Mount Carmel parents motivated by children, faith in God

Apr. 27—SUNBURY — Drew and Kylee Lahr said they were motivated to become sober and turn around their lives for their children.

The Mount Carmel couple battled addiction for years and had countless stretches in county and state prisons for more than a decade. They said their children were the catalyst, but centering their lives around their faith is the reason why they have been able to break the cycle of substance abuse and incarceration to succeed in their new lives.

"We had a daughter on the way," said Drew Lahr, 41, who has been clean and sober since April 14, 2022. "I did not want my daughter to ever see me high. I didn't want my daughter the opportunity to be a statistic as well and have a broken home. This is going to be cliche, but I just wanted to be a good father and a good husband."

Kylee Lahr, 36, who has been clean and sober since Dec. 31, 2018, said her motivation started when she lost custody of her first child.

"It was better they took him away from me at that time," said Kylee. "I didn't have custody of him for five years. I didn't see him, I barely talked to him. I didn't want him in that lifestyle, and I couldn't stop using drugs. Today, I have 50/50 custody of him. I did everything I was supposed to get him back into my life."

Growing up in Mount Carmel

Both Drew Lahr and the former Kylee Wargo grew up in Mount Carmel. Drew is a 2001 graduate of Mount Carmel Area School District and Kylee is a 2008 graduate. They knew each other in their youth, and even dated and did drugs together in their adulthood, but they wouldn't reconnect until 2020.

Drew, the oldest of five, said he grew up in a poor household with a mother addicted to drugs and a biological father he never met.

"I had the prime making to be a statistic," said Drew.

When his mother and stepfather divorced at age 12, Drew went to live with his mother and his siblings went to live with the stepfather. They flourished, but Drew did not, bouncing around with family members for years.

"Until this February, it was the first time I lived in a house for more than two years straight," he said. "I had no stability in my life growing up."

Starting young

Drew started drinking and smoking marijuana when he was 12. By high school, he was using Oxycodone and benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium, and shooting heroin.

He was charged with his first felony and spent his first time in county jail at age 18. He and a friend broke into a meat market in Kulpmont and stole cigarettes and money for drugs, and he was charged with felony burglary.

For two decades, he would be in and out of county jails. He served two state sentences at State Correctional Institution Mercer for 18 to 36 months and 20 to 40 months. He can't recall how much time he spent in a county jail.

"Every single one of them, even my assaults, stems from addiction. Every last bit of it," he said. "I have burglaries, I have a boatload of retail thefts, criminal trespasses, assaults. It would either be because I needed to do what I had to do to get drugs or the money to get them, or doing things for dealers for them to give me drugs. It always ended up getting me in trouble."

Drew said he worked for a drug dealer and "did a lot of things I'm not proud of" to pay bills and purchase drugs.

Suicide attempt

Over 15 years, Drew said he lost a brother to a drunk driving accident, and his mother, a brother, a sister and a friend to drug overdoses.

"I put down drugs and alcohol for two years," he said. "I did nothing for my recovery. I was extremely angry with God. I couldn't understand why I was still here. He had taken all these people I really, really cared about. It led me to trying to eat a gun."

In May 2020, Drew — who was experiencing intense depression — took out a stolen revolver while he was watching television. As he replayed his life in his head, he felt a sense of hopelessness and stuck the barrel into his mouth.

"I'm living with all this pain and anguish," he said. "I can remember my hands sweating so bad that when I was holding the gun, it was slipping around in my hand. I put it in (my mouth), and I can remember feeling how cold the barrel was on my lips and tasting it."

Drew pulled the trigger.

The hammer stuck.

The gun didn't fire.

"I got scared," he said. "My heart was racing. I put it down ... I took the gun back the next day. It scared the bejesus out of me."

Using in high school

Kylee described her life as a close-knit family with a father who wasn't in her life and a mother who battled alcoholism when she was a young child.

She was also 12 when she first started drinking and smoking marijuana. By high school, she was using Oxycodone and cocaine. After two close family members died, she started using heroin at age 21.

"I showed up to my cousin Nathan's funeral really, really high," she said. "That still haunts me that I went there so high."

Her first time in jail was at age 22. She was charged with felony trespass for stealing a golf cart from Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg. She intended to sell it to pay for drugs.

"I was in and out of county jail a lot," she said. "I can't even count how many times. I was probably in 10 different rehabs trying to get sober. The problem was I didn't want to get sober for myself. It was more my family, that's the only reason I would go. It was never for myself."

Kylee spent 10 years in a toxic relationship that was fueled by drugs and addiction. She had a son in 2014, but she lost custody of him for five years when he was 18 months old.

'One last time'

Kylee went to state prison at State Correctional Institution Muncy for the last time in 2018 after burglarizing a neighbor's house and stealing their shotgun. When police came knocking, Kylee flushed needles down the toilet, hid in the closet with the shotgun and did drugs while waiting to be arrested.

"I wanted to do drugs one last time before I went to prison," she said.

While in prison, she completed a strict State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) for drug offenders and was released in July 2020.

"I came home and have been sober ever since," said Kylee. "I did everything I was supposed to do."

Drew and Kylee meet

Not too long after the suicide attempt, Drew connected again with Kylee, who was just out of prison in the summer of 2020. They started dating and she got pregnant with their daughter. They married in September 2022.

During the pregnancy, Drew relapsed for the last time. Kylee suspected Drew was using again, but didn't have any proof until she discovered the drugs in his vehicle.

"I threw them out the window," she said. "I sent him a picture and told him 'You can't lie to me no more.' Later that week, I said 'You need to come to Recovery Church with me. This place is going to change your life.'"

Drew and Kylee started attending the Recovery Church Ministry in Sunbury, a church built by the recovering community for the recovering community. Located at 238 Walnut St., the church started in 2021 and was founded by Pastor Billy Robel, a former addict.

"We started growing closer to God," said Kylee. "We formed a family here with them. Our relationship went from down here with very little trust to up here since we started coming to the church."

'Respect for trauma'

Drew said he recognizes the role that suffering played in his life.

"I have respect for the trauma I went through," he said. "I endured it. It shaped who I am now. From the moment I gave my life to God, I have had a non-stop, unbelievable, insatiable hunger and thirst for Christ. I truly believe it's all I went through, the resentment I had toward him, it's opened my mind. My story has brought people to the feet of Jesus Christ."

Drew said his faith in God is how they stay clean and sober and maintain the ability to break the cycle of incarceration.

"It hasn't only given us freedom from addiction, it gave us a family together, a life, a marriage, people who genuinely care about us," said Drew. "This is just as important, we can genuinely love other people. We have respect for the things we went through, and we have a purpose. We walked around with a void, both of us, for so long. Once we came to Christ, that hole in our hearts was plugged."

The freedom from addiction comes from God, but the steps to get there are different for every person, they said.

"You have to put the work in," said Kylee.

Neither Drew nor Kylee are under the supervision of state parole or county probation. They are clean and sober.

Drew is a few weeks away from being ordained. He intends to be a youth pastor at the church and minister to at-risk teens. Kylee is a recovery support supervisor at Gaudenzia, a drug treatment center in Coal Township.