of the participation assignments. I also attended 90 NA meetings in 90 days. (give or take) I think I can accredit a lot of my thinking, now, to those meetings. That summer I moved back into my mom's house and one of my best friend's died from drugs and drunk driving. It hit me hard; I never touched cocaine or ecstasy again.
I continued taking benzodiazepines until 2009. All prescribed to me for anxiety, but there was definite abuse going on. Cigarettes stayed in the picture until, I believe, 2013.
Fast forward to when I found CrossFit. I was an athlete playing multiple sports my entire life so it gave me that familiar feeling. By the time I was 23, I needed to find something again; something competitive. I had already been instructing Pilates for about a year and taking all the spin and beach bootcamp classes I could find. I fell in love with CrossFit. It's a little bit of all sports, but never the same from day to day. We had coaches and people to go against with a leaderboard to track your scores. I started to see progress very quickly, both physically and mentally. I was living in western Puerto Rico where I co-owned a bar and it's vacation time, year round so heavy drinking was the norm.
It wasn't until January 1, 2014 that I decided I no longer enjoyed having no control over myself or my actions. I wanted to get better at CrossFit and I wanted to prove to myself, my friends and my family that I could do it. I realized that crashing cars, finishing off bottles of liquor, and puking just about every morning, wasn't doing any one any good. I lost most of my "friends" but gained more respect from my family than I've had in years. I started focusing on my training, my diet and my sleep. I enjoyed my days while the sun was up and started to get my mental clarity back.
Coming up on my third year sober feels better than imaginable; but also confusing at times. I wish to drink most days. Not to get drunk, but because I truly love the taste [of beer and wine]. I don't think that I'm mentally in a position to be able to control myself if I were to give in, and indulge. My father lives with Bi-polar disorder, which there's been times in my life where I've thought there may be a chance I could have it as well. Some days are really hard and I don't want to do anything. And then there will be a few days where the sun is shining through my pores. But I think that's life; and it's okay to sometimes not be okay. It's important to speak out about these things and find your purpose for living and pushing forward. Finding people who are also working on the same internal struggles to pursue happiness and success.
I compete in CrossFit, Powerlifting and Weightlifting. That's what keeps me sober. That's what keeps my mental kilter. To be the best, strongest version of myself.