Cleveland Kidnapping Survivor Overcame Addiction and Trauma After Escape — With Help From a Horse
Michelle Knight was kidnapped in 2002 by Ariel Castro and held captive for more than a decade
In 2014, the year after the trio escaped, Knight recounted her ordeal in a New York Times bestseller, Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed. The book represented Knight’s triumph over the trauma inflicted on her by captor Ariel Castro, who was sentenced for his crimes before committing suicide in prison.
But the book came at a high emotional cost. During the subsequent publicity blitz, the stress of reliving her ordeal began to weigh on Knight, now 37. To numb the pain, she began taking sips of wine throughout the day, and found herself shutting off her feelings, eating too much junk food and running with a bad crowd.
“I was like a mindless shell,” she recounted to PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. She added, “I was just in that moment where I didn’t care anymore. And I had to get back to me. I had to pull myself out of a depression.”
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She ultimately checked into OnSite, a Nashville treatment center for survivors of trauma that offers an equine-therapy program. There, she met a horse, Waylon, and bared her soul to the animal.
“I told Waylon about the many bad things that had happened to me as a child, that multiple family members had hurt me,” she writes in her new memoir, Life After Darkness: Finding Healing and Happiness After the Cleveland Kidnappings, which is excerpted exclusively in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
“It just poured out…. This wasn’t like writing a book or answering questions on television. This was talking to a being who got it and didn’t judge me. Not a being who was going to ask me why I didn’t find a way to get out of Castro’s house or tell me that he or she would have done more.”
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Knight credits Waylon with setting her on the path to empowerment and happiness. She later changed her name to Lily Rose Lee and met a man, Miguel Rodriguez, whom she married on May 6, 2016 — on the third anniversary of Knight’s freedom from Castro’s house.
“Waylon knew how to listen,” Knight writes. “And when I was done, I felt a whole new sense of who I am. I felt strong.”