There was a message from God, 20-year old Kaylee Muthart believed, that she needed to sacrifice something special.
Muthart was high on methamphetamine, a freight train of a dose bigger than all the others, and the signs were all there. A white bird along a dark path. A man with a biblical name asking for a key. Muthart was looking for personal salvation, but she also wanted to save the world.
"I thought everything would end abruptly, and everyone would die," Muthart told Cosmopolitan, "if I didn't tear out my eyes immediately."
She did. And for the first time since the 6 February incident in Anderson, South Carolina, Muthart is explaining how she went from being an honors student to becoming a drug user who fought off several men trying to subdue her as the remains of her sea-green eyes dangled from her head.
Muthart was a good student in high school, she told the magazine. But a focus on work to save money for a car and issues with an irregular heartbeat led to poor school performance. She dropped out and soon turned to alcohol and other substances.
"But when I was 19 last summer," she told Cosmopolitan, "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."
Muthart said she believed the marijuana was laced with meth or cocaine - which appears to have made her relate drug use with a religious experience. And soon after, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The extreme highs and lows of the condition left her susceptible to drug use, doctors told her.
"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," she said.
In August, she picked at blackheads on her face until it bled. By Thanksgiving, Muthart moved from smoking meth to snorting and shooting it into her veins, she said.
Her mother, Katy Tompkins, was alarmed by her rapidly deteriorating condition soon before the incident.
"The day before it happened, which was my birthday, I was getting ready to have her committed, just to get her off the streets and away from it," Tompkins told People. "But I was too late."
Muthart was in a drug-induced hallucination when she had her epiphany. Her eyes had to go. "Why me? Why do I have to do this?" she prayed, pounding the ground.
Then, in graphic detail, Muthart explained how she came to be blind, near a church.
"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."
She continued: "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."
A group of startled people rushed to help her, including the pastor - nearly 10 people in all, Muthart ventured to guess. "At some point, paramedics arrived, and I was so combative that they had to sedate me with ketamine," she told Cosmopolitan. She fought so hard that her wrists hurt for weeks. A helicopter airlifted her to Greenville Memorial Hospital.
Doctors excised the remains of her eyes to preserve her optic nerves and prevent infection, she said. Her hospital stay lasted about a week. "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."
Muthart has reckoned with her issues. She was recently released from a psychiatric facility and has vowed to stay clear of drugs. She started a GoFundMe to get a seeing-eye dog and will get nonfunctioning prosthetic eyes once her sockets heal.
It has been a big adjustment to permanent blindness. She has run into things at home and has trouble sleeping. Her mother is helping the best she can.
But Muthart said the episode turned her back from the brink.
"I'd rather be blind than dependent on drugs," she said. In a strange way, Muthart now sees the light.