Jori is a force to be reckoned with, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance. Her minte ombre hair, pixie eyes and fairy-like frame suggest youth, creativity, and a fun-loving life. Her skin shines like porcelain and when she smiles you feel the stars. But underneath the gleam are deep, unending tunnels of pupil. As she speaks to me in the sunlight, I can sense the darkness she is holding at bay…a certain tiredness that shouldn’t be there at her age. She’s battling something. She’s unnerved.
This is her story.
The Hudson High School is a place of history. Its walls have stood since 1973 and as classes have grown, updates have been made. It has remained a staple in the heart of a beautiful river town. But while small enough for teachers to know everyone’s name, the halls have never held small town sentiment. As the “pride of the East side” of the Twin Cities, Hudson students work hard and play harder. There’s an edge to the air that manifests upon entering the parking lot. A guard patrols the only entrance and exit, and the occasional cop dog roams the sidewalk.
Every student has a phone with immediate access to anyone and everyone. Also typical of Gen Z, alcohol abuse is warranted, so long as there’s a driver and no one gets hurt. As in most places, prescription pills were readily accessible during the early 2000’s and it was no milestone for a teen to pop an Adderall to study for a test. This “upper,” as Jori described it, was her gateway drug.
In 10th grade, Jori began taking Adderall with a friend. Much like a cup of coffee, it gave her the jolt she needed to get through her day. But to someone not prescribed, the effects can be addictive and dangerous. Lowering the ability to sleep or hunger, it can leave a person feeling wired. A solution to this problem was to take “downer” pain killers after school, which Jori added to her ritual.
She recalls crushing pills with a butter knife in a ramekin at school…unbeknownst to her peers. Some time during her Junior year, Jori passed out at home, due to lack of nutrition and sleep – Her Mom caught on and ordered a drug test be taken. After time spent with grandparents out of town and a promise to change friend groups, Jori had gotten lucky and went off the meds. She had a drug-free Senior year, consuming only alcohol at parties. After graduation, she attended the Aveda Institute for Cosmetology where a new group of people and temptations encircled her.
One night while at a party, Jori fell and smashed her face. With a bloodied and broken nose, she was prescribed pain killers. The familiar rush returned and she was immediately hooked. She took a leave from school and partied the Summer away…blacking out at the beach like they’d done in high school, not realizing that this time was different. She still believed that tapering off was possible, not realizing the strength of the disease, which was growing in power.
In the Fall of 2011, Jori popped a pill in her usual fashion, but was surprised to have it come back up as she vomited not 30 seconds later, violently. Alcohol repulsed her and around this same time, she had been working out with a trainer but not seeing any noticeable results. One day while at work, she made a comment about her pants not fitting right. The girls who were with her took one look at each other and then back at Jori before stating the obvious, “You’re pregnant.” Jori was four months along at this point, and two months past a break up with her boyfriend. The pregnancy was her second wake up call. In the months that followed, she watched from the sidelines as the first wave of Hudson kids fell under the spell of Heroin, or “H,” as they called it. It was 2010 when the first death from Heroin hit Hudson. By 2013, that number had jumped to a dozen.
Ava Mae was born on July 15th, 2012. A beautiful, healthy little girl, her entry into the world came via a C-section, separated pelvic bone and shingles for Jori. This led to six days of intravenous pain killers and more prescriptions. Jori used a walker for a month, all the while telling herself that when the prescriptions ran out, the prescriptions ran out. But of course, the pills never ceased from hitting her throat as Jori’s tolerance for them steadily increased. A new layer of shame was added into the mix, now that she was a Mom. Why was this still happening? Wouldn’t becoming a mother carry the power to beat this thing? She was beginning to realize that the monster living within her was no longer under her control. Intense and unrelenting shame lead to feelings of worthlessness and depression, which led to more pills…and the cycle went on.
Noticing familiar symptoms in Jori, her Mom found and took her pills away. According to her meticulously planned taper schedule, there were only 5 days left. Desperate, she pleaded frantically, “Mom, PLEASE give them back. I’m almost done tapering off but if I don’t take one right now I’m going to get really, really sick. Even just a half of one…PLEASE!!!” “No way. You’re done.” That was it. Her mother walked away, leaving Jori in a world of hurt. The dull headache had only slightly returned but was already blurring her vision and rising up a wave of vomit in her throat. The room whirled around her as she contemplated what to do. As the days went on, the withdrawal only got worse. As she had told herself so many times before and failed, she wanted to pull through…desperately wanted to be in control again and retain any respectable piece of her life. As I ask her for more of an analogy, she describes to me a pain, similar to the flu only a thousand times worse, which made her legs feel so unbearable that she would gladly have had them amputated. Her mind was not thinking rationally and she wasn’t sure if she was going to make it through alive.
By this point in time, pain killers had been a realized problem in the area and were on complete lock down. Jori could no longer find any and after having turned Heroin down on a number of occasions, she frantically, surrendered and snorted it. The moment the residue hit her nostrils, a euphoria unlike any other surged through her body. Her eyes widen as she looks up at me now, struggling to find words to describe the extreme sense of just not caring. And all at the same time, she knew that her life was over…that in that instant, the outgoing, creative and passionate girl from Hudson had walked into a trap and the big metal door had slammed shut behind her. Nothing and no one would be able to stop her from obtaining the high from that point on. The death of her will had occurred, and she knew her soul belonged to the drug.
Jori’s thoughts were no longer desires; they were demands for more H. She describes a screaming, angry voice in her head that never let up. She sold whatever she came into contact with – even parting ways with a designer pair of jeans that she had told herself she’d never sell. The disease didn’t care about Jori’s desires. It only cared to fuel her obsession to find more, which was never a problem. Tiny in stature, young Jori would approach some of the scariest areas in the state and walk right up to the dealer to get what she wanted. St. Paul’s close proximity to Interstate 94 and therefore access to Chicago made it one of the first places in America to have the crystal clean, bright “China White” powder.
This lifestyle ran Jori’s life for the next year. It took from her all of the money, morals, time, memories and motivation she once had. It robbed her of her daughter, family and friends. She snuck and she lied. She had become a different person, entirely. Concerned about her family finding out again, she was in and out of several treatment centers. There are certain stories that stand out in her mind, during this timeframe. One involved tip-toeing out of a treatment center just before nightfall and hopping into a cab. She had the cab stop at a gas station while she obtained the necessary materials with which to smoke before having him drop her off at the known street corner of a drug dealer. The cab driver hesitated to leave her there – “Are you sure this is where you want to be at this time of night, alone?” The answer was “yes.”
Another memory stemmed from drinking at a hotel lobby in California. 6 months clean from all substances and residing in sober living, Jori had been waiting for a friend whose flight had been delayed. She proceeded to black out, deserting the tab. At 4 am, she found her friend sleeping against the door in the hallway, having given up after banging for three hours. Jori hadn’t heard a sound. Not realizing the severity of the situation, her friend dropped Jori off at her sober living facility that Sunday just in time for Jori to get high with a new friend. It was a pivotal moment as she, desperately, panhandled for the first time in order to pay for the drug. High and still drunk from her girls’ weekend, she suddenly found herself at a trap house. Coming down from the high, she began to realize what a danger zone she’d entered. Scared to tell her friend who had brought her there, she waited until he went to the bathroom before sneaking out the back door and calling a friend in recovery for help. Once in the car, her friend told her what a miracle it was that she’d made it out of the neighborhood alive. It was then that she began to realize that the power of her addiction was no longer limited to drugs. It was a disease of control, of addiction, of evil.
Every time she found the power to make changes, it seemed that the demon of destruction would soon take over her mind. It wanted her dead but would settle for miserable.
Once it was discovered that she’d fled a treatment or recovery center, the protocol was the same. Her parents would receive a call and would go into an active search mode, hoping to find Jori before she’d disappear, completely. They now knew who her friends were and knew who to call to find her. There were times when concerned friends – even other users – would participate in helping “catch” Jori, in an effort to save her life and send her back home.
One of the disease’s biggest victories over addicts is isolation. Isolation is accomplished by systematically severing all loving and supportive relationships. Jori remembers her father showing up one day while she stayed at the Hazelden Treatment Center. He had heard that she planned to leave (no one over the age of 18 is required to stay at treatment centers and may leave at their own will at any time). He had somehow made it through several locked doors and appeared back in the hallway near her room. With tears in his eyes, he begged her “Jori PLEASE. Don’t leave this time. We need you to stay and get better. Will you? Can you please promise me that you won’t leave?” She remembers the intensity and love that were in his eyes as she lied to him and said, “yes”…fleeing the facility with a new friend just minutes later. Her addiction had already decided that she’d leave, so that is what she had to do. No amount of threats, family or even love could stop her. She proceeded to get as loaded as possible to stop any thoughts or regrets over that moment. …A perfect illustration of the disease – causing the mind to operate on a level that is entirely separate from any human thought or emotion.
The night before Thanksgiving of 2015 was Jori’s night of redemption. Newly out of treatment and living with her grandparents, she had scheduled a deal that was on its way to her. In order to get past an alert grandma in the family room, she climbed out of a bedroom window upstairs…rolling off the roof and smashing into the yard before running away from the shrieks inside the house – “She’s out! Go get her!!” She ran a quarter mile, through the snow – in socks – and heard the hard footsteps hitting the pavement behind her as the car approached. It was him – she was going to get her hit and “get well” again. As she hopped in the car, it seemed that her disease would have its way and give her the right to temporarily feel good. But this time was different. She suddenly thought of her grandparents, shaking from the incident, in the yard. She imagined her innocent siblings, daughter and parents receiving the call that she’d fled yet again. She felt the pain in their eyes, the nights spent awake..waiting, hoping..praying. Reluctantly, Jori didn’t do H that night and she never saw the dealer again. After a few impulsive nights of drinking, her two years of recovery began with a 12-step program after her last cocktail on December 5th, 2015.
Throughout her battle with Heroin, Jori was tormented. Besides the infliction of physical pain and mental despair, she felt a distinguishable detachment from God. The voice in her head repelled any attempts for her to reach out for help. She felt unworthy of prayer and didn’t understand why all of this was happening. She thought that starting over required having a plan which didn’t exist. Moments of complete brokenness eventually impressed upon her the fact that everything she had tried, thus far, hadn’t worked. That there had to be another way. Slowly, she began to accept that behind all of our reasons “why” for existence, there had to be more than drugs and pain and fear and control. That the steady strong hand that held her together, even if by a thread, existed. And that it was Love.
Jori’s message is clear. The disease of addiction is real and definite. Although she has conquered it, is something that will bang at her heart’s door for the rest of her life. Even now as I look at her, she’s fragile. But beyond her physique, I see someone whose light shines brighter than what most of us will ever know or appreciate about light itself. Someone who has a family that loves her and, while wounded, is healing…and still stands behind her. Someone who has affected the lives of so many others around her who have struggled with the same disease. Someone who has recent memories and pictures in her phone of loved ones she’s lost to the same tangible nightmare. I see an angel who has been tormented and thrown around by a demon. Had the little girl who popped a pill in 10th grade seen the encroaching tragedy ahead, the lives affected, the time lost…surely she wouldn’t have swallowed it.
Join me in praying for God’s power over the lives of all who have been affected by addiction of any kind. It does not discriminate and neither should we.
If you are struggling with addiction, do not feel shame. Help is available – Jori’s 12 step program and God of her understanding has created in her a freedom from substance abuse of any kind. For treatment options, call 1-877-912-7554. For prayer, please contact Hailley Leverty at Info@LeventManagement.com.
Photography by Naomi Goff
Model Jori Blaiser